The stereotypical 360 degree feedback surveys or assessments, gather perspectives of an employee’s performance and behaviour across all levels. From their manager, peers and direct reports (if any) and even customers or suppliers (if asked). They are typically anonymous. In the 90’s they were initially used as a way to help an individual’s performance and more recently organisations use them as a way to measure success and determine pay rises or promotions.
I’m not a fan. But stay with me before you roll your eyes and get all judgy.
In the past I debriefed hundreds of 360’s with individual employees. I would sit in a room and help them go through and process the data. Bless those organisations that do this properly – many don’t. Imagine receiving a report about yourself and having no one to process it with but your own ‘unmanaged’ thoughts. Not ok. But I’ll save that for later.
I get the intent behind them. Which is to help an individual understand how they are coming across. To be able to sit in the shoes of the people they interact with, to understand the impact of what they do and how they do it.
I get that we see ourselves through our own lens and filters, not through the eyes of others. That’s a given. And that we are not as self-aware as we think we are. So the value of a 360 assessment should in fact help us understand our impact and potentially inspire us to create a bigger and better ripple effect with those around us. So I think the intent is good, but the impact isn’t. Nor the cost.
I believe that they are not the best use of time and money for an organisation or an individual, for the following reasons;
- Scoring is based on the scorer’s lens.
One of the most globally respected thought leaders, authors and experts on leadership and management, Marcus Buckingham and I agree. Ok yeah, so we’ve not had a conversation, but we get it other ;-). Marcus says “your rating reveals more about you than it does about me. If you rate me high on setting a clear vision for our team, all we learn is that I am clearer on that vision than you are; if you rate me low, we learn that you are clearer only relative to me.”
So we are comparing people to ourselves.
The other component is that we don’t always gel with everyone and some people can trigger us off, based on our own perspectives and bias’. If I am triggered by how you perform or behave I will rate you accordingly.
- The information is not valuable enough.
We look at the scores yes. But most of us go straight to the comments. We want to understand the ‘why’ behind the numbers. What are the reasons I was rated high or low? And let’s face it, we are more interested in the content behind the lower scores than the higher ones.
Through years of looking through these I know these comments are mostly opinions and feelings. Rarely are there facts and examples for employees to understand the context of where others are coming from. This is not useful data. Everyone has different opinions, we need to understand the context of how they were formed – that is, the facts.
What also happens, because of the anonymity of the survey, participants feel more comfortable writing harsh things, since they are invisible. Just like in social media when we are removed from the person, we feel comfortable saying things that we probably would not say to someone’s face. Meg Halverson wrote about this in the New York Times. That 360’s can often lead to cruel, not constructive, criticism. It does not inspire someone to improve or change. It has the opposite effect. The employee feels attacked and does not have the chance to get behind the comments and understand where the others are coming from.
- They are not conversations.
It takes two or more to communicate and there are multiple perspectives to consider. If we want to find the ‘real truth’ in any circumstance we need to look at more than one version of the truth. There’s your truth, plus their truth and maybe another’s that helps us get to the ‘real truth’ and form the best way to move forward or make decisions. We don’t have the option to discuss this with an anonymous online assessment tool.
So yes the 360 gives us many perspectives but it doesn’t give employees the chance to synthesise the data with the other person. No way to clarify criticism or gain more feedback. No way for the employee to get behind what the comments mean and share their own perspective of why they behave or perform a certain way. It’s not a two way street. It’s a one way projection. Or at worst – an accusation.
- They damage relationships.
As soon as we receive information we want to know who rated what, and mostly who said what. We try and match the words to the person. The employees that received what they consider ‘poor feedback’, walk around feeling like they have been stabbed in the back. And to an extent this is not wrong. If the person giving the ‘poor feedback’ did not come and tell them face to face, then it is a bit like that. If you really want to honour someone… you say it TO THEM. Not just on a survey that is anonymous.
It’s not just the relationship with others that is challenged. It’s also the one you have with yourself, which is just as important. Antoinette Oglethorpe, leadership expert and advocate for 360s, who often blogs about these reviews, states how essential it is to have a professional debrief with participants. We are not wired to process this information to help ourselves be better. We tend to focus on the negative and without the right support we can stay stuck there. It’s something we can learn but often we don’t spend enough time teaching people how to do this.
- They don’t deliver a great return on investment.
The cost and effort of collecting the data can be quite significant (an average of $1,500 per person). The more people that are involved in completing them, the greater the cost. Also, our time is money and that’s more costly than the survey itself.
Then we leave it. We rarely come back to the data nor make plans on what to do with it. And we rarely clean up the aftermath of how people feel about themselves or those around them post mortem.
Let me be clear. I am not against 360 feedback. I believe we should ask for and offer feedback to most people we work with. In fact, high performance teams are fabulous at this. It becomes their norm; having conversations about almost everything in the day to day.
I am against on-line, anonymous feedback. They are not conversations. Anonymous feedback is as useful as following a faceless leader.
Susan Scott, author of ‘Fierce Conversations’, busts the myth that most people can’t handle the truth. If someone is sincerely unhappy with your work, what would you want them to do? Yes, tell you.
Giving feedback anonymously is more about the giver than the receiver. It’s more about the business or people not being brave enough to help someone understand themselves and their impact. It’s not giving them the gift of constructive feedback.
Creating a feedback culture, where on-line 360 reviews are no longer required, is not as hard not as radical as you think.
Want to know how to create a feedback culture? Get a copy of Feedback Flow: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to Embed Change in 90 Days in your hot little hands.