22nd Aug 2012
How do you rescue a 360 project that's hitting the rocks? Here are some lessons from TZ's coastguard, Jo Ayoubi.
When done properly, 360 Degree Feedback can be a powerful tool for creating behaviour change in teams or organisations and it can be a big motivator for individuals in their career and development planning. But 360 Degree Feedback doesn't always go the way you planned it and things can go wrong. Bad design, negative reactions, poor communication, lack of understanding, messy processes, clunky systems and a lack of follow-up can scupper your 360 and make it difficult to use again.
Why do 360 projects fail?
The usual reasons for failure of 360 can be any combination of content, communications, processes or follow-up.
- It's not the right 360 for what you're trying to do: it doesn't reflect the behaviours you are trying to embed so people don’t see the relationship between the 360 and their role or job description
- It's too long so people get bored and complete badly or not at all
- It's too generic, or has too much jargon, which puts people off engaging with it
Poor communications leading to poor understanding
- People don't understand what it's for
- Managers and people don't get enough communication and briefing and are hesitant to engage fully and honestly
- It doesn't seem to have a real business purpose or value – it's just another chore that HR is asking us to do
- Feedback is just another management fad of the month/year/decade
- Senior people and line managers don't really want to do it so why should I bother?
Poor process with unprofessional and clunky online tools
- Feedback systems that involve multiple email exchange between participants and raters – i.e. it's too much like hard work for users
- Complicated or clunky online forms and systems that are hard to navigate
- Lack of swift support. Users need to be able to access the system easily and quickly as they tend to set aside time in which to provide colleague feedback
Poor or overcomplicated reporting
- This is a big issue that many organisations come to us about when they have used 360 previously. The 360 Degree Feedback report should be easy to use and interpret. A good test is whether a line manager who is unfamiliar with the content would be able to get a good feel for the key messages in the report on first reading; even if further reading is required to get into the detail
- Showing too much detailed statistical information is confusing and puts users off the report. The statistics should show the key competencies or behaviours based on raters' feedback and self-assessment and should compare and contrast relevant areas with a clear message on strengths and development areas.
Lack of follow-up
This is probably the most common reason why 360 Degree Feedback fails to meet expectations. Organisations can be really good at planning, communicating and running 360 Degree Feedback only to fail at the final stage by not giving clear instructions and guidelines to the next steps. For example, who to share your feedback with, what the output of that sharing will be, what happens next and what the organisation expects you to achieve based on the process.
FUDS - an environment of Fear, Uncertainly, Doubt and Suspicion
This is a critical point. If the organisation is going through processes such as redundancy, downsizing or restructuring, it's often a very bad idea to run 360 Degree Feedback at that time. The nature of 360 Degree Feedback is that it will flourish in an environment where people broadly trust each other and the organisation. If there is emotional uncertainty and lack of trust, it won't work – in fact it will probably make things worse.
So how do you rescue a 360 Degree Feedback that’s hit the rocks?
Use the points above to analyse the sources of unhappiness or discontent with the 360 – ask users, managers and stakeholders for their honest opinions. And listen to the answers.
If necessary, reduce the number of questions and ensure they are couched in the organisation's language. A good online 360 tool will allow you to edit your 360 easily and without additional cost.
Pull back from running the 360 with large groups and run it for small groups who have a specific purpose and reason to use 360. For example, groups who are looking for promotion or development, new managers or people in new leadership roles.
Review your communications – is it completely clear what the tangible outcomes will be? And, rather than mass emails and lots of cheerleading, use small team meetings to talk directly to people about what you're doing with the 360, how and why you're changing it and what it’s going to mean for them. This will also give them a chance to ask questions and cover any worries they may have.
Ask one or two senior leaders to talk about their 360, what it did for them and how it has helped them to improve – and link this to the organisation's business goals.
Planning ahead to avoid the reefs
You can't plan too carefully for 360 Degree Feedback. Good design and advance planning, taking all these points into account, will really help to create value and tangible benefits for your organisation's 360.
Jo Ayoubi is managing director of Track Surveys Ltd