words | Marcus Killick
This month is a time for reflection of the year past. For some this is done in the sobriety of the pew, listening to festive carols, preferably sung by the trained and talented rather than an end of term carol concert with its unique chorus of the unwilling. Alternatively, it is a reflection that results from a lack of sobriety, usually with new “best friends”.
It is now that time of the year, the month before the reflections turn to resolutions. Some resolutions will come too late, like resolving not to call a referendum or resolving to actually go and vote against Trump rather than simply saying you will to a pollster. In my case, these reflections are of me, not by me, and have been handed to me by my colleagues, anonymously. Welcome to the 360° review.
For those who do not have these types of assessment, it is the opportunity for your superiors and peers, as well as those who report to you, to give their feedback on your performance (hence why they are called a 360 degree review). It is not about whether you hit your targets or met various quantitative objectives. It is about you and how others feel you are doing your job, and they give their views anonymously.
This anonymity is important as it promotes honesty in the assessors. It prevents sycophancy (no point in sucking up to the boss if he doesn’t know it is you). It also prevents reprisals from an individual whose ability to take criticism, however constructive, is less than Donald Trump’s. The result is that the person assessed gets an honest critique across a range of behaviours. Sometimes it is searing in its honesty.
As a CEO, I have seven “behavioural competencies” against which my colleagues make their judgement. These include: setting strategic direction, creating alignment, delivering results, team working and leading. In the wonders of HR euphemisms, I cannot fail in any of these. I can, however, be marked as having an “opportunity for development”. This places the emphasis on me. Not only am I being told I need development but I have an opportunity to do so. So I have hope. So much nicer than alternative wordings, like “incompetent” or “must do better”.
The other two main categories are “Competent” which is the one that everyone should be on and “Exceeds Expectations”. This, which is the top grade, is a bit double edged. If everyone’s expectations of you were so low to begin with, any flicker of competence should catapult you into the A grade. There is a third “Not Demonstrated/Not Observed”, which broadly translates into; “we sent the form to the wrong person”.
A further twist to this is the fact you are also asked to score yourself. This is your chance to demonstrate self-awareness as to how you perceive yourself compared to how others do. Too big a gap indicates, if you score higher, a shocking lack of awareness or, if you score lower, an irritatingly false display of self-depreciation. Getting it right is no panacea either. The football fan chant of “You’re s@$t and you know you’re s@$t” is hardly going to impress the board when displayed in your honest analysis of your behavioural skills.
I have been doing annual 360s for a number of years, having introduced them into my old organisation for all senior members of staff. They are never pain free. I have had more than one colleague in tears after reading a particular comment made in their assessment, despite the fact the review overall was actually rather good. I have seen people use them for the purposes of retribution, sometimes over the most trivial of matters. However, my overwhelming experience is that they are taken seriously by the reviewers and should be taken seriously by the reviewed. They are bare knuckle destroyers of an executive’s complacency. They certainly destroy illusions of how one is perceived by those one works with on a daily basis.
In the case of a CEO, the results should be disclosed to the Board. This should be disclosed in full, including the raw data on which the report is based, if the report itself is produced internally. I am aware of one instance where a CEO, whose 360 was less than rosy, cherry picked sentences (even parts of them) for the report the board received on the assessment. In my case, the Senior Partner sees the report before I do.
Some CEO’s also seek to ensure those being asked are the ones they believe are most favourable to them, keeping out feared dissenters. Aside from rendering the process less useful, it has sometimes misfired as perceived loyalists turned out to be anything but, “Et Tu?” Having those who are not like minded as part of the process is vital. It can draw out issues; it allows individuals to learn why there may be friction or disagreement and adapt their behavioural style accordingly.
Once the process is ingrained in an organisation, 360s become an excellent tool to measure improvement. An individual who has moved from “An Opportunity For Development” to “Competent” had clearly seized that opportunity. Indeed, the score should move towards the competent box. Exceeding expectations on a consistent basis should be impossible, as the expectations will grow year on year.
Furthermore, familiarity with the process will result in it being less painful. Understanding the perception of others improves self-awareness. If you feel the results don’t reflect reality, then show it to someone outside the organisation. Perhaps a long term partner, your ex-wife or husband, indeed, anyone who knows you well and is happy to give a candid view. There is a pretty reasonable chance that you display some of the same traits outside the office as well as in.
Even the most impressive of results will reveal areas which can then be built into an individual’s personal objectives for the year ahead. Clearly, 360s won’t work as well in small organisations but, by the time you get to a few dozen, they can demonstrate their worth, even in Owner Managed Businesses.
There are numerous versions available on the market with full support on analysis and comparisons to other organisations. Alternatively, you can, as we did, create an in house version. The one critical element is it has to be led from the top, from board level. Without this lead and support, the 360 will simply end up going around in circles.