June 15, 2006
My 360 on Your 360
Last year, I wrote about the 360 review process we do at Return Path, which is a great annual check-in on staff development and leadership/management. In Part I of What a View, I described the overall process. In Part II, I talked specifically about how my review as CEO worked, which is a little different.
This year, we changed the format of our reviews in two ways. First, for senior staff, we continued to do the live, moderated discussions, but we dropped having people also fill out the online review form. It was duplicative, and the process already consumes enough time that we decided to cut that part out, which I think worked well.
Second, for my review, instead of having the Board review me separately from the senior staff, I combined efforts and had all of them participate in my live moderated discussion together. I also think this worked well, although we did receive some feedback about how to modify the format slightly for next year. It was great for the Board to get a window into how the team feels about me, and vice versa, and it produced a single, unified development plan for me, which is much more helpful than two sets of feedback about different questions and issues.
The one theme that came out of this year’s live reviews, which is definitely worth thinking about, is the impact of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, that once something is observed, the act of observing it can actually change it. Because the live discussions are face to face (anonymous to the person being reviewed, but not anonymous among the reviewers), some people mentioned that they were conscious of what they were saying in the presence of others in the company. Others didn’t particularly care about that but did say things that could be construed as negative about some of their fellow reviewers. Someone came up to me after one session and said "I wonder what the rest of the group thought of my comments — I need a 360 on your 360!"
The reality is that transparency is a good thing. There shouldn’t be any state secrets about someone’s performance, especially when the person is in a senior management position. All people always have things they can improve upon, and the open discussion around what they are and why they happen produce MUCH better results for the people being reviewed, uncomfortable as it may be at times.
The sessions are confidential, so participants should feel comfortable that their thoughts won’t be shared outside the room. Plus, we provide a mechanism to give feedback that really is hard to provide in public for whatever reason via email or one-on-one conversations with the moderator.