We’re a bit obsessed with the subject of 360 feedback confidentiality.
Reviewers are potentially vulnerable so it’s extremely important to ensure their comments are anonymised.
We’re not talking about people’s managers here, but we are concerned about their peers and direct reports and it’s something we won’t compromise on. It’s embedded in our 360 feedback solution in such a way that it can’t be breached because we believe in delivering the best 360 feedback for candidates and that can only be done if everyone involved feels safe to say what they believe.
Imagine this 360 feedback scenario:
Jim is a senior manager. He decides he wants some feedback on his performance so, ‘boom, bang’, he signs up for a free 360 review. Because it’s free he doesn’t have to get approval, and he doesn’t need to ask HR for support.
Hal works for Jim. He gets an email asking for feedback on Jim for his 360 review. The email tells him that his 360 feedback confidentiality will be protected, so he should be completely honest. Hal doesn’t realise that the free version only allows feedback from 3 direct report and/or peer reviewers, and that Jim has chosen to ask 2 peers. (* see footnote). He has no reason to question whether this is being done through the company. In fact, he thinks it is, and complies with the request. He would like to be helpful so he gives feedback that he thinks will be useful.
Jim gets his report. He can see exactly what Hal has said in the comments and what his ratings are for every question. Jim is irked by some of Hal’s comments and thinks his lower ratings aren’t justified. Hal is blissfully unaware that Jim is now more than a little peeved at him. Jim’s report is pretty sketchy because it’s a cut down version of the full 360. He feels disappointed and slightly defensive about some of the feedback, and quite pleased about other parts of it. Sadly, because he hasn’t involved the HR department, he doesn’t realise this report isn’t the ‘real deal’ and furthermore, he doesn’t know quite how to turn any of it into positive action.
So, he puts it in his drawer, decides not to think about the uncomfortable bits, and never feels quite the same about working with Hal again.
What’s been gained? Nothing
What’s the cost? Well, the 360 feedback report cost nothing. But for Hal, there’s a huge price. And for Jim, some loss of confidence, a spoiled relationship with a direct report, and less faith in the value of feedback. 360 Feedback confidentiality has been breached despite assurances to the contrary.
The hidden cost of poorly managed 360 degree feedback
Telescope this up to the organisational level and the long-term financial consequences of getting it wrong are even greater:
- potential grievances
- internal politics that become unmanageable
- and untold damage to internal reputation
If you fail to implement a successful 360 review programme first time round, people will always view it with caution and be reluctant to use it to it’s fullest potential in the future. This in turn can slow down organisational development and success. One seriously failed HR initiative can have a massive impact on other organisational initiatives.
But it’s always possible to recover from a bad 360 feedback experience. In fact, this is something we’re often asked to help with. As experts in managing 360 feedback, we’re able to help clients regain trust in the process.
Watch this space for top tips on managing confidentiality.
* Footnote: There are ways of retaining anonymity even with very small numbers of reviewers.