Grenades and Smoothies - Delivering 360-Degree Feedback

Delivering 360-degree feedback can feel like handling a live grenade - especially if it's a new thing for your organization. Many - I'd venture to say "most" - organizations do not have cultures in which candid, real-time feedback is both welcomed and freely given. Without that culture, we're often left wondering how formal delivery of feedback will go. 

For clarity, in this post I'm talking about when a designated leader has gathered feedback for a specific group. It might be a group of leaders or a specific functional team in the organization. Each person has provided "written" feedback on each of the other persons in the group, and the designated leader must compile and deliver it. 

What to do with the grenade?

Your approach will be unique, and there's no rigid rules. (Though your organization may have policies to consider, depending on size and makeup.) You'll have to use judgment depending on the current culture of your company and the personalities of the feedback recipients. Here's a few principles to keep in mind...  

1) Be a rabid Doberman: Protect confidentiality. I can't say this strongly enough. If we said the 360-feedback would be confidential or anonymous, we MUST back that up. Humans are curious creatures and automatically wonder, "who made that comment?" We do it when we're looking at data as leaders, we do it when we are the ones being commented on...We just do it. But whoever is the gatekeeper ABSOLUTELY MUST PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY. This mindset informs how you process the data and what you share with whom. Sometimes you'll remove data or comments that could be helpful because there's too much a risk of someone doing the calculus and figuring out who said what. [Note: If the expectations were NOT for confidentiality, that's an entirely different scenario.]

2) Apply your knowledge. What you know about each team member is extremely important in this process. How has she received feedback in the past? Does he appreciate hearing about areas of improvement? The answers will help you craft the best way to present the feedback. For some, this will be the first time that they receive direct, candid feedback on their performance and how others view them. It can be unsettling, so it's important that we set conditions so that it's a helpful part of growth, rather than an impediment. On that note...

3) Set conditions.  During my time in the Army, I learned the importance of "setting conditions for success." Whether planning a combat mission or thinking about leader development, we can't just show up and expect to simply force the desired end-state into existence. Instead, we carefully think through all  that will be helpful to get the mission or the person to where they need to be. This includes thinking through potential obstacles. Leaders ensure that conditions are as favorable as possible for team members to succeed. In the realm of feedback, think through and discuss with each team member how they can take action on what they've heard, and what might get in the way. From start to finish, your role is to set conditions so they can do so successfully.

4) Give something concrete. Provide each individual with something to take home. Some teams collect 360-degree feedback using quantitative rating scales. Others use assessments. Think of ways to share some hard data so that your team members have a benchmark and can continue to use the information in their growth. We all process information at different rates and in different ways. Having a hard copy gives an ongoing reference point. As you think through confidentiality, you'll be able to find the best balance between giving hard "take home" info and knowing what to deliver verbally. 

5) Follow up. It's fairly common for feedback to slide to the back burner (or drawer) and get lost in the hustle. This is true for both individuals and organizations. Set aside a time to follow up with each person who received feedback. What did they learn from it? What was helpful? What wasn't? 

Ultimately, 360-degree feedback moves your team towards comfort with real-time, direct feedback. This is a culture concerned with growth, both personal and collective. A positive sign is when formal 360-degree feedback is viewed less as a grenade and more as a healthy smoothie.

Perhaps one that is loaded with spinach and other earthy tastes, but still a smoothie.