The Power of a 360 Review
Traditional reviews are performed just by your manager. A 360 review includes your manager, your peers, and your direct reports. That’s why its called 360, because feedback comes from all directions in the organization. Today I’ll give you four solid reasons why you should consider implementing 360 reviews for yourself and your organization. I will also give you some best practices on how to conduct the review.
It Affirms Or Reveals – It will affirm strengths and weaknesses you already knew about yourself. This is a win because it reinforces truths you knew and those truth become more cemented into your mind and heart. If it doesn’t affirm then it will reveal strengths and weaknesses you weren’t aware of. This is also a win because it reveals blind spots you didn’t know existed. This revelation helps you develop new aspects of your professional life. Either way, affirming or revealing, it is a developmental win-win.
It Provides More – A 360 review by a group provides more than a traditional review by a manager. It provides MORE information because it’s soliciting info from a group of people instead of an individual. It provides MORE accurate information because your peers know more about you than your manager since they spend MORE time with you. It provides MORE validating information because you receive praise from a range of people and not just your boss. 360 reviews provide MORE.
It Avoids Halos & Horns – When information flows through one individual, nuance is lost. When just a manager reviews you, his or her feedback can move to an extreme, either good or bad. That person will either crown you with a halo or punish you with horns. You become a saint or a sinner. Sometimes you feel like a gladiator standing before a Roman emperor awaiting life or death based upon thumbs up or thumbs down. Also a manager can lapse into reviewing you based on the most recent interaction, instead of a range of interactions, which also fosters a halos or horns perspective.
A Supplement Not Substitute – A 360 review adds supplementary information to the normal review process and regular feedback of a manager. It supplements but it should not substitute. If a manager has specific performance issues with an employee, he or she should discuss those issues with the employee directly, candidly, and immediately. 360 reviews are not a substitute for good leadership and management. I do not recommend a 360 if an employee is is not getting effective and regular feedback from their manager; it’s unlikely to be a positive experience for anyone. Get managerial feedback first and then supplement it with a 360.
So those were the four why’s. Now let’s examine the nine how’s.
Lead It Yourself – Most organizations that conduct 360 reviews will have the manager lead the process. The manager initiates the process, analyzes the data and then presents the feedback. I recommend you lead this process yourself for a two reasons. One, you don’t need to wait for your organization to get behind this feedback tool. Instead you can spearhead its implementation by starting it yourself. Which will hopefully catch on across the whole organization, and in turn make everyone better. Two, it cuts out the middle man. It allows you to hear direct feedback instead of hearing it through your manager. This eliminates the telephone game and gives you a chance to ask follow up questions. Now hear is my only caveat for leading it yourself – you have to work in a healthy organization. If you work in a toxic work environment then I wouldn’t suggestion using this feedback tool because it will cause more harm than good. For those of you who are working, or have worked in a toxic environment, you know what I’m talking about
Ask Feedback From 9 People – This is a pretty particular number and there is a reason for it. I like to get equal feedback from 360 degrees. This means three people above you, three people beside you, and three below you. Asking feedback from 2 people at each level isn’t enough to pick up on patterns. Asking for feedback from 4 people will take too long. Side note – when I say below, that does not mean inferior, that just means you are positionally higher on the org chart. I learn the most from those ‘below’ me because I rub shoulders with them the most, and because they are smart and talented people. You might work in an organization and think you don’t have anyone below because you don’t have any direct reports. This isn’t true. For instance, if you work in any non-profit I guarantee there are a number of volunteers that directly report to you.
Ask Feedback From Trusted People – Ask feedback from people you trust, people that will tell you the truth in love. Ask people that know you well and that you know well. Opening yourself up to feedback from this many people is vulnerable and exposes you to potential wounding. That’s why I strongly suggest only selecting people you feel can communicate negative information in a positive manner. If you don’t select trusted people, then the feedback could sap your morale, destroy your motivation and become a hindering instead of helping experience. So ask for feedback from people that want the best from you and for you.
Focus On Strengths Then Weaknesses – A 360 review should focus on your strengths and weaknesses in areas such as leadership, teamwork, accountability, vision, work habits, and interpersonal communication. I say strengths then weaknesses because it can be tempting to forgo strengths and jump directly to weaknesses. When you focus on strengths first it becomes a more natural process for the person giving, and the person receiving the feedback. There is nothing more awkward for both parties than jumping right to the negative.
Focus More On Strengths – Marcus Buckingham in his book First Break All the Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, explains how great managers focus on employee strengths over weaknesses. He says, “People don’t change that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in.” Employees who excel apply this principle of focusing more on strengths when they lead others. Employees who excel also apply this principle when they lead themselves. Our propensity to focusing on the negative can make this principle difficult to apply, but if you are able to overcome this tendency towards negativity, you will professionally develop at a much faster pace.
Do It Yearly – This might sound like I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m not. I just want to keep growing, so I keep looking for 360 feedback every year. Doing this yearly also helps me see where I have come from and where I’m going. It helps me see areas that have grown and need to be celebrated and areas that have stagnated and need to be worked on. It is also wise to do this yearly because there are always new people in your organization. New managers, new peers, new direct reports. And these new people will have a fresh perspective on you, and for you.
Examples And Documentation – During the review make sure to ask for examples and document what you hear. Examples allow you to clearly visualize abstract feedback. The feedback might be ‘you don’t seem respectful to co-workers’. If you ask for an example you might hear ‘it feels disrespectful when you do the majority of the printing but never replace the paper’. So if you get vague feedback always ask for an example. Also make sure to document all the feedback you get. This allows you to reference the feedback throughout the year and continually grow. It also allows you to look back over the years and see how you progressively developed, or not.
Don’t Respond Defensively Or Offensively – It can be easy to respond defensively or offensively to negative feedback. Neither is good. Neither promotes growth. When you respond defensively, ‘well the reason I do that is…’ it explains away your negative conduct, and you don’t grow. When you respond offensively, “you think I’m unorganized, your the one with post-it notes covering your office…” it focuses the attention away from you, and you don’t grow. So if you can’t respond defensively or offensively during the review, how should you respond? You should respond graciously. A simple “thank you for taking the time to share your insights and help me grow” is a great way to conclude any 360 review.
Start With Yourself – You might be a manager thinking that a 360 review is a great idea for your direct reports. And it is. But it needs to be a great idea for you first. So begin top down in an organization with this feedback tool by applying it to yourself before you apply it to others. Nothing builds a positive culture of feedback in an organization like a clear example from the top. Remember that as a manager you can only lead people as far as you have gone yourself.
Those are my four reasons why you should implement 360 reviews and my nine best practices on how to do them. If I missed any let me know. I would love to hear from you and learn from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and find out more about me at benstapley.info. The 360 review isn’t a silver bullet or the sole key to leadership and management but it does have tremendous advantages for professional development and growth.