We all need feedback and we need better feedback more frequently – who could argue with that?
But what do we do with the feedback we get? How do we approach responding to 360 Degree Feedback?
In another great article from HBR, Sheila Heen and Debbie Goldstein provide some very useful tips for individuals receiving 360 degree feedback.
The advice is, when responding to 360 Degree Feedback, take time to reflect on the feedback, get more specific information from the feedback giver so that you can understand the context better, and ask for further feedback to get perspective. The writers also advise getting feedback for the future (Marshall Goldsmith calls this ‘feed-forward’), with specific actions to take, or to avoid, in order to make a positive change based on that feedback.
Key practices to help employees respond to their 360 feedback
But the advice reminded me of some key observations and best practice that I have made over many years of working in the area of feedback, in particular, multi-level or 360 Degree Feedback. 360 Degree Feedback is particularly valuable when you are building a consistent set of skills or behaviours across a group, or in an organisation, and the HBR advice applies equally when you are using 360.
The HBR article advises the person who’s had some unexpected, or negative feedback to first ‘do nothing’. This is because our immediate reaction will be to reject or dismiss the feedback; it’s a natural response, particularly where it relates to our ‘blind spots’.
Therefore as a manager working with a person who has had feedback they don’t recognise or agree with, it’s really important, you give them time to reflect and take it in. And giving people time to reflect is one of the most difficult things a manager can do – everyone is under pressure to deliver and achieve. So making time to sit with the person, work through their feedback report, if it’s a 360 feedback, and help them to understand the overall message of the feedback, is really critical.
Specific, context-rich feedback
The writers in HBR talk about how feedback is often phrased in a vague, generic way. An example is ‘Be more creative’, or ‘Needs to communicate better’. The person getting the feedback won’t know what the actions or behaviour were that prompted this feedback. They need more information.
In 360 degree feedback, the equivalent is asking raters to provide feedback on vague and subjective questions. Examples include ‘Is a good communicator’ or ‘needs to be more extrovert’.
The more specific you can make your 360 Degree Feedback questions, the more the ratee can understand and use their feedback effectively. We recommend using simple sentences with just one action or behaviour. The action should be easily observed by the rater, and the ratee. So instead of asking if someone is a poor, effective or brilliant communicator, break down the communication into specific skills, such as ‘Gives constructive feedback’, ‘Asks colleagues for feedback’, and ‘Responds positively to feedback’.
Is there anything valuable in the feedback?
This goes back to reflection. The article advises that the individual searches for some ‘nugget of truth’.
When using 360, I advise clients to look for key, consistent messages coming from groups of colleagues. Where there is a consistency of message, these are the areas to concentrate on. I always issue a ‘health warning’ about outlying ratings or single rater comments. But a good conversation about the feedback should also recognise outliers, as there may be some truth behind them too. The weight of outliers should always be balanced by consistent feedback messages.
There’s a big benefit in including a ‘feed-forward’ element in any 360 feedback exercise. This is because it gives the person receiving the feedback an opportunity to use their identified strengths. They can also put some development actions in place. Part of effectively responding to 360 Degree Feedback is to look out for what you can do differently from now on.
Including summaries like ‘Start, Stop and Continue’ within a 360 is a great idea. This allows colleagues to identify very specific actions to start and continue doing.
So by providing a feedback process that is specific, allows reflection, and offers feedforward, responding to feedback will be easier and more effective.
For more information on 360 Degree Feedback and how it can help develop your leaders, managers and employees, please contact us.
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