360 reviews

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About 10 years ago,  I was unexpected promoted to VP Engineering.  I suddenly became the leader for a lot more people than I was ready for, or was trained to manage.  I accepted the promotion on condition that my company provided me with career coaching.

The first thing the career coach did was to request a 360 review.   I understood the value right away, but I was feeling highly  insecure about having my career coach interview my brand new employees.  I felt that this would be a display of weakness which I could not afford in a time when my entire quarter was devoted to employee retention.  So my coach did a 180 instead – he worked with my boss and my peers, but not with my reports.

I look back on this exercise today and found my younger self incredibly lacking in maturity and common sense.  By not allowing my coach access to my employees, I basically cut the legs off the review process.  He was able to only work with information provided by me, my peers (who already bought in to my presence on the management team) and my CEO (who promoted me in the first place, and therefore presumably thought I was a good trooper).   Where would the negative feedback come from?

Ultimately my coach was helpful in teaching me frameworks and strategies to deal with my organization, and he helped me with many difficult communications via role playing, but at the end of the day he was working in a vacuum regarding what my employees thought of me.

If I was to do a 360 today, not only would I include my current and/or past reports, I would try to include people I had to lay off, people I had promoted, peers, supervisors and board members (if I have a close enough work relationship to make this an acceptable request).  I will get a much more complete picture of how I am perceived in the workplace.   Then I can apply these tricks in dealing with the negative bits of the 360 review.

I am a big fan of constructive criticism.  What you can measure you can improve.  I need to be told I stink sometimes (and I think everybody can benefit from a healthy dose of honesty from time to time).  A 360 is a fantastic way to achieve this.  I’d love to do another one some time soon.

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