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360 Feedback and Self Awareness

December 12th, 2010 · No Comments

Fellow blogger and venture capitalist Brad Feld had a very interesting post on his blog: The Power of a CEO 360 Review.

I had to admit that I hadn’t been a big fan of performance reviews in any shape or form in the past. In fact, one of the most popular articles on this blog is The Dirty Secrets of Performance Review.

However, my perspective on performance review, 360 feedback in particular, had changed a little bit lately. When 360 feedback is done right, it could be a very important and valuable tool for both management and employees.

Let me tell you a story. John is an experienced program manager at a large enterprise software company. He started working at his current company three years ago. During his six months, he was able to ship two products that had been delayed for a long time. His manager was really impressed. He felt really good about the hiring.

Another six months passed, and John just hit his one-year mark with the company. The manager started to hear complaints. It turned out that pretty much everyone who worked with John didn’t like to work with him. He was rude, abrasive, and had a tendency to rob  people the wrong way. In fact, the situation got so bad that several people had filed complaints with HR.

The manager had a meeting with John. When the manger raised the issues with John, he was completely blindsided. He felt that he was loved by everyone. In fact, he felt that he was very popular among his colleagues, and he couldn’t believe others’ complaints about him.

Fortunately, this company had a very experienced human resource team who care about its employees. The HR manager set up a 360 degree feedback loop for John, and introduced John to counseling.

In the end, John was able to change his behaviors, and significantly improved his interaction with his colleagues.

A key learning from this story is that people have different degrees of self awareness. Some people tend to be more “optimistic”, and feel good about themselves. Some people tend to be more self critical. But, our self perception could be very different from reality. For managers, if you’re not actively seeking feedback from others about your team members, you might be blindsided as well.

When 360 feedback is done correctly, it could provide well needed feedback to both employees and managers. Professionally, I have run into several personnel challenges in the past few years. Almost without exception, lack of self awareness is a key driver for the performance issues. Honest, direct, and fair 360 feedback could play a critical role in raising each individual employee’s self awareness, and improve his or her performance before it becomes too late.

If you have never implemented 360 feedback in your organization before, I have the following suggestions:

  • Set clear objectives and expectation before you roll out the 360 feedback process. Ask people to be honest, direct, and fair.
  • You should define who will provide the 360 feedback for a particular employee. Are you going to let people to self select reviewers? Or you want to designate certain people to provide feedback? Personally I like to designate certain people to provide feedback. Self selection might lead to employees mutually singing praises.
  • Keep each feedback confidential.
  • Implement a standard template or tool for the 360 feedback to standardize the process. If you have a small organization, a Microsoft Word template might be enough.

Tags: Frustration@Work · Learning and Growing · Management

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