Creating a Culture of Feedback
360-degree feedback can be a way of
life, not a program you impose
(Published in the Canadian HR Reporter, September 13, 2004)
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Formal 360 degree feedback
processes can help create effective management and leadership cultures
but HR professionals often struggle to obtain the resources — including
senior leadership’s commitment — required to implement them. Small to
mid-size organizations, often find it particularly difficult to get the
go-ahead to invest in a 360 feedback program.
But formal programs that solicit specific feedback on management and
leadership practices from one’s manager, peers and subordinates are not
the only option for HR departments. The ultimate goal ought to be the
creation of a culture where the giving and receiving of feedback flows
freely on a daily basis and is expected and appreciated, understood and
The HR function can play a significant role in making this happen,
simply through modelling the behaviour the organization needs to see
from all its leaders.
Here are five things HR practitioners can do that have no additional
cost to the business.
• Ask your HR team for feedback about yourself. HR leaders must practice
what they preach and regularly ask for feedback from staff about their
leadership. This should lead to a culture within the HR team where there
is a healthy exchange of ideas and opinions.
• HR employees interact with employees from other departments and all
employees talk about their managers with other colleagues. When lunch
time conversation turns to the current example of bad management
behaviour, what’s being said about the leader of the HR function?
Employees of the HR department should be saying, “When my manager did
that to me, I talked with her about it and told her how upset I was. She
asked me what I needed her to do differently and I told her. She
listened, thanked me for the feedback and committed to making the change
I asked for. So far she’s kept that commitment. Why don’t you try
talking with your manager?”
In some cases, the manager may not be receptive to the feedback. At that
point HR may have to step in either to talk with the manager, or if
necessary the next person up the org. chart. But the first step should
be to encourage the employee to offer the feedback.
If employees are intimidated by this prospect, someone from HR should
offer to coach the employee to deliver feedback in a constructive,
non-threatening way, so that the manager recognizes the feedback as
something for the good of his team.
• Ask for feedback about the HR team. All managers can recall at least
one horror story about a difficult time they had giving feedback — the
employee took it badly, cried, debated or got angry and stormed out.
It’s no wonder people dread giving feedback. Hopefully, these same
managers have also had some positive feedback experiences — the feedback
was accepted, understood, acted upon and appreciated.
HR leaders should be asking for feedback often — especially when
something has gone wrong.
It’s common for organizations to spend large sums of money to obtain
external customer feedback but ignore the free feedback that exists
within the organization. HR departments need to lead the way in actively
seeking feedback from managers (including the CEO) and employees about
HR service levels, product offerings and accessibility and, just as
importantly, widely share the feedback results.
Look for opportunities to encourage other departments to get feedback
from their co-workers and colleagues. HR should be available to provide
assistance to gather feedback and coach co-workers and colleagues
through the process of accepting it, understanding it and acting upon
• Provide feedback to colleagues. Take every opportunity to tell peers
when they’ve done something well. Feedback is feared because it’s almost
always the negative stuff that’s shared. By providing honest positive
feedback whenever possible, constructive criticism will be more
Remember to always ask for permission to give feedback. Just because you
want to give it doesn’t mean they want it. As an HR leader, there are
times when you are obligated to give feedback. But more often than not,
feedback is a gift — an opportunity for a colleague to learn something
that could help her become more effective. Tell colleagues you have
feedback that could be helpful and then offer choice in whether and when
they want it.
I’ll never forget the time someone gave me unsolicited feedback just
before an important presentation. My colleague didn’t do this
intentionally — she didn’t know what was on my calendar. She had finally
summoned the courage to give me the feedback and just had to do it then.
It didn’t occur to her that it might not be a good time for me. I wanted
the feedback. I just would have appreciated having some input to when it
was given so I was in the right headspace to accept it.
• Coach employees on how to discuss issues and concerns with managers.
When an employee complains about a manager, 95 per cent of the time, the
issue can’t and shouldn’t be resolved by HR. HR should not be taking on
the problem. Instead, talk through the various options for solving the
problem and the pros and cons for each.
