How I run 360 degree feedback

This post is a follow-up to my notes on “feedback driven culture” that you can find here.

Why?

360 degree feedback is a crucial tool to:

  • Evaluate a team member’s progress towards goals which were defined in the past. Having transparency helps with expectation management and as a solid basis to reach fair raises and promotions.
  • Point the team member towards how he/she could fill his/her current role better.
  • Help the team member to shape his/her career and to reach their long term goals.
  • Show consideration for the colleague as a human with strength and shortcomings.
  • Strengthen the personal connection to you as the team lead and the company by showing why the colleague is a good match and how he/she is contributing to the team.

How?

Please note that this is the way I’m doing 360 degree feedback. There’s probably many better ways.

  1. Kick-Off: Let the colleague – let’s name him Bill – know that you are going to collect 360 degree feedback for him.
    • Immediately schedule a meeting blocker for roughly an hour and a half to share the outcome with Bill. This forces yourself to collect the feedback in reasonable time.
    • Ask Bill who he thinks is in the best position to judge his work. If Bill works with people in multiple disciples, make sure to chose at least one person per discipline to give feedback. Be sure to not leave out relevant colleagues who might speak up critically. From my experience, it’s usually easy to come up with half a dozen people. The final list should not contain too many names either, as that will increase the time costs without necessarily improving the feedback much. Feedback has diminishing returns too.
    • Share your template of questions with Bill. You can find a template e.g. null. Now Bill will know what categories of feedback to expect. Ask Bill whether there’s a special question that he would like to collect input on. While the standardized template of questions ensures some comparability of 360 degree feedbacks in the team, the customization with an additional question helps Bill to get most value out of the feedback and be more open to it.
  2. Collect feedback:
    • Let every chosen colleague know that their feedback has been requested for Bill’s 360 degree feedback and that their contribution is greatly appreciated, as it’s going to help Bill, a valued team member. The request is unlikely to be declined if the timeframe to provide the feedback is set reasonably. Also ask the colleague providing the feedback what their preferred way of sharing the feedback is: asynchronously, in written form, or in a conversation (in that case, schedule a session for half an hour). Stress that any feedback provided is anonymous. Immediately share the questionnaire and ask the colleague to spend a few minutes mulling over the questions before providing feedback. If the person providing the feedback sees the questions for the first time when being asked, the feedback might lack depth.
      • If the feedback is provided in a conversation and you are not used to listening, questioning, and typing at the same time, record the conversation (with consent).
      • Keep the relationship between the feedback giver and Bill in mind. There might be friendships or animosities which can skew the feedback. The roles is also relevant: a designer will provide feedback on different tasks than a product manager.
      • Pay attention to the feedback giver’s personality, as it affects the expression of the feedback. Most people tend towards being polite when providing formal feedback - people falling on the other side of the spectrum will be quite critical. From one colleague, a “good” might equal to an okay, from someone else it might mean awesome. Some people are not super comfortable passing straight judgement on someone else. From such people you’ll not get valuable input when asking directly about the colleague’s weakness. Letting the feedback giver changing perspective can ease him/her into being more open: “Imagine that you’re meeting a close friend over a couple of the beers. Well into the evening the friend says: ‘Bill is joining my team, and I’m his onboarding buddy. You worked with him – can you point me to an area where I need to pay special attention so that he can hit the ground running?’”.
      • Be very specific when asking about strengths and weaknesses. If you ask “How is Bill’s verbal communication?”, you might not get the most out of it: Usually the answer will be along the lines of “Bill’s communication is good”. It helps to ask “Which aspect of Bill’s verbal communication is especially strong? Which aspect could still he work on?”. The answer from the same person will now be: ”Bill keeps himself short and focuses on the most important points, that’s great. Sometimes he could speak a bit louder so that everyone understands him. Overall I think he does good.”
      • It’s important to dive deeper than the feedback that is shared. If feedback is “I feel that Bill is disorganized at times”, it’s important to know what shaped the impression. Often it’s stemming from specific situations: “When we were at the client last week, Bill forgot to bring his display dongle, so that we couldn’t present on the big screen until David found an adaptor, which delayed the presentation for 10min”. From there, go one level deeper still to uncover behavioral patterns: “What makes Bill behave disorganized. Is there a trigger that you noticed?” – which might lead to an answer like: ”His lack of organization seems to get worse every time that he is anxious. Maybe he is not so comfortable presenting?”. It’s especially important to dig through those layers if the feedback is not super constructive or very subjective.
