Friday 16 March 2012

360 feedback - some musings...

There are two ways of doing 360 feedback. One is online, where colleagues answer a questionnaire, the data is collated and a skilled facilitator meets the subject of the process to talk through the feedback and draw some conclusions, leading to an action plan.

The second is for an independent person to conduct interviews with colleagues, and then collate the feedback and conduct the feedback meeting.

The first process has several advantages: it is quick, simple and relatively inexpensive; it allows comparisons to be made across populations (anonymously), and ensures consistency of questions, targetting issues that the organisation has deemed to be important.

However, I have a strong preference for the second approach, interviews; and not only because it generates work for me.

The advantages I see in the interview approach are these:

The subject of the process is involved in deciding what questions are asked.  That means that issues which are important to the individual are addressed, and also that there is a greater commitment from the individual to the process, increasing the probability of profound learning and action as a result. That does not mean that the issues the organisation deems important are not explored. Typically, I suggest that questions around the organisation's competence framework are among those to be asked.

Likewise the subject is involved in deciding whom should be interviewed, with similar impact.  I always encourage people to include those who think well of them and those who don’t, as well as considering the 360 degree aspect.

Moreover, the interviewees are much more engaged in the process. Frequently, when I am conducting such interviews, people tell me that they have previously done online feedback, and find it a less satisfying or worthwhile experience; some say that the online process doesn't really get them to think and reflect, but just give quick and (possibly) superficial answers.  Others have told me that they weren't asked the right questions: the one bit of feedback they think would be really valuable isn't asked for. 

Clearly the cumulative effect of participants finding the online process unsatisfactory could be that the process loses credibility in the organisation.

Further, by being involved in the process in this active way, interviewees' perceptions are changed, generally for the better. This is another application of tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner. That is, to understand everything is to forgive everything.  Quite frequently, people when interviewed will have something negative to say about the individual: not least because I encourage the subject of the process to choose people whom they suspect will offer criticism as part of their sample.  

However, when they are invited to reflect in depth and in a safe thinking environment, on the other's behaviour, intentions and motivations, they often move beyond an initial critical stance to a more understanding, and often more compassionate and sympathetic evaluation.  That has value to the organisation, as relationships are thereby potentially improved as part of the very process.

This aspect of the interview as an intervention was particularly brought home to me a few years ago, when there was a delay between my collecting the feedback and meeting the subject to share and discuss it.  In the interim, I met one of the people I had interviewed, and she was keen to tell me about the impact the feedback had had: how the subject was really making an effort to change now, and so on.... My interpretation of that was that the colleague had left the interview with a readiness to expect positive change, and had regarded the subject differently, looking for evidence of more positive behaviour; and what we look for, we find.

Also, when discussing the feedback, someone who has done the interviews has a much better understanding of the issues and the feelings and nuances that sit behind them, than can be gleaned from online surveys.  That can lead to a deeper understanding and a richer discussion, resulting in more insight, better action planning, and greater commitment to carry the actions forward.

So for all these reasons, I am convinced that an interview-based 360 process is far more powerful than the online version: more expensive, undoubtedly; but I suspect it to be better value for money.  Proving that, however, is very difficult indeed...

No comments:

Post a Comment