360 Feedback Process: The Awareness Briefing
Colin Newbold, 01st March 2020
in Development, Feedback
In the fourth part of this blog series, we are going to investigate the next stage of the 360-degree process, the Awareness Briefing.
Out of all the stages in running a successful 360-degree feedback implementation, we believe this one ranks as arguably the most important.
During an anonymous study we conducted last year, we found that 79% of organisations relied on automated emails to spread the message about the 360-degree process. How much engagement and buy-in do you think that is likely to generate?
This leaves the minority of organisations actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) to 'personally' introduce participants and raters to the process they are about to embark upon. Almost no-one does physical face-to-face briefings any longer, typical excuses being the flexible working patterns of staff, their geographic disbursement and the plain fact that no-one has enough time any more. You know what? You’re selling them short.
What Is The Awareness Briefing Process?
Put simply, the Awareness Briefing stage of our recommended 360-feedback process is a verbal (face-to-face) conversation, inviting participants (the subjects of the 360...the people getting the reports at the end) into the feedback process and explaining how it works. Done well, this step will build engagement and buy-in to the 360 implementation.
While you can brief raters (feedback providers) as well, we recommend the conversations be held with just participants and that they in turn are encouraged to have verbal ‘invitation conversations’ with their raters. If you follow our recommended guidelines, both participants and their raters will be more committed to the 360 process. They will pay greater attention to it and be more co-operative.
This stage doesn't necessarily need to be a face-to-face conversation, it can be done over the phone. But the optimal approach today is to run group Awareness Briefings, with as many of the participants together in one place as possible. Better still, why not use one of the numerous video conferencing/webinar platforms like Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc?
Most of the briefing is a one-way dialogue, but there should be some interaction (such as polls, etc.) to keep participants engaged. There are other benefits too. This type of meeting software allows the facilitator to share screenshots and slides, which bring the briefing to life and keep people involved. It is unlikely that all participants will be able to attend, you’ll never find a date and time to suit everyone, and all these platforms have the facility to record the session. The recording can then be sent to any participant who was unable to attend the live session, thereby ensuring that everyone gets exactly the same message.
Why Do You Need To Carry Out An Awareness Briefing?
We often use the analogy of a decorator preparing woodwork for painting...a professional will spend more time sanding down the old paint, filling any cracks and achieving a smooth base than they will applying the fresh paint. I’m a car guy, particularly into my classic cars. The preparation is even more important in restoring the bodywork of an old car. The painting is the easy bit. My wife is an avid gardenrer, she will testify to the importance of turning over the soil, removing stones and other detritus and adding the appropriate nutrients before ever planting anything.
Exactly the same principle is true of the 360-degree feedback process. The more time you spend in ‘preparing the soil’, the easier the implementation will flow and better will be the results you get. As already stated, one of the biggest challenges organisations face during a 360-degree feedback process is getting the buy-in and engagement of your raters. They are likely to be busy already, with ‘business as usual’ tasks, and providing feedback to a colleague in this way is seen as extra to that. Especially if raters have been invited to contribute by multiple participants (which typically happens the higher up you are in an organisation, arguably where people are even more ‘time poor’). The more motivation you can build into raters (as well as participants, who have to complete a self-questionnaire), the more reliable and valid the feedback is.
The Awareness Briefing is designed in response to our above research findings combined with the experience of over 20 years of 360 feedback implementations and has contributed more than anything else to the higher quantity and quality of data that we now see presented in individual participant reports. This is especially true of the written comments offered to support the ratings. Here are our recommended guidelines for a successful Awareness Briefing.
N.B. These 10 steps are also the template for the rater invitation conversations that participants should be encouraged to have with each of their raters.
10 Steps To Improved Rater Engagement
If you are running a face-to-face event, it is important to have all participants present in a comfortable environment, a light and airy meeting room is perfect. As stated earlier, even more convenient today is the use of video conferencing or webinar platforms - virtual meeting rooms.
Explain what the purpose of the 360 implementation is...why the organisation is going to all this trouble and expense (refer to our earlier blogs for more details).
