The unspoken rules of 360-degree feedback

Its popularity has led to some significant research into its effectiveness and practices, with many authors warning that, like other evaluation methods, 360-degree feedback has some pitfalls and problems that need to be considered before implementation. This can be particularly problematic for employees who are forced to give performance appraisals on their boss, where an adverse reaction poses a risk to their career. One study found, unsurprisingly, that when subordinate raters were identifiable they gave higher ratings for their supervisors than when they were anonymous.

If you find yourself in this situation where you are being required to evaluate your boss, or even your co-workers and subordinates, there are a few guidelines that can help it become a positive learning experience rather than a workplace nightmare.

1. The golden rule

However tempting it may be to use this opportunity to finally say that ‘thing’ that everyone is too afraid to say, start by compiling a list of the rating target’s good qualities and strengths. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to exaggerate the negative and diminish the positive, particularly when they are feeling frustrated, hurt or disrespected – in fact, we tend to lose all empathy and start seeing them as the enemy. By reminding yourself of the target’s good qualities, and their humanity, you automatically put yourself in a more balanced frame of mind. The golden rule is to treat them as you hope they will treat you, even if they don’t treat you that way.

2. Focus on behaviours, not character

Any process of professional evaluation should stay well away from making judgments about a person’s character, psychology, motivation or personality. Evaluation should be purely of their behaviour and the consequences arising from that behaviour.

3. Be constructive

If you are given the opportunity to give written feedback rather than simply rating someone on a scale, make that feedback constructive by suggesting what you would like to see more of rather than what you would like to see stamped out.

4. Rater’s remorse

Before pushing the ‘submit’ button, ask yourself if you are going to be waking up in a cold sweat worrying about the boss finding out it was you. If the answer is yes, don’t send it. Go back and start again while bearing in mind that you will be seeing this person on the next working day and possibly for years to come.

5. What do you have to lose or gain?

According to the same study, most 360-degree feedback results are not actioned or are actioned poorly, so consider carefully whether it’s really worth putting yourself on the line for a rating that may have no positive impact on the other person’s behaviour but could have a negative outcome for you.

Whatever you do, remember the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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