Developing Leaders and Teams
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360 Feedback – Is your organisation ready?
If your organisation is ready, introducing a 360 feedback programme can produce transformational change. However, if you introduce 360 feedback at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, it won’t engage people. In fact, it can have a destructive impact. It can create heightened vulnerability and a lack of trust, and it can damage relationships.
Before embarking on a 360 feedback programme, consider whether the organisation is ready. There are four essential elements:
Context Culture Purpose Leadership
This article looks at each in turn, and suggests some good practice to maximise the value of 360 feedback.
In today’s climate of constant change, there may never be a perfect time to implement 360. It’s a matter of gauging the best window of opportunity. Considering the context is a critical first step. It will inform your planning and your communication of the programme.
- What else is going on in your organisation?
- Is the intention clear, or is it open to misinterpretation?
- What is the environment into which you want to launch 360 feedback?
- How much energy and capacity do people have at the moment?
Introducing 360 feedback during major re-organisation is challenging. It’s particularly so when job losses or job changes are likely. One client of ours did just this, after careful consideration. They felt, on balance, that the resulting development plans would be valuable for participants adapting to the “new world”.
When we facilitated feedback sessions, some individuals were convinced that the 360 was part of the redundancy selection criteria. You can imagine the level of cynicism with which they attended the feedback meeting. Fortunately, we were able to reassure and engage them, and the project was a success.
Also consider capacity in the organisation. Some people may be providing feedback to many participants. Large scale roll outs make this very likely. Other large and important projects elsewhere in the organisation will also limit people’s capacity.
- There are obvious times to avoid – such as holiday periods, end of year, etc.
- Consult with functional heads to ensure you are aware of any other potential conflicts or capacity issues.
- Roll out in phases, thus limiting overload.
- Consider timing in relation to the annual performance appraisal process. Don’t launch a 360 programme just beforehand, unless you are transparently linking the two activities.
- Consider the possibility that participants might misunderstand the purpose of the programme.
The culture of your organisation will influence the reaction to and appetite for 360 feedback.
Typical obstacles are:
- Lack of trust on the part of employees
- Defensiveness in leaders
- Organisation immaturity
- Silo mentalities and behaviours, within departments or teams
A lack of trust and defensive attitudes often go hand in hand, and call for a lot of preparation work. Transparency is essential for successful 360 projects. You need to be very confident that there are no hidden agendas or misunderstandings about the purpose and the process.
Young organisations often lack experience of 360 feedback. Many organisations don’t have a culture where feedback is easily and regularly given. The answer in both cases is to communicate the objectives clearly, and give people plenty of training in the skill of giving feedback. Investing time and resources in these activities raises the quality, and the usefulness, of feedback. This is where transformational change can be achieved.
Silos in organisations restrict the flow of valuable cross-functional feedback and co-operation. Proactively manage this by ensuring cross-functional participation and relevant questions in the questionnaire. Position reducing silos overtly as a part of the project objectives. This will help people to identify what’s needed to break down barriers.
- Be open with the leadership about trust issues, and engage them in discussions about how 360 feedback can develop trust.
- Encourage all the leadership to participate. If they won’t, your project will have less impact and may breed cynicism lower down the organisation.
- Invest time and resource in training participants and respondents. This will build skills and confidence, as well as ensuring a higher quality output.
- Actively and openly encourage cross-functional selection of respondents. For example, sales people should receive feedback from colleagues in operations and support functions. Stress the opportunity to improve business performance through building relationships.
When we work with new clients, we always ask about their experience of 360 feedback. One of the most common reasons for dissatisfaction is that previous projects had no clear purpose. Another complaint is a lack of follow-through: nothing happens as a result. The key issues are:
- Are you measuring performance, or focusing on development?
- How does this align with, and support, business imperatives and objectives?
- How, if at all, does it link to other organisation activities?
- What is going to happen as a result of the 360 programme?
HR Directors are often very clear on all these questions. However, the leadership team may not have the same views. It’s vital to check this, and to get everyone aligned about the purpose. Any lack of consistency will spark mistrust and speculation. This can do serious damage to the credibility of the process. A common example is where HR commits to confidentiality, but line managers expect to see their team members’ reports.
- Engage the whole leadership team in clarifying the purpose.
- The devil is in the detail – so get down to specifics: i.e. who sees the report, what happens to the data, where is it held, etc. Everyone must give the same answers to the inevitable questions.
- If there is a performance element involved, be open about it, and explain how the 360 feedback will be used.
- Deliver on promises. If the focus is on development, ensure that development plans are supported – by line managers, and by a budget.
When the leadership team openly support 360 feedback, and ideally participate in the process, it gives a powerful positive message to others in your organisation.
Occasionally it makes sense to implement a 360 feedback process elsewhere in the organisation, e.g. at the start of a formal development programme. Where this occurs, support from the top team is still very important.
However, there is a broader leadership requirement too. Line managers of those participating must support the process, both verbally and through their actions. They need to show interest, encourage openness about key findings, and offer support for development.
- Engage your most senior leaders in briefings and other communications. Don’t let it be seen as “an HR initiative”.
- The most effective 360 feedback programmes cascade down the organisation, from the top.
- Ensure that line managers of those participating are absolutely clear about the role that they play. For example: approving those identified as respondents, supporting development actions, etc.
- Refer to 360 feedback in other communications, linking it to broader business or organisation activities.
These are the four elements that need to be considered if you are to implement a successful 360 feedback programme for the first time. Before you start planning your 360 feedback programme, try to identify potential problems in these areas. Discuss these problems with the Senior Leadership Team. Doing so creates alignment, educates the team about the process, and fosters an open, transparent and consistent approach.