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360 Evaluations Suck. Avoid Them if Possible

Many, many years ago, I was at a corporate leadership training retreat with about 50 director-level colleagues. Things had been going well. There was lots of learning and bonding and fun. People began to see themselves, their roles, and their colleagues in a new light. Growth and change were afoot.

And then just before a wrap-up lunch on the third and final day, we were handed the results of the 360 evaluations our bosses, colleagues, and employees had completed for us in the weeks prior.

The normally boisterous and noisy group fell silent.

There were sniffles.

There were angry grumbles.

There were questions. So many questions.

Everything we had learned in the previous two days flew out the window as everyone, and I mean everyone, fixated on one or two negative comments in their evaluations.

So much for all that training.

Given this, it won’t surprise you that I despise 360 evaluations. They are not only ineffective at achieving their goal – to help us better understand our strengths and growth areas – but they are often damaging to both the evaluated and the evaluators.

Why 360 Evaluations Suck

Biases and Subjectivity

The feedback provided by raters can be biased or subjective based on personal feelings or relationships with the evaluated. Raters may also have different expectations, which can lead to inconsistent evaluations.

A 360 evaluation is a snapshot of a particular person’s particular feelings about you on a particular day. Depending on that person’s age, maturity, and self-awareness, you may or may not get an accurate depiction.

Besides, the tiniest, unconscious things can affect someone’s evaluation of you on any given day. A 2008 study at Yale University revealed that holding a warm coffee for a few seconds will produce a warm evaluation of others, while holding an ice coffee will produce a negative evaluation of others.

It’s why I advise my clients to never take anything personally.

Lack of Anonymity

Often, the evaluated can figure out who gave them certain feedback, which can lead to resentment or retaliation. Everyone knows this, including the evaluators. So, they become hesitant to provide honest feedback and you get nothing useful much less actionable.

Poor design

All too often the evaluation process may be poorly designed, with ambiguous questions, irrelevant criteria, or inadequate training for evaluators. This can result in inconsistent or unreliable feedback that does not accurately reflect the individual's performance.

A client recently received a low(ish) score in her 360 evaluation for “Advocates for ideas by appealing to people’s emotional side”. It was identified as a blind spot. But wait. Is appealing to people’s emotional side a good thing? The 360 designers seem to think so. But what if the respondents see it as a manipulative or unnecessary or even insulting thing?

We’ll never know, will we?

Focus on Weaknesses

360 evaluations often focus on an employee's weaknesses rather than their strengths. This can lead to a negative tone and can be rather demotivating.

At that training retreat I was on, everyone instantly focused on the negative feedback despite the fact that 95% of their evaluations were positive. Without the added benefit of context, such as you might get in an annual performance review (which I also don’t love), they are left without an understanding of how severe the weakness is, how important it is, or how to improve upon it.

Some companies take those so-called weaknesses and run with them, having employees write them into their annual objectives, causing them to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on something they’re not good at, rather than the things they are good at.

What if my client doesn’t “appeal to people’s emotional side” because that’s just not who she is?

Marcus Buckingham has built a whole career on getting companies to stop doing this.

Outsourcing the work you should be doing every day.

Consultants love doing 360 evaluations because they are very time-consuming to conduct and analyze. Thus, they’re also very profitable and at rather low stakes to boot. Easy peasy money.

But when you really think about it, isn’t it your job to have those conversations with your colleagues? Shouldn’t you be making an effort to do it every day?

How to do your own 360.

It’s simple. Talk to your colleagues. Each and every day.

Check in. Ask questions; big ones, and small ones.

Things like:

· What is the greatest challenge you’re facing?

· What’s working well?

· What’s not working well?

· How can I and my department help you?

· How did I do in that meeting? Was my point clear?

· How’s your workload?

· When do you need that by?

· Did that work for you?

These are scary questions. But knowing the answers now, rather than trying to interpret a vague and biased report every few years can only be a good thing.

Don’t you think?

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