360 Survey On the Wall…I Hardly See Myself at All

I’m not a big fan of surveys.  That includes, (dare I say it?), the 360 degree performance assessment type survey.  I know, they are meant to be a useful tool but to me, no matter how carefully put together they are, the result is rather like a distorted mirror in the Fun House, not very clear and not particularly accurate.

On the face of it, 360-degree assessments present as simple processes; something like the one Bob here is undertaking. (The clip is 62 seconds)

The trouble is, there are often a number of factors at play that skew the results one way or another.  Here are only a few examples of what I mean.

  • When Bob’s boss asks him to complete a survey at a time when Bob is not best pleased with him, his objectivity flies out of the window and his responses are coloured by the way he’s feeling at that moment in time.
  • Bob would like his colleagues to complete their survey about him favourably so he completes their surveys favourably too.  It’s kind of a quid pro quo thing. You know?
  • The questions all ask Bob to respond by choosing from a range of ratings from poor to outstanding.  While he has a pretty good idea what each rating means to him, he has no idea what they mean to others and what standards they work from when they complete the survey.
  • Even though there may be room for Bob to explain his ratings, usually he doesn’t, because frankly he doesn’t have time.  He still has more surveys to complete for several more of his colleagues. So he just ticks the boxes and hopes that will be enough to satisfy the process.

So, while I agree that “good information helps Bob make better decisions”, the information gathered from a formal 360 process runs risk of being inaccurate and therefore, not really that useful.

The question is, what is Bob to do?  How will he find out how he’s doing if there is no formal process to tell him?

To me, the answer lies in his willingness and ability to consistently focus on three things:

How he talks to people and how he listens ~ If the communication between Bob and his Boss; Bob and his colleagues and; Bob and his team is honest, clear and empathetic, there will be enough trust among them for him to simply ask how he’s doing without having to go through a formal and anonymous process.

How he builds relationships ~ in my mind, the health of any business relies on its ability to build relationships.   This requires people like Bob to work well with those around him; to understand their challenges; help them; and solicit their help too.  Building relationships ensures that the quid pro quo among colleagues has meaning that goes beyond the notion of “I’ll tick your’ like’ box if you’ll tick mine”.

How much he cares about helping others to learn and grow ~ In my book, people who spend time coaching and providing learning opportunities so that others can be and do better usually know when they are doing well.  For them, great performance comes from their ability to help others deliver great performance too.  If Bob were to do this, he would have no need of a formal feedback structure.  He would be giving it and getting it.  Every day.

So okay, maybe I’m being a bit Utopian.  I know there are still many organizations that struggle with all three of these things.  It is not an ideal world.  I’d like to think though that rather than relying on complicated and expensive 360-degree performance processes to guide them, more workplaces will spend their time talking, listening and simply building relationships well enough to make them unnecessary.

What do you think?


Filed under Employee engagement, Human Resources, Leadership, Organizational Effectiveness

8 responses to “360 Survey On the Wall…I Hardly See Myself at All

  1. What do I THINK?

    I want to shout AMEN! BRAVO!

    I have been saying the same thing for years and Gwyn you had the courage and the sense of style it takes to say what I have been saying for years- but with so much more grace.

    And this is worth repeating..
    ……rather than relying on complicated and expensive 360-degree performance processes to guide them, more workplaces will spend their time talking, listening and simply building relationships well enough to make them unnecessary.”

    AMEN to your post and BRAVO to you!

    Lolly Daskal
    Lead From Within

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Lolly ~ Thank you for those very encouraging words! It is gratifying to know that I am not shouting in the wilderness. It would be nice if there was an easy “tick-a-box” way of getting accurate information about how we are held in the eyes of others. But, we are all too human for that.
      Thank you for bringing your wonderfully enthusiastic voice here.

  2. I agree with what you are saying. There are a number of factors that can easily distort a 360 evaluation. I do not however agree that we should abandon the process. I have only participated in a few 360 surveys and I found them all worthwhile. I was able to use the feedback as a basis to have more detailed communication on various topics. They proved to be conversation starters for some conversations I needed to have. Could we have accomplished this another way, probably but they have been an effective tool for me. A provocative post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      You provide some good reasons why we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. My feeling is, that far too often, rather than use the process as a springboard to having important conversations, as you have, we make the process itself the focal point of our activities. Our challenge becomes getting through it rather than looking for ways to make it helpful.
      While I cling to my view that survey questions are too rigid to provide meaningful information, in the absence of any other kind of exchange, it’s better than nothing. My hope is that more workplaces will recognize and employ the value of regular conversation, relationship building and coaching so as to render any kind of survey eventually surplus to requirements.
      Thank you for sharing your own experience with the 360 process here and for adding a little ‘tension’ to the conversation!

  3. Gwyn,

    I definitely agree with the spirit of your post. As you mentioned, the information can get easily distorted with a survey like this. I think one of the big potential problems is that employees might just put down what they think their manager wants to see (even if the survey is anonymous).

    I am a huge proponent of listening to employees. But my preference would be more along the lines of the manager having regularly scheduled individual meetings (perhaps monthly or quarterly) with each employee who works in their department. And then maybe individual meetings could be set up with the other people (e.g. the manager’s boss).

    Assuming that the manager creates a comfortable environment for the employee to give their feedback, I think there would be more honest feedback in one-on-one conversations. This would also give the employee a chance to clarify their answer if what they are trying to say is not initially clear.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Greg ~ You have highlighted the key to rendering 360 surveys and other such instruments redundant and that is creating an environment that encourages, values and practices honest exchanges of thought and feeling between people.
      Thank you for that and for coming by!

  4. BINGO! I echo Lolly’s excitement on this one. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water, but reality is the good intention of the 360 review cannot measure accurately what you are looking to understand and in turn can lead to irrelevant corrective action.

    I 100% agree with you that “Bob would like his colleagues to complete their survey about him favourably so he completes their surveys favourably too. It’s kind of a quid pro quo thing. You know?” That is a HUGE part of the data getting corrupted. My other concern is that we all have different scales. I may be self-righteous and judgemental, creating mark downs which are not a reflection of the severity of the flaw, or vice versa!

    There is definitely a need for a more involved conversation of listening and taking action, rather than the nice paper trail people like to have as CYA (Cover Your A$$) 360 reviews for box ticking purposes.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Thabo ~ Thanks for our enthusiastic review and succinct summary! We are agreeing to agree. So nice when that happens 🙂

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