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360 degree feedbackGiving 360 Feedback

360 Feedback Mistakes – Part 2 – Pitfalls for respondents

Our last article looked at 6 reasons why 360 feedback fails. This article looks at one critical element of the process – giving 360 feedback. We look at 4 pitfalls for 360 feedback respondents. After all, much of the success depends on the quality of feedback.

Feedback respondents, will determine how participants react to the process and the value that they take away from it. The reactions range from inspiration and energy for change to loss of self-confidence, and damaged relationships. Somewhere in the middle is an undesirable state of indifference and no sustained change.

So, what goes wrong for respondents who are giving 360 feedback?

1.    Selecting the wrong respondents

Many people take care in selecting people who will give them the most useful feedback. However, those less experienced, with 360 feedback often select on the following criteria:

  • Choosing everyone in each category e.g. all their direct reports and all their peers. Almost inevitably some people won’t be suitable. The relationship is too new or they have to little exposure to the individual to get accurate feedback. The results are likely to be far too many ‘n/a’ scores which devalue the strength and validity of messages. 
  • Selecting only those with whom they already have a good relationship.  For an immediate validation of self, this is not a bad strategy. However, it is less likely to yield useful pointers for improvement and development. It takes courage to ask those where the relationship needs improving but it pays big dividends.
  • Taking a narrow view of potential respondents. External people such as customers or suppliers or partners can be invaluable but are often overlooked. Make sure your 360 system allows for external respondents.

Good practice guidelines

  • Ensure your communication about the 360 feedback process is transparent and makes the purpose clear to both participants and respondents.
  • Provide a briefing for everyone participating in the 360 process to help them think through their selection of respondent
  • Introduce a sign-off process. This is particularly useful when 360 feedback is introduced for hte first time. Either the line manager or HR manager should cast a look over the proposed respondents and be able to challenge or make suggestions.
  • Allow people to opt out of being a respondent if they are uncomfortable.

2.    Fear of giving honest feedback

Respondents need to feel comfortable and confident about being honest when giving 360 feedback. That means creating the right environment for them and positioning the process positively.

Typical fears that we come across in organisations are:

  • Fear that their feedback will be used for the participants performance review. People don’t want to feel that they negatively influence appraisals or pay and will respond accordingly.
  • Fear of impacting on other events in the organisation. One of our clients planned to introduced a 360 process just after announcing a major re-structure. The resistance from respondents resulted in them delaying until the dust had settled.
  • General concerns about anonymity, confidentiality and use of data. 

Good practice guidelines

  • Be clear that the 360 feedback objectives are wholly developmental and positive.
  • Consider timing and what else is going on in the organisation. It’s worth waiting to get the timing right and improving the return on your investment.
  • Start at the top of the organisation. If people see the senior team undertaking 360 it sends a positive message and will allay fears.
  • Ensure there is complete transparency about anonymity, confidentiality and who sees the report.
  • Don’t talk about “filling in the questionnaire” which can create a tick box mind-set. Talk about “providing constructive, valuable feedback using the online tool”. The difference in the message is significant.

3.    Lack of feedback skills

This is one of the most common problems and is sometimes overlooked by those introducing 360 feedback. Lack of feedback skills are usually most obvious in the free text section. This section is potentially the most useful part of the 360 report. Comments such as “be a better communicator”, “improve teamwork” or “good leader” are singularly unhelpful. They give the participant very little to work with.

Investing time to provide feedback skills pays huge dividends. The 360 participants get richer data as a result. Additionally, feedback skills are highly valuable for everyone – manager or individual contributor. Broader organisation value will be gained too as feedback skills can enhance many aspects of performance.

Good practice guidelines

  • Provide workshops for respondents. A full day is ideal but a  2-3 hour workshop will provide effective learning. If time is short, a 1-hour briefing or a teleconference will be valuable.
  • Use the opportunity to re-iterate messages about the purpose of the 360 programme, the importance of their role, and confidentiality.
  • Provide a handout or guidance document with detailed examples of good and less helpful feedback.

4.    Feedback fatigue

The larger the 360 programme, the bigger the risk of fatigue. We often find with our clients that there are a number of people who everyone wants as their respondents. This can cause real issues and, despite the best of intentions, monotony and fatigue can set in and it usually impacts the quality of the input. It’s tempting to get the 360 project completed quickly to maintain momentum. However, the costs in terms of quality feedback often outweigh the benefits with this approach. A general guideline is to allow between 2 – 4 weeks for feedback completion.

Good practice guidelines

  • Spread out the roll out of the programme so that a small number are requesting feedback each month.
  • Give careful thought to who goes in which phase – consider likely respondents as a key factor. For example, take one or two people from each function only at a time.
  • Encourage respondents to allocate time each week for completing the feedback and to spread it over the allocated time allowed.
  • Allow for holidays, business travel and other distractions and push the dates for completion out if necessary.

Summary

These 4 steps play a vital role in supporting those who are giving 360 feedback. Investing the time to educate and train respondents will result in a richer, experience for participants. This leads to transformational behaviour change and stronger organisation performance. It also engages respondents in the process. Remember that they are likely to be future participants and potential advocates.

IF you’d like to have an informal chat about this, or any aspect of 360 degree feedback, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Our next article, 360 Feedback Mistakes Part 3 –  Inadequate planning for 360 feedback

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