360 Degree Feedback at Work

Direct quotes from my last 360 degree (multi-rater) feedback summary:

“She is a strong, direct communicator and listens well.  Her decisions are well-thought out, she collects information from a wide variety of sources and is democratic.”

“She is too sharp in her communications and doesn’t listen well.  Her mind is made up before the discussion begins.”

Another group of three feedback points, even more confounding:

“She is supportive, calm under stress and shows emotion authentically.”

“She needs to share more of herself, deeper emotion, and invest more time in supporting her team.”

“The main thing I would suggest is that she increase her awareness of wearing her emotions on her face.”

So which is it, do I listen well or not?  Am I “direct” or “sharp?”  Do I need to share more emotion or less or is it just the right authentic amount?  Or do I just need a constant meta-discussion taking place in my head about the emotion on my face so I am “aware?”

Since I’ve facilitated hundreds of 360 degree feedback debriefs, let me share what I  coach an individual receiving feedback:

  1. Look for themes.  Don’t focus on one specific feedback point or invest your time guessing who provided what feedback.  When you receive contradictory feedback as above, look for what the majority of the feedback tells you.
  2. Broad feedback (focused on a competency or a soft skill vs. task-specific) often says as much about the person providing it as it does about you.  Clearly, the person providing communication feedback statement #1 likes the communication style and feels heard.  Person #2 feels the opposite.  You may be treating the people differently or you may be treating them exactly the same and they have different preferences.  I can vouch for the fact that many people have very strong opinions on emotions in the workplace; they have even stronger opinions about women and emotion in the workplace.
  3. The point is to self-reflect on what you are doing well and where you could become more effective in both your relationships and results.  If a variety of different people all perceive a strength or area of improvement the same way, that tells you something.  If it stings, because you know it is true and you hoped no one else knew, that also tells you something.
  4. You can choose to ignore it, but there are logical consequences.  (You might get passed over for promotion; you might get fired; you might not live out your potential or make the contribution you could really make).

Oh, and the entire process can go gangbusters political and kooky-town when it is not just developmental, but part of the performance management process.  When the organization uses it to make decisions regarding things like promotion and compensation or use it in broad talent management conversations or files it with HR–well, the downside of all of that is so well documented that even Wikipedia concludes that you shouldn’t combine the two processes:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/360-degree_feedback, and Harvard Business Review weighed in the same way 15 years ago: https://hbr.org/product/should-you-use-360-degree-feedback-for-performance-reviews/.

I’m FOR 360 degree feedback–despite the contradictions that inevitably emerge when humans do anything– when it is used for developmental purposes only.  And has structure to support the behavioral changes the individual desires to make.  A concise overview of “structure” was recently posted by Marshall Goldsmith @coachgoldsmith at hbr.org/2015/08/a-6-part-structure-for-giving-clear-and-actionable-feedback.

Let me know if you see it differently!  (see, that was being open to different points of view . . .but maybe my mind is made up before the discussion begins . . .)

2 Responses to 360 Degree Feedback at Work

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    I enjoyed your post. Your point #2 is spot on in my experience. It’s amazing how much you can learn about people by how they provide feedback.

    These 360 feedback evaluations can also be challenging if the form is long and time consuming to complete. I’ve found that time of day form is filled out can also play a factor.


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