This post, from January 2012, challenges the 360 degree feedback process first popularized in the 1990s. Too often, rather than use such a process as a springboard to having important conversations, we make the process itself the focal point thus diminishing its usefulness.
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.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?