I used to be a big fan of 360 feedback. It seemed like the ideal way to make the performance review discussion more well-rounded and richer. And I believed that it helped people to accept and work on feedback if it came from a wider range of sources than just their line manager. But over the years I have become convinced that 360 feedback is a waste of time.
There are a number of reasons for wanting to get rid of 360 feedback.
It’s bad data
The performance data guru Marcus Buckingham is really interesting on this and it’s worth reading his Harvard Business Review article on 360 feedback from a few years ago. In summary though, he says that no individual is capable of rating another person’s behaviours in a consistent and objective way. By having multiple subjective opinions through a 360 – you actually compound the problem. For this reason alone, we shouldn’t be bothering with them.
A bureaucratic nightmare
The second reason to give up 360 feedback is the bureaucratic nightmare it presents. Once a year, you get a deluge of 360 surveys to complete – and the more senior you are – the more you get. I have filled out tons of these as a leader and I can honestly say that, despite wanting to take each one seriously and give it lots of attention – when you get to the 20th one that week, you rattle through each question at speed – giving it minimal thought. 360 feedback is a pain for leaders – taking up time they haven’t got – to answer lots of questions about someone with whom they rarely come into contact. Even those leaders who are undoubtedly more conscientious than me will be just trying to clear the backlog of 360’s as quickly as they can.
Of course, we then have all the bureaucracy about signing off nominated reviewers, getting all the reviews done and the 360’s published. I once had a Head of L&D who felt he had to help each recipient understand their feedback which led to a massive delay in everyone getting their reports. The whole process can take weeks. Not really appropriate for a fast moving world.
The lack of outcomes
But the main reason why we shouldn’t be bothering with 360 feedback is because they don’t lead to changes in behaviour. To illustrate my point, I thought I’d tell you about two people I worked with who, I believe, demonstrated the two classic responses to 360 feedback.
First up – Grant – a very senior colleague. He and I both received our 360 feedback as part of a leadership programme we were on together. He read through his – a fairly mixed bag to be honest –and shrugged. His attitude was that if they hadn’t bothered to tell him to his face, it wasn’t worth bothering about. I kind of admired his thick skin but what a waste of time for all those reviewers.
The second person worked for me – Diana. Her report was glowing – with the exception of one verbatim comment which was very critical of her. She immediately ignored all of the many positive reviews and got very upset by the one negative review. She became frantic trying to work out which colleague it was who was so damning and openly defending herself against the reviewer’s comments. What a waste of time for her.
Most people tend to react like Diana to 360 reviews. We will skip past the meaningless spider diagrams that rate us against the competencies and which we can’t really make sense of – and jump straight to the comments. Some we recognise from feedback we have already had – in which case – why did we need to read them in a report? And some are new. And if this new feedback is anonymous – isn’t it probably right that we don’t give it too much credence? Now, of course – if all the anonymous, new feedback is from your direct reports and is negative, then this should probably give you the incentive to reflect upon your management style. But if none of your team have felt able to talk to you directly, what are the chances that you are going to read the feedback and react positively and openly? Slim to non-existent I’d have thought!
360 feedback is bad data, is time consuming and doesn’t drive changes to behaviour. It’s time to trash them along with the other big set annual pieces.