Applying this step to the invitation conversations that participants are encouraged to have with their raters, those conversations should again be verbal (face-to-face or phone) and should be one-on-one except for their direct reports. Best to invite all direct reports into the process (avoids divisiveness, elitism and favourites) and to deliver the briefing in a team meeting.
Understand their 360 experience
Uncover who has participated in 360 degree feedback before and whether as a participant or a rater (or both). Ask what their previous experience was like, and what would have made it better. Try to incorporate their ‘do differently’ ideas into this implementation.
Explain the 360 feedback process
Regardless of whether your audience has been involved in 360 degree feedback before, explain all of the steps in the process that has been designed. Using plenty of supporting visuals, explain the origins of the questionnaire (big it up if it was designed specifically for your organisation), what the questionnaire interface looks like, the scoring mechanism (especially how to interpret the rating scale, e.g. what is the scoring benchmark for ‘meets expectations/to the standard required’), the comment boxes, the report that comes out at the end, the first coaching session, checking out*, the second coaching session (focused on action planning) and maybe checking back in* too.
* Checking Out and Checking In will each be covered in future bogs. For now, please understand that these are vital steps in making the 360 degree feedback process successful and keeping it alive. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Ask for SOB’s (Specific Observable Behaviours)
Put simply: participants and raters should be encouraged to write comments that describe something the participant is doing (or not doing) and/or something they are saying (or not saying). This means behaviour that has been observed.
The SOB’s should be typical and representative of the participant’s regular behavior, this avoids one-off fabulously good or bad behaviour (‘halos and horns’) or something - either good or bad - that just happened (‘recency’).
Tell them how long it will take
Brief the audience on how many questions there are and how long you expect them to take on the scoring and on contributing comments (see the previous blog on questionnaire design for more details on this). Experience tells us that rater fatigue sets in after about 20 minutes so remind them they can save and exit at any time and come back later to where they left off.
Explain the element of confidentiality
Explain that scores and comments are presented back anonymously in the individual reports, excepting the line manager feedback, but urge them not to write anything they wouldn’t feel comfortable with sharing face-to-face.
Tell participants what you expect to achieve at the end, what happens when the results are in and what the coaching and (if relevant) checking out/in process entails.
Don’t stop there. The 360 process will doubtless raise the appetite for further development. Use the carrot of what development options might be available in the future. Be as creative as you can with coming up with development suggestions for this step...often the most valuable development costs the least amount of money.
It is important to share the open and close dates so that expectations are managed and the maximum amount of data can be collected.
When participants are having their rater invitation conversations, they should explain when the process is starting/ending and check raters’ work load capacity for the survey open period. Ensure they have chosen the most suitable raters at that time.
Ask for their firm commitment
Ensure that participants are comfortable, understand the process and are willing to engage. Participants should ask the same of their raters: "Will you help me?" "Are you up for it?" .
You are asking participants to give the gift of their time and effort when they are doubtless busy already, it is important to recognise that and thank them sincerely. Participants should do exactly the same with each rater.
Ready For The Plunge But Not Sure Where To Start?
If you’ve decided your organisation is ready to embark upon the 360 process but don’t feel fully equipped to start, our experienced team is at hand to help. Alternatively, you may have had a less than perfect previous 360 feedback experience and want to make the next one different.
We offer a 2 x 75-minute webinar-based training programme for coaches that covers everything you need to run the same with your participants in future surveys.
What We Cover In Our Coach Training Session
- Checking out participants’ history with 360 – getting them engaged
- How to explain 360 for the uninitiated – getting raters engaged
- How to describe the purpose of the 360 and the questionnaire
- Contracting around confidentiality
- Sharing the timetable
- Contracting around outcomes beyond the 360 report
- Demo of QI and report
- How to select and invite raters
- Guidance on what good feedback (written comments) looks like
- Detailed step-by step guidance on each coaching session
- How to Check Out feedback and Check In again later
By the end of these 2 x 75-minute webinars, delegates will have gained the following:
- Commitment to the benefits of running awareness briefings based on our guidelines
- Acceptance of the need to follow a ‘script’
- An understanding of the importance for participants to personally invite their raters
- Adaptable materials (templates/scripts/slide decks) to support their awareness briefings
Checking Out and Checking In are two more vital steps in our recommended 360 degree feedback process that will be covered in future blogs.