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Giving and receiving feedback is important, but organisations should make sure it is not a futile box-ticking exercise
Continuous learning is the hallmark of growth and development. Giving and receiving feedback is, therefore, an important element within organisations. One increasingly popular method is that of the 360-degree appraisals. Typically, it is the bosses or the seniors that provide feedback to their subordinates or direct reports. Many leading companies across industries have begun experimenting with the use of 360-degree method where essentially the feedback comes from all levels — bosses, peers, subordinates, and even external clients.
Receiving feedback from a variety of sources gives a more complete and balanced picture of one’s strengths and weaknesses. The biggest advantage of this 360 view versus the typical one-to-one (manager vs. employee) process is the opportunity to be evaluated on factors such as emotional intelligence rather than just the technical skills or performance. For example, this can help identify individuals that clearly manage up to their bosses and are not team players. This method is especially relevant for professional workforce such as in the consulting or the banking industries or those that require cross-collaboration and where the employees’ day-to-day interactions with their managers are rare as everyone is at the client sites.
Establishing and successfully running 360 appraisal tools within the organisations can be a hugely complex process to manage. Many people have to get involved in the process and it requires a large investment in time. Most often, an IT infrastructure has to be put in place to gather feedback. Such a task cannot be done manually. To get a complete and accurate picture, feedback from multiple sources is required and, therefore, the organisation also needs to be of significant size.
Furthermore, providing and receiving feedback is a serious business that requires proper training. As one manager put it, “There are many different theories on how to give feedback and it is unlikely that the people providing feedback have had this training. Feedback should be in-line with the job role and strategy of the company: if this is ignored the feedback can be muddled by focusing too much on personality and traits rather than objectives. Therefore the process can create a lot of noisy irrelevant feedback that can be damaging.” This process can become tricky further if external customers are also included in the system — since hidden agendas get involved.

Feedback coming from bosses, peers, subordinates, and customers need to be properly weighted. Oftentimes, companies allow the employees to select or suggest their preferred reviewers — those who, as the employees think, would be able to provide an accurate picture. As we can imagine, employees end up selecting their inner circle.
As with any review processes, if the feedback is not followed up with action plans, employees can end up feeling lost. While the anonymity of the process is important for providers to be able to give their honest candid assessment, this makes following up for clarifications impossible. For example, one employee reported, “I have had feedback where one person said I was good and making decisions and someone said I wasn’t — what do you take from this? Being anonymous you cannot follow up on such confusing feedback.” To address this issue, managers of the employees need to create additional skills of being able to aggregate and summarise different kinds of feedback — make sense of the noise basically — and provide an action plan to go forward.
As much as this tool seems fanciful, one needs to be cautious in its implementation. If not done properly, it can create tension between employees and may possibly create an environment of suspicion among the employees. Culture within the organisation is also relevant. Companies and societies with authoritarian management style and tight control and where there is a certain distance between top-managers and the staff would have a difficult time dealing with this. As another manager put it, “My 360 feedback in the Netherlands was more useful than in Asia or Middle East. This can be due to a combination of being insecure with the actual anonymity and providing negative/constructive feedback to superiors not being appropriate in Asia and ME.”
A friend told me recently, “Some people put a link in their email signatures that allows anyone to provide 360 feedback at any time regardless of what level they are. And you can make your feedback anonymous or you can say who you are. I have not once in the past seven years had anyone send me a 360 feedback.” Commit-ment and seriousness towards this system needs to be cultivated or else it can end up becoming a futile box-ticking exercise.
(Dr Kriti Jain is a faculty member at IE Busine­ss School, Spain and an EU Marie Curie Research Fellow)
Columnist: 
Kriti Jain
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