Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Get In Touch

with 3 comments

My friend and co-manager of the Linked In SIOP Practitioner Network, Paul Thoresen, passed along this link (http://lnkd.in/bP4ea69) that took me to a blog titled, “The Truth About 360-Degree Feedback”, noting that it was getting a lot of traction on LI.  At last, someone has seen the “truth”!!  This person is Liz Ryan, and she does indeed have quite a following.

Well, her “truth” is that 360 is “vile” and “garbage” and all sorts of nasty, inhuman things that keep us from talking to one another.  She says that employees shouldn’t give “performance reviews” on their peers but evidently it’s OK to give feedback, so I’m not sure what the distinction is.  We have all hoped that someday employees would be able to give honest, constructive feedback to each other. We also hope that all supervisors act consistently with organizational goals and values.  I also hope to win the lottery.

She says, “If your managers want to know how their Team Leaders are doing, they can get out of their offices and observe.”  Really?  There are so many realities working against that, they are impossible to count. The realities of work life are larger spans of control, empowered leaders performing in teams and out of the line of sight of their management, work happening in virtual teams across geographical boundaries on nonobservable technologies, matrix organizations and so on.

She says that leaders want to know, “Can you tell me about a specific situation where I did something you would have liked me to do differently, so that I can learn from it?” That’s what the 360 instrument can’t give you.”  Every 360 I do asks exactly that in the write in comments, and we expect our 360 participants to have a discussion with their team members and peers regarding their feedback. In other words, it is a discussion starter, a conversation enabler.  I wonder what kind of 360 she has experienced because there are indeed some bad ones in design and use.

Her solution:  Create an “assignment”.  I want you to sit down with each person on your team, individually and in a private place, and ask him or her “What is one thing I can do to be a better team leader?” Just ask for one suggestion. Write down the suggestions you get and then let’s sit and talk about them. When we meet for that conversation, I want to hear your suggestions for how I can be a better manager for you.

According to Liz, that’s going to build trust even where none exists. According to Liz, that’s going to create a more human environment. What she is describing is the kind of “one time” event she rails against in describing the vile 360 feedback system she has experienced.  Somehow writing down suggestions is going to create behavior change where none has existed in the past, where there is no follow up nor accountability.  Welcome to La La Land, Inc.

I suggest Liz and you all take a look at this recent Doonesbury cartoon (http://www.gocomics.com/doonesbury/2013/12/08#.UrC21OLWs24) that gets at one aspect of the need for employees to have a vehicle for identifying inappropriate supervisory  (or even peer) behavior that is inconsistent with organizational expectations, whether they be values or even policies and laws.  What Liz is proposing is basically following the “chain of command” in the organization, and expecting the employee to have faith that they can all of a sudden what they have not been perhaps allowed to do for their whole career, i.e., be honest with their boss, and hope that their input will be accepted and that there will be no retribution. That is a huge leap of faith unfortunately for all too many employees. And I’m afraid Liz is out of touch with that reality as well. Installing a “hot line” seems to be her solution for handling the “end runs” she also rails against. The Doonesbury example is an extreme one, but the point can be taken down a few notches to less egregious examples of behavior inconsistent with company values, even as simple as refusing to acknowledge the viewpoints of others.

But using 360’s to manage the negative performing end of the distribution is a minor part of the story. They are also used to identify and develop the leaders of the future for placement in our high potential programs and succession planning systems. They help guide development planning and coaching experiences and give us data that can measure progress over time so we know if our training and development systems are working.

The fact is that a well-designed and implemented 360 feedback system creates a level playing field for employees to see what is expected of their managers and peers. If every leader is required to participate, it creates real and perceived fairness.  It creates an opportunity to receive feedback which is necessary to for behavior change to occur.  Some people don’t like to receive feedback and they probably don’t have mirrors in their houses either.

As for stack rankings and performance reviews and even 360’s that are used to help make decisions about employees, the fact is that in organizations some people get more and some get less, whether it’s pay, promotions, even development experiences.  I’m  not sure how those decisions get made in a fair way in Liz’s La La Land where there is no performance review or 360’s, but 360’s done fairly and consistently can help inform decisions by collecting reliable information that is superior than that collected by a single source, whether that be a single supervisor, HR manager, or water cooler.

At the end Liz proposes 3 questions that a manager can use at his/her staff meeting:

“How are we doing?”

“How are you doing?” and

“How am I doing, managing you guys?”

These are great suggestions and are often part of the action plans coming out of 360 feedback coaching.  The problems are that:

1)      Many managers don’t do it, and they are the ones who need it most

2)      When managers do it, the responses are nonexistent or not honest

360 Feedback will catch up with the managers in Group 1, and create a forum for employees in Group 2.

No two 360 Feedback processes are alike and therefore certainly vary in their quality and effectiveness. To lump them all together and then label them as “vile” or whatever is certainly not responsible, Nor are they the answer to all organizational woes; far from it. But they can make some processes incrementally better if done well.

Get in touch, Liz

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Written by David Bracken

December 19, 2013 at 2:33 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Great response, David. I read Ryan’s piece today and immediately thought of you!

    C. Allen Gorman

    December 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm

  2. David, it is refreshing to see your willingness to take the gloves off…how else to quell the din of babblers?

    Carl

    December 20, 2013 at 8:56 am

  3. […] my last blog (https://dwbracken.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/get-in-touch/), we considered Liz’s opinion that 360 feedback processes are all vile and that no organization […]


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