      • After having finished the notes, share them with the feedback giver. It gives the feedback giver the opportunity to verify that you didn’t mis-hear / mis-interpret / missed anything. The feedback giver can also add thoughts that came to mind later.
  3. Structure the raw data: Once all feedback is collected, you need to structure it, so that it can be grasped.
    • Join all the different feedback notes into one humongous document so that all person’s answers are grouped by question. The core strength and weaknesses of Bill will be easy to spot, as they’ll be repeated in more or less every person’s feedback. Group and deduplicate the points for every question. Keep quotes to emphasize points and when a feedback statement hits the nail on its head. Keep in mind that citations can inadvertently identify the feedback giver, so smooth the language so that it’s generic enough to not point to a specific person. Try to get the permission from feedback givers to use examples they used as fundament of the feedback.
    • Lastly, add a TLDR to bigger sections. E.g.: ”Your colleagues think that you are not ready to move to a position with people responsibility yet. The main reason that was stated is that you are perceived to be too shy to motivate a team to follow you when things get tough.”.
  4. Share and discuss feedback: Finally the day of sharing the feedback has come. Free up enough time for it. Prepare by asking yourself the question: How can you put the feedback so that Bill will understand what you are about to share with him? The answer will be different for every person.
    • Start by re-iterating the process: You collected feedback from the most important colleagues, as aligned with Bill. You structured the feedback for him - and today is the day to share and discuss the feedback.
    • Communicate that there will be a follow-up (e.g. a week later) to make a professional development / growth plan and to set goals. The week in between should be enough for Bill to reflect on the feedback. It will be Bill’s responsibility to identify the parts of the feedback that he wants to react to and to think about goals he wants to set for himself. You, his manager, will just guide him through the process. Explain the model that you use for the development plan (e.g. the GROW model or the structure laid out below).
    • Give Bill the big picture that the feedback shaped. If you are happy that Bill is part of the team state it clearly (with the main “why”). If things look a bit dire, be straight with him too. The reason to start with the summary is that people remember best the beginning and the end of meetings. By starting with the summary, you frame the fractured, detailed feedback. Without the framing it’s easy to get lost in all the nitty-gritty of individual feedback points. It’s easy too to get a wrong impression of the relation between positive feedback and the points to improve by looking at the length of the text for each.
    • Open the document where you summed up Bill’s feedback and show it on the screen - but only one section at a time. Either read the feedback aloud for him, or give him some time to read the paragraph. Give Bill the most relevant context (e.g. how important the points just read are overall). Ask Bill whether he can relate to the feedback, whether it surprises him, and whether he needs more background on the feedback to understand it better. Often you will find that Bill is well aware of his strength and weaknesses and can relate. Surprises should be rare, if Bill is not junior and receives feedback frequently e.g. on tasks, in 1:1s. Naturally, there will be small conversations around some feedback points. Keep them to five minutes max, or you will exhaust Bill completely – receiving feedback is draining!
    • Close off like you started: Re-iterate the big take-away. Remind Bill that he is responsible to prepare the development plan for the follow-up meeting. Make sure that he understood both points by asking him to re-iterate them.
    • Don’t end the meeting without showing some empathy: ”How do you feel Bill?”. If you delivered the feedback well, there will be a moment of looseness, relieve. The last hour and the half, Bill and you unhinged some of the professional emotional distance that both of you normally maintain at work.
    • Don’t forget to schedule the follow-up meeting. An hour of time is plenty.
    • Share the feedback document with Bill.
  5. Build an action plan together:
    • Remind Bill ahead of the meeting that it’s his responsibility to bring the main input for the action plan.
    • Prepare actions that you want to recommend to Bill.
    • Start the meeting by asking Bill, what his take-away is a week after having heard the feedback.
      • “Which feedback occupied you most?“
      • ”Which feedback points don’t you want to address? Why?”
    • Ask Bill to walk you through the action plan he created. Support him with your suggestions.
    • Leave the meeting with an action plan that Bill and you agree on. Actions should be concrete and measurable. Share the final document with Bill and add the action plan to whatever employee tracking system your company uses.

Example structure for an action plan

Target Action to achieve Evidence of completion Target date

Defining measurable actions for soft skills, usually the limiting factor of more senior team members, is hard. I’m considering a post just dedicated to this topic.


If you want to see an example a 360 degree feedback as described in this post, you can find my last evaluation here.