Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay provide advice on developing a feedback culture that promotes on-going feedback and continuous improvement
The watchword for organisations of the future is adaptability. Many organisations are turning to the use of multi-source or 360 feedback as an effective means of helping individuals to identify their strengths and development areas. HR and L&D professionals therefore have a key role to play in encouraging a well thought-out and respected feedback process which provides support through coaching, development and guidance on the best way to do this.
A culture of feedback
Feedback and communication throughout the organisation promote a learning culture that can allow the individual and the organisation to grow. The advantages of plentiful feedback include:
Personal feedback offers increased self-awareness, because the individual can compare one’s own self-assessment with those of other people, who may have a different and helpful perspective.
Making the most of strengths
Regular feedback and reviews are valuable in identifying employee strengths. It allows an individual to develop in previously unrecognised and important areas.
‘Ownership’ of personal development
The feedback process encourages personal ‘ownership’, with individual accountability and control over the individual’s own development. This can also increase the engagement of employees in the feedback process.
Offering a fuller perspective
Overall, feedback from multiple sources gives a more rounded view, thereby providing a more comprehensive picture of someone’s behaviour.
Without regular feedback, an environment of one-way diktat or silence is likely to result in an atmosphere of resentment and the feeling the company is giving nothing back
HR and L&D professionals are pivotal in encouraging feedback and providing coaching, development and training in the best way to do this. 360 feedback can be a useful process as it encourages discussion around individual performance and triggers improvement actions. Without regular feedback, an environment of one-way diktat or silence is likely to result in an atmosphere of resentment and the feeling the company is giving nothing back.
Four key essentials
A CIPD factsheet on performance management usefully summarises four key essentials in what makes for a well-constructed 360 feedback process:
• Everyone involved needs to know what it is all about, including what the feedback will be used for and how it should be given.
• The process needs thorough explanation. This includes how reviewers are selected, how feedback is collated and how it will be presented.
• Support for employees must be offered, for example coaching to take on board and act on any feedback.
• Throughout, confidentiality is a must and feedback should not have a source name attributed to it without their permission.
Introducing and maintaining a credible 360 process
The benefits outlined above show the advantages of a credible 360 process operating in your organisation. However, these benefits will only come about if a great deal of preparation and communication is carried out.
Gaining widespread buy-in
Before the launch of a feedback process, HR and L&D may clearly see the benefits of an active 360 process, but how many of the stakeholders throughout the organisation will back the initiative? Only when there are powerful influencers on your side should you begin.
An important part of the preparation is to thoroughly brief participants about the 360 process, how to nominate respondents and how to approach the feedback when this is received. It’s important for credibility to base the questions to be used on the organisation’s competencies, or if these don’t exist, on a well-recognised leadership and management model. There are many specialist organisations as well as proprietary software which can facilitate the process of generating 360 reports.
Issuing the 360 report
Once the feedback has been collated, each participant will need to receive their confidential report. There can be a variety of reactions to feedback – be it positive or developmental – from denial and rejection to strong emotion to acceptance and desire to build on the feedback.
We recommend that the recipients of the 360 be provided with one-to-one feedback and coaching to help them digest the feedback and create an action plan to move forward. There is more chance of development taking place if people make a personal commitment to this which is then reviewed in the future.
Once they have completed the review of the 360 and identified the key areas on which they plan to work, individuals need to remember to thank the people who contributed to the feedback. Typically, 360 takes place in organisations once a year, so it’s useful to keep track of progress over the year.
Multi-source or 360-degree feedback is a proven way of encouraging individuals to continually improve, to both develop their confidence and competences. However, it will only be successful if it is accepted that active support and skills will need to be developed and these cannot be taken for granted. In addition, the whole process needs to be carefully monitored and reviewed as time goes on in order to stay relevant.