A direct manager plays multiple roles in a 360-degree feedback event. You are a trusted friend, an understanding coach, a caring supervisor as well as a continuous learner. You don’t play all the roles at one time, but be aware that they are equally important to the success of a 360 review.
The lack of a follow-up plan and the infrequency of follow-up activities account for 2 out of 7 reasons, according to Forbes, why 360 reviews fails (article here). And, who is the better person to do the follow-up if not you - the one working with each and every one of your team members daily.
When you take up the follow-up responsibilities, make sure you follow the right process so everyone in your team can benefit from 360-degree feedback.
The 1-on-1 Conversation: be a trusted friend
Shortly after a 360 review finishes, you should initiate an informal 1-on-1 conversation with each team member. You want to check in on your team’s morale, and understand more about their 360 experience.
Here are some questions you should cover in the conversation:
How do you feel about giving feedback to your colleagues?
Do you feel that it is more challenging to give feedback to a certain person? If so, can you describe the reasons?
How do you feel about the feedback you receive?
Do you find some feedback unfair? Is there anything I can help with there?
Do you find some feedback unclear? Have you started any conversation to seek clarification?
Generally, do you think the feedback is helpful or unhelpful? Any reasons?
Basically, you want to find out how your team feels about the 360 review. If they have any concerns, point them to the right directions. For example, when a team member finds a piece of feedback is unfair or unclear, suggest her to start a conversation with the giver for clarification. Listen to their concerns and offer help when appropriate.
More importantly, gather their opinions about the 360 review. If they find it helpful, try to understand what helps them exactly. If they consider the 360 review a waste of time, you want to know which part is the most time-consuming one? This information will make valuable input for the success of other 360 reviews in the future.
However, it is very important to respect the privacy of both the feedback givers and recipients. When a team member shares some feedback with you, stay objective and do not share the feedback with anybody else without her permission. Make this be known explicitly between you and her.
The Action Plan: be an understanding coach
After the 1-on-1 conversation, hopefully both you and your team are aligned with the process and the situation. Let your team go off and work on understanding or clarifying the feedback they receive. Then you can set a time to sit down and work on an action plan with each of your team members.
In 1-on-1 conversations, you play the role of a trusted friend. You are there to share an experience with your team and to offer help when appropriate. Here, you are the coach. Your main task is to guide a team member through the process of choosing appropriate skills to develop further and a specific course of action to get there.
The purpose of 360-degree feedback is for one to understand her skills better and how to grow further. Since nobody can really develop all skills at one time, she should pick out a few skills that most benefit her current role and what she wants to achieve in near future. Because the task is not always easily done, here is when you come in.
Firstly, find out what she wants to achieve in the next year or two, which path she wants to take, and which skills she thinks she will need to get there.
Secondly, offer your counter opinions. Tell her what you think about the path she wants to take. If you think of some other skills she should focus on at the moment, explain your suggestions explicitly. If it is mandatory to have certain skills to align with the company standard, let her know about them. Otherwise, make sure she knows your suggestions are optional.
Discuss everything openly until you reach consensus. Remember that the action plan would be hers, not yours. Make sure she understands the reasoning of each choice. Then, write the choices down.
After choosing the skills, she need to decide how far she wants to reach. Work with her to find out the best incentives for reaching her goals.
Let’s look at an example:
Your admin assistant wants to improve her time management skills. She wants to commit to meeting deadlines at the rate of 100% instead of the current rate of 80%. You ask her to list the obstacles which stopped her from having met certain deadlines. You notice a tendency of procrastination so you suggest two incentives:
Get (her) more self-organised: She should create a separate calendar for all the deadlines she has. Set up a few reminders for each deadline (e.g. one day, two hours and 15 minutes before each deadline). She should get into the habit of checking that calendar everyday before starting her work day.
Find a third party to keep her accountable: make sure that whichever deadlines she commits to are shared with that party (e.g. another team member or you). Accountability often helps with procrastination.
Ask about her preference to each incentive. Look into her past experience and what has worked before. Once you decide on the incentives, and write them down.
The next thing to do is set a time frame. If appropriate, set small goals and a time frame for each of those.
Last but not least, identify all the matters regarding the follow-up. Let your team know when you will want to check back in with the progress officially. Building a skill takes time, so give your team the time and the space they need. However, don’t leave it too long. I will discuss this more in the next section.
In brief, at the end of any action plan meeting, you want to make sure that your team understands and agrees with:
A specific course of action
A time frame
Follow-up methods and frequency
Follow Up: be the empathetic supervisor
Once you have scheduled a check-in meeting with a team member, make sure you actually do it.
Besides, informal follow-up can do many good. It is helpful to ask casual questions, like How are you finding the new task? It shows that you care. It also keeps you up-to-date with anynew obstacles. You can help your team timely resolve arising issues.
Hint: Avoid to come across as nagging for improvement. Keep informal follow-up questions casual and off-the-record conversations. You don’t want your team worry about whether they have made any progress since the last time you asked. That is for the official check-in meetings.
When you notice improvement, offer timely praise and reinforcement. You want to bolster up any progress as soon as possible.
When you notice one lagging behind, address the issue in an open and friendly manner. Avoid making an assumption about the reasons why she is not on track. Ask questions like: “I notice that you have a tendency to fall behind. Are there any obstacles that I am not aware of? Anything you find more difficult to implement in reality than when we did the planning? Anything I can help with?”
The Self Assessment: be a learner
It’s important for you to do a self assessment on your roles in the process. Take time to reflect on your actions and their impact. You want to look deeper in three areas:
Process: Was it the right time for you to initiate a 1-on-1 meeting? Did you cover all important points in the feedback session? How did you handle the meeting to develop action plans?
Relationship: What was the style of communication? What was the recipient’s reaction? How high was the level of trust between you and the recipient? Were you overbearing or collaborating?
Results: What are the changes? How quick have changes happened? What is the difference between expectations and progress?
Evaluate yourself so you can learn from your own experience and grow yourself.
The 1-on-1 conversations, action plan meetings, deliberate follow-ups and self-assessment reinforce the ongoing nature of constructive feedback. They help integrate 360-feedback events into a wider culture of continuous feedback. They are needed for fostering growth among your team. So, do not stop the process of learning right after the finish line of a 360 review. In this case, the extra mile that you go will help bring success to the 360 review.