360°Evaluations Will Take You In Circles

I’ve just been asked to write an article for a newsletter going to seminar leaders.

While I now do mostly keynote presentations, this assignment got me thinking back to my very first seminar. The truth is I conducted a seminar before I had even been to one – where I got the nerve, I don’t know. Thank goodness they didn’t videotape it! The year was 1970 and the topic was “Effective Performance Appraisals.” It was a two-day-er, complete with handouts and doughnuts. Never heard any reports about people’s lives being changed because of it, but I thought it was pretty hot stuff at the time. I picked the topic because every manager back then hated doing performance appraisals. And not much has changed. These days, of course, managers talk about doing “360s” – a term stolen from skateboard competitions, where you put yourself into a spin before crashing into the pavement. This concept has always bothered me but I’ve never figured out why – until now. In case this magazine was sent to you by accident and you don’t know what I am talking about, here is a definition I found in my files (from where I do not know):360? feedback is the process by which performance evaluations of an employee are collected from multiple sources including subordinates, peers, supervisors, vendors, customers…” etc., etc. The theory is that the person under scrutiny receives much more valuable feedback because it comes from more than one source, is more ‘objective’, focuses on actual skills, is more truthful because it is anonymous, helps build communication between subordinate and supervisor, and so on – to all of which I boldly say – Nonsense! Remember, this got started by someone who hated doing evaluations. He/she abdicated the responsibility with the brilliant but lazy idea of getting the employee to do a “self-evaluation” first. That forced employees into one of two strategies: score themselves exceptionally high allowing the manager to ‘bring them down’ (the best strategy if your manager was a jerk); or score themselves low to the point of groveling, thus forcing the manager to ‘bring them up’ (the best strategy if your manager had a parenting style). Surely you remember this dilemma. Eventually employees got tired of doing their manager’s job for them and, at lunch one Friday, asked their buddies what they should put down on the evaluation form. Presto! 360? evaluations! All this to say that the birth of this process was not exactly motivated by a concern for the spiritual development of humankind. I admit it – I start with a negative attitude. So let’s go on to what I think are the real problems.

If you conduct 360s by the book, the employee suggests a dozen people who are in a position to offer an opinion on their performance. The supervisor selects six or so from that list to actually “fill in the form.” Problem No. 1: This is like asking your mother to write a character reference. Who are you going to put on your list? Not the customer who threatened decapitation if you ever stepped foot in their building again, that’s for sure! Well, 360 devotees will say, such negative feedback will be known by the supervisor and he will bring it up. Fine – but now we are back full circle to where we started. Practitioners claim that by involving many people, the evaluation will be more objective, with much less chance of personal bias or profiling. Problem No. 2: There is no such thing as an ‘objective’ evaluation of a human being, unless you are measuring their weight – and even that is iffy. And, if it were possible to be objective, why would you want it? If I want feedback on what you think of my articles – would I want you to objectively count the words? In all the emails I have received from readers, not one has done that. They have responded on the basis of their situation, sharing their ideas and experiences. Some love what I write, and some are trying to. That’s why connecting with a specific reader is so gratifying. Subjectivity is what life is all about, it’s what makes you a wonderful you! We foolishly cling to the myth of objectivity because subjectivity scares us half to death. I mean think about it…managers and subordinates actually having a human connection. There would be no end to the repercussions! When someone in a precious moment murmurs, “Honey, how much do you love me?” are you going to answer “7.2?” No! You are going to drool something about the breadth and depth of the Universe. And don’t even get me started on the foolish strategy of trying to treat your customers objectively! That’s what customers want for sure, some good ol’ American objectivity. We’ve all gone into a bank and said to a teller, “Please treat me objectively.” The best doctors are those with no bedside manner at all because they are more objective. But there I go, almost getting started…The feedback will be more comprehensive and useful because it comes from a variety of perspectives and is presented to the employee in an integrated way. Problem No. 3: The multi-perspective idea is actually an excellent one – it’s the integrated part that bothers me. Let’s say you are scored “1” by one peer, and “10” by another. Does that integrate to “5?” What possible use is that? That’s as useful as a weather report telling you the temperature in the US is 52?. Knowing that a customer experiences your work in one way, while peers experience it in another way is very useful to your development. But what does that have to do with integration? Keeping the feedback un-integrated is what keeps it useful. And don’t forget all this feedback is “anonymous” which takes us to Problem Four. The performance feedback is more honest because it is anonymous. Problem No. 4: And this is a plus? You might as well send your Senator a petition with no signatures. Do you see the sadness here? How did we get to the point where we can only be “honest” with each other when we are hidden? I suggest that this is the most dis-honest experience possible. What manager would be encouraged with the fact that his team talks more honestly when he is not in the room? I am not at all disputing the truth of the situation – I am saying this reality is a problem to be remedied not a management tool to be enshrined in policy. Personally, I believe that most personal performance and organizational problems can be solved by the truth. But that truth must be spoken in love and openness and honesty between people who actually care about each other’s development and effectiveness. I also believe people should openly and without anonymity express appreciation and admiration for each other’s giftedness, diversity and accomplishments. It’s called communication and it is how you build community. Please, don’t try 360s on your skateboard without knowing what you are doing. And don’t blindly implement 360? evaluations just because Fortune 500 companies do it that way. You just might end up going in circles and miss out on the fulfilling the very purpose of performance evaluations – helping people grow in passion, purpose and performance.

Ian Percy is an international speaker and consultant and can be reached at www.ianpercy.com

The following quotation must be printed at the conclusion of
each reprinted article:
"Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation." Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers.

Bureaus & Planners | Book Ian | Newsletter | About Ian
Photos | Client List | Programs | Articles | Store
Great Deals | Links | Contact Us | Home
©MMVI Ian Percy Corporation

11558 E. Buckskin Tr., Scottsdale AZ 85255
877-502-3898 480-502-3898