Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

The Death Card

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A number of (pre-recession) years ago, I belonged to a firm that was operating in the black and held some very nice off-site meetings for its consultants. At one such event, we had an evening reception that had some fun activities, one of which being a Tarot reader. I don’t even read horoscopes but there was no one waiting and I decided to give it a try (the first and last time).  I obviously didn’t know much about Tarot but it seemed like the last card to be turned over was the most important. And, lo and behold, it was the Death card! I remember a pause from the Reader (perhaps an intake of breath?), and then a rapid clearing of the cards with some comment to the effect of, “That’s not important.”  Session over.

Well, I guess the good news is that I am still here (most people would agree with that I think).  My purpose for bringing this up is not to discuss superstitions and the occult, but to reflect on how people react to and use 360 feedback.

In fact, I have been known to call some 360 processes “parlor games, “which relates directly to my Tarot experience. That was a true “parlor game.”  What is a parlor game? My definition, for this context, is an activity that is fun and has no consequences, where a person can be the focus of attention with low risk of embarrassment and effort.  Since I strongly believe in self determination, I do my best to not let arbitrary events that I cannot control to affect my life. That would include a turn of a card, for starters.

So how do we ensure that 360 Feedback isn’t a parlor game and does matter? I propose that two important factors are Acceptance and Accountability.

Some of the design factors that promote Acceptance would include:

  • Use a custom instrument (to create relevance)
  • Have the rater select raters, with manager approval (to enhance credibility of feedback)
  • Enhance rater honesty and reliability (to help credibility of data)
  • Invite enough raters to enhance reliability and minimize effects of outliers
  • Be totally transparent to purpose, goals, and use (not mystical, magic, inconsistent or arbitrary)

Factors that can help create Accountability (and increase the probability of behavior change) include:

  • Require leaders to discuss results and development plans with raters (like going public with a New Year’s Resolution)
  • Include results as a component of performance management, typically in the development planning section, to create consequences for follow through, or lack thereof
  • Ensure that the leader’s manager is also held accountable for properly using results in managing and coaching
  • Conduct follow-up measures such as mini-360’s and/or annual readministrations.

Some 360 processes appear to define success as just creating awareness in the participants, hoping that the leader will be self motivated to change. That does happen; some leaders do change, at least for a while, and maybe even in the right way. (Some people probably change based on Tarot readings too!).  For those leaders who need to change the most, it usually doesn’t happen without Acceptance and Accountability.

Simply giving a feedback report to a leader and stopping there seems like a parlor game to me. A very expensive one.

©2011 David W. Bracken

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