Most employees can see why the manager would be upset if HR got
involved. Most employees also need some help seeing things from the
manager’s perspective and to recognize their 50 per cent of the
Many employees are willing to try talking with their managers knowing
they have HR support in doing so and some coaching on how to do it the
Sometimes it’s helpful to give the manager a heads-up. Most will
appreciate that HR didn’t automatically take the employee’s side and
that the employee has been sent back to her to work things through. By
providing the manager with some coaching on how to receive the employee,
the odds of the feedback experience being a positive one for both, will
be significantly enhanced. Follow up to debrief and to make sure the
learning (giving and receiving feedback isn’t so bad after all) is
• Provide honest feedback to employees during the staffing process. The
internal staffing process is the ideal time to show employees how to
give feedback. Too often, line managers and staffing consultants take
the easy way out. “Jim, you didn’t get the job because there was a more
One manager told me, “If I tell an employee who doesn’t report to me why
they really didn’t get the job, I could create a morale problem for the
employee’s manager.” Another said, “How can I tell someone they’re not
service oriented based on a 45 minutes interview?”
There won’t be a morale problem if the employee is given choice of
receiving feedback after the interview process. The offer of feedback is
provided at the time of the decline. If it’s wanted, have the employee
initiate the meeting at a later date once the disappointment of the
decline has diminished.
When giving the feedback, don’t tell someone they’re not service
oriented. That’s just asking for denial and debate. Instead, try, “In
the interview process you didn’t provide evidence that you are service
oriented.” Outline the question asked, the answer given and contrast it
to answers that other candidates gave.
Many employees will book the meeting and thank you for the feedback. “I
finally know what it is I need to work on.”
These five ideas represent just some of the feedback opportunities
available to HR practitioners. Think about the number of interactions
the HR team has with managers and employees across the entire
organization in just one week. If even half of these opportunities are
acted upon, there will be significant change in the organization in a
year’s time and progress will have been made in creating a more
effective management and leadership culture.
Karen Todd is a professional speaker,
writer, and consultant. She can be reached at 416-284-6752,
firstname.lastname@example.org , or visit
5 questions before
implementing a formal 360 program
Thinking about implementing a
formal 360 degree program? Consider these questions in your
What is the objective and
how will success be measured? The objective is usually
to provide leaders with feedback to improve key behaviours
thereby improving organizational performance. Since, in the
short term, organizational performance can be improved
despite less than ideal leadership behaviours, be sure to
measure both the change in leadership behaviour (typically
through employee surveys) and organizational performance.
Is there organizational
commitment? When business results are faltering, 360
programs are often put aside, with a lack of time and money
the usual excuse. 360 needs to be an entrenched and
permanent part of the management process. Internet
technology can dramatically reduce the amount of time and
money needed to administer and participate. Get commitment
and leverage technology.
How will results be used?
Individual leadership development and coaching? For
identifying leadership talent for promotion and succession
planning? As input to individual performance assessment?
Many leaders are initially fearful and skeptical of 360 so
they’re introduced as personal development tools. Decisions
about how else to use the data is left for another day. That
day rarely comes as participants in the process
choose instead to focus on what is best for them and not
necessarily what the organization needs. 360 needs to be
taken seriously from the start and everyone involved needs
to know why it is being done.
Do you need an off-the-shelf
or a custom-made program? Off-the-shelf is quicker and
cheaper to implement and many effective leadership
behaviours are generic across organizations and industries
so generic tools can be effective. But these behaviours are
described with varying words and labels. Are your leaders
able to translate terminology across tools?
As responsibilities once
reserved for senior management are pushed further down the
organizational hierarchy, the role of front-line and middle
managers becomes more complex and help is needed to make
linkages between management activities. Using one set of
vernacular across all management programs, tools and
processes helps significantly. Customization provides the
opportunity to ensure terminology in the 360 degree tool
matches with the terminology and vernacular already present
in the organization. Off-the-shelf products may introduce
new terminology, complicating things still further for
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