“We're going to turn this team around 360 degrees.” (1)
-Jason Kidd, basketball player and coach
It happens from time-to-time, during performance evaluation time, or when a new “360 feedback” event kicks off. You start receiving any number of requests for feedback about your peers, subordinates, or bosses.
360-degree feedback (aka multi-rater feedback) is a potentially powerful tool, gathering balanced information about employees for development planning or performance appraisals. While the intentions are noble, it shares many of the characteristics of other heavyweight, centralized, time-wasting, stress-inducing, HR-driven processes. If misused, and it often is, 360 feedback adds up to one gigantic antipattern.
For most people, you will have more immediate success working within the system than you will complaining or trying to change it. Here are some suggestions:
Apply radical transparency
The process calls for you to fill out a form or answer questions and deliver your feedback (now called ‘data’) it into some anonymous machine, which delivers the feedback to the employee anonymously or via the manager. It’s scary, especially if some of your colleagues are inclined to weaponize the anonymity of such a process.
Before you feed the system, apply radical transparency. Have a discussion with that person, and simply put your notes from that conversation into the tool. Share the written submission with the person, by copy/paste from the tool or copying your email response. Hopefully this radical transparency will improve the working relationship you have with the subject of the feedback.
Subvert the performance appraisal aspect
Sometimes companies or functions use 360 feedback to differentiate performance, feeding data to the annual forced distribution, norm-referenced performance management machine that is so demotivating. Don’t conflate performance with feedback. Approach the activity with the mindset that you would any other feedback, being helpful, encouraging and non-judgmental. If you are forced to give numbers, use grade inflation: Only 4s and 5s (on a 5-point scale) to give some differentiation within the categories without any lower marks. If you give feedback to multiple people, make the numbers add up the same for each person.
Create a teachable moment
If you’re in an environment that is grumbling about the feedback process, explore it openly and figure out ways to make it better. Ask: What is it about this process that is so infuriating, stressful, unfair, time-consuming, or <whatever other emotion>? What can we do to alleviate that? What do we hope to get out of such a process? What can WE do to make it work better for us?
For those organizations ready to change, what you land on is this: Eliminate the event-driven feedback process, and create an environment where feedback is ubiquitous, helpful, and welcomed. Make your workplace one where everyone can help everyone to get better, and everyone can win.
(1) Quote is possibly apocryphal, but too delicious not to include. See: https://www.reddit.com/r/nba/comments/7mkoi1/did_jason_kidd_really_say_were_going_to_turn_this/