By Susan deBruyn
360 reviews can be a great tool to gain feedback from managers, colleagues, direct reports and other members of your workplace as long as everyone is equipped to understand and process the results.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.””
Elon Musk, Businessman and Investor
You may be familiar with the 360-degree feedback instrument. Perhaps you have been a subject, a rater, or possibly both over the years. Some people love them, others not so much. Most people are mixed on the pros and cons, and advice abounds on what to do in a 360, what not to do in a 360, and how to go about conducting the review with the subject on their results.
Or this may be new to you. 360 feedback is an assessment process administered by someone certified to do so. The process collects anonymous feedback on an individual from others known as respondents or raters, where they rate the subject on various skills and abilities. The subject receives their results and can see how others view them, their strengths and recommended areas of improvement.
Each 360 survey has a specific purpose or focus. Some 360s are given alongside the annual evaluation process and used to provide feedback on the subject’s job performance for the year. More often, a 360 is used to aid in creating a professional development plan, assessing, for example, if the subject currently has the skill set or, with training, could eventually move into a leadership role. The overarching purpose is to help the subject learn and grow and provide insight into their competencies.
How Does a 360 Work?
The subject self-evaluates, completing the 360 assessment, then invites others to respond to the same assessment. The recommended maximum number of raters varies from 13 to 15, with a minimum of no fewer than five. Those invited to respond are grouped by category and can be managers, colleagues, direct reports, team members, customers or others providing the subject a 360-view of their performance. The feedback is usually anonymous, but some people support the option to be transparent and identify who said what. Not surprisingly, there is controversy on whether this is a good idea.
My first 360 experience was uneventful but a good introduction to the process. The next 360 opportunity several years later was a different story. This time a group of us were asked to be 360 subjects in preparation for some professional development coaching we’d be receiving in our department. My colleagues and I dutifully completed our own 360 questionnaires and most of us were also raters for each other’s 360s. The results were sent out; unfortunately, one participant was unprepared for some very candid but less than positive feedback, which caused unpleasant tension in our workplace.
What I Learned From My 360-Feedback Experiences
In retrospect, my colleagues and I would have benefitted from guidance prior to completing the questionnaires. I would have preferred more transparency about the vulnerable position in which a 360 review places participants, as well as how to prepare for the results.
In addition, I would have liked some direction on handling less than positive feedback. Unexpected negative comments from colleagues can sting. As a result, it’s only human nature to try to figure out who contributed the negative comments, which can cause more trouble and distract us from the benefits the 360 provides.
Advice on how to rate a subject would also be helpful. Knowing how to provide feedback based only on the person’s performance versus the individual’s personality is important. It ensures that honest but constructive comments are given in a way that will benefit the subject and can mitigate any unpleasant reactions.
Reviewing the 360 Results
As a subject, I would have liked more information on how to interpret my results ahead of actually reading them. Different schools of thought exist on how to go about distributing and discussing the results with the subject. To avoid any misinterpretation, some experts recommend the subject be presented with their results and read them for the first time while meeting with the coach or administrator as opposed to reading them alone ahead of time.
In reality, most subjects receive and read their results on their own, before the review session, familiarizing themselves with the feedback relative to how they self-assessed their goals and performance. They then meet with the coach or administrator for a debriefing.
Results can be paraphrased by the administrator, or feedback that is overly critical and not constructive can even be removed before being given to the subject.
I was guilty myself after reading my results of wondering who suggested I improve the way I went about a certain job process. It was tempting to ponder which of my raters made these comments, but I was also aware I could be wrong, and there was no way to be sure who I was about to pin this on, and then what? I didn’t want to be fixated on this and have it affect the dynamic with my colleagues and manager. Instead, my coach and I used all the comments I received to determine the best development plan for me.
What To Do With A Less Than Glowing 360 Report
Let’s say your 360 feedback report isn’t as favorable as you expected. What do you do now?
According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), how you choose to handle negative feedback can increase your chances of making the 360 an overall positive learning experience. So, how does one respond well to negative comments from colleagues? Feeling defensive is not uncommon; however, before reacting, try pausing first and sitting with your feedback. Take some time and reflect on what was said. Is there some truth to the negative comments and do they sound appropriately relative to you? Adopt an attitude of curiosity as to what you can learn about yourself.
The HBR article points out that we all have room for improvement. That said, 360 scores and comments are others’ observations and opinions. You don’t have to immediately reinvent yourself according to what every one of your raters thinks you should do and be. With the help of your coach during your de-briefing, it’s up to you to decide what to work on. Begin with focusing on one or two areas that would benefit your performance or that speak to your personal values, as opposed to taking on all the negative feedback at the same time. You might also choose additional coaching and training in your professional growth and development journey.
Don’t make light of the positive feedback you’ve been given, either. Give just as much attention to what you do well. Your strengths are key in creating an action plan and moving forward.
Beyond the 360 Process
Sometimes the 360 is repeated in 6-12 months to track progress on your goals. Maybe you take part in an annual feedback process, or it will be a one-time occurrence. You might use the 360, you might use a different process, or you might informally reflect on your performance and goals. Either way, feedback is crucial to your development and growth. Elon Musk agrees. He states, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”
Susan deBruyn recently retired from The University of Texas at Austin as a Senior Human Resource Coordinator after working more than 16 years in the professional and continuing education field for adult learners.
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