Am I ready for a 360° Feedback program?

Lately I’ve received a lot of calls and emails about doing a 360° Managerial Feedback program for clients.  It’s been my experience that this is actually quite common during tough times, such as many organizations are currently enduring.  I thought it might be worthwhile to outline why and how to use such a program.

I’ve used such programs since 1990 and have found them quite useful, when deployed appropriated.  I’ve done such programs for companies, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions.

The core purpose of any such program should be to provide feedback to managers from their peers, direct reports, and superior manager regarding performance.  (Note:  when you read manager you can substitute ‘leader’ if it fits your organization.)

Such a program is appropriately used for performance development, coaching, and teambuilding.

A 360º feedback program should not be used as a substitute for giving performance feedback, especially difficult issues.  Caution is also advised not to use this process in place of ongoing, forthright performance feedback, succession planning, or basic career discussions and decisions.  This includes using it as a mechanism to ‘weed-out’ poor performers.  Just don’t do it!

A few of the critical issues that have to be considered before embarking on such a program include:

  • Willingness—all parties must be willing to participate and understand the reasons for the feedback

  • Confidentiality—ensure feedback is confidential and anonymous

  • Implementation—can be done via web or paper copy

  • Follow-up Coaching—report will be reviewed with consultant and manager initially with an opportunity for the manager to develop action plans; second meeting with raters held a few weeks after initial coaching; further coaching recommended depending on results and usage

Before I begin a program, I discuss the following questions:

Are your managers experienced in their roles and their current team?

Yes—  If they have managed their current team for more than nine months, then they and their teams have enough behavioral information to use in completing a feedback program.

No—  If they are new to this team or if there is a constant state of flux in organization, the ability to complete a beneficial feedback program will be difficult.

I also ask if they have ever been through a similar such feedback program.  If they have, I ask about their experiences.  I find this is quite helpful in preparing the overall program—selection of feedback tool, coaching, and action planning.  Likewise, I strive to learn if such a program has been used by the organization and, if so, how successful it was.  In particular, I like to find out how it was perceived by raters (employees) as well as management.

Is the 360º Feedback Program integrated with other managerial and organizational development activities?

Yes—  If the feedback program is one of the activities used to develop the company and its managers, then it will be readily accepted as another component of building the business and its leaders.  Other components could include training, mentor programs, and job rotation.

No—  If this is the only activity to develop your managers, it will not be effective.  Managers and employees will not understand why and how feedback will develop them or their teams.  They will assume it is being implemented because of problems, to ‘weed-out’ ineffective managers, or to target employees who make negative comments.

What is your primary reason for implementing a 360º Feedback Program?

Management performance feedback.  While a program can be effective in giving managers effective direction, it should not be used in place of good, continual feedback regarding their performance.  They should receive regular such input from their management, peers, and direct reports and this program can augment that process.  It should be used in tandem with such feedback.

Other companies are doing it.  It seems to be popular.  Use caution in relying on other companies and their programs to adopt processes that are integral to your business.  Just as you would not singularly adopt another company’s accounting system, you should use discretion in choosing a feedback program for your company that is specific to your needs.  I often get calls from people saying that they’ve heard how wonderful such a program has been at another company.  Or they have read a book about such program.  Again, I work with them to ensure they understand the usages and implications of a program.  I once had a CEO insist that his CFO undergo a 360 process that was specifically tailored for salespeople.  I told him that it just didn’t make sense to do so.  He said the reason was to help the CFO understand the importance of sales.  I actually refused to do the program since I believe there are other ways to accomplish this.  (That, plus can you imagine the confusion of the raters having to give feedback to the CFO on their ability to sell—the assumptions and rumors would be rampant.)

Management and team development.  This can be the most powerful reason to adopt a 360º Feedback Program because it is most beneficial when it is geared towards building your leaders and teams into crucial contributors to your company’s success.  Such a program should be integrated into other business and people practices to gain maximum application and outcomes. 

My executive team wants it.  It is great that your executives see the need to develop their managers and teams.  While this is a welcome opportunity, ensure that you are clear on how they plan to use the program and why they are interested in it.  Take the time to discuss the program’s implications, implementation, and intent before launching it.  Challenge them to champion the program by beginning the process with them and then having them share it with their managers.  This will model effective leadership and encourage the entire organization to accept the program.

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