360 Degree Reviews: Mixing Personal and Professional Feedback

If you’re lucky enough to work at a company where your co-workers are also your friends, it’s easy for the lines between personal and professional relationships to blur. Feedback often isn’t as objective as it should be — best friends might pump each other up, or if there is a critique, it can be more about feelings than performance.

A 360-degree review provides the opportunity to get multiple perspectives, but it’s important to put some processes in place so feedback doesn’t get personal. Follow these tips to make performance management meaningful and maintain a friendly culture:

  •  Make the review about balance: Especially if you’ve never had much of a performance management culture, reviews can be scary. People might want to hide areas for improvement and inflate areas of strength. When you kick off the 360-degree review process, discuss how balance is important. Have a discussion around what a high-rating behavior looks like, as well as middle- and low-rating behaviors. Give people examples to work with so they know how to be objective and provide balance when they’re filling out the survey.
  • Maintain anonymity: It’s important to make it easy for raters to maintain anonymity. If an employee is going to select peer raters, have at least three so it doesn’t become obvious who left what feedback. The employee will get more-rounded feedback and he won’t feel like he has to confront a rater if there is a negative comment.
  • Keep the feedback meeting objective: The meetings in which managers and employees discuss a feedback report can be filled with anxiety and stress. Acknowledge that there are going to be some personal feelings mixed into the feedback, as well as the employee’s reaction. Then focus on talking about behaviors. Understanding that there’s a personal element means the meeting won’t be cold and detached, but talking about behaviors (which can be changed) will keep things on track. And when there are good things to discuss, talk about how those good behaviors might be used in other situations.

Personal feelings can make the feedback process stressful for people, or make it hard to get at what behaviors really need to be changed. By striking a balance, maintaining anonymity, and keeping things objective, employees can get the feedback they need and the organization can get the change it’s working toward.