It’s the time of year when companies review performance. Whose evaluation matters to you and your career?
Start talking about performance reviews or references, and people immediately start thinking about their supervisors.
That’s only part of the picture, however. When it comes to career development, the opinions of people higher than you on the corporate ladder are important, but they rarely tell the whole story.
If you truly want to give yourself — and your current or potential employer — an accurate picture of who you are and how you can contribute to the team, a 360-degree performance review that takes into account feedback from peers, employees and customers is one of the most important investments you can make.
Although many companies have adopted 360-degree reviews, the practice is far from universal. For this reason, you may have to take the initiative to do it yourself as part of the process.
Before we explore how to do this, let’s look at why it’s worth the effort.
The basic idea behind a 360-degree review is simply to gain the insight of what it is like for people who work with you and for you. For some companies, it may only include direct and indirect reports. Ideally, it will also include support staff, colleagues in other departments, vendors and any other people you encounter in the course of your work.
Why it matters
Even if your immediate supervisor is a complete micro-manager, she probably doesn’t have an objective view of what it is like to work with you on projects. Too often, I have seen people in management who were dazzled (read: “blinded”) by people who managed up exceptionally well but were unable to manage down or work with peers effectively.
Being able to recognize this issue was important when I worked as a headhunter. After all, I didn’t have first-hand experience working on the same team with most of the candidates.
As a head hunter, getting a clear 360- egree view was a challenge because most candidates only came to the table with references from their bosses and other people who lacked the perspective I needed. Many of the candidates clearly expected me to be impressed by the collection of industry leaders and experts they had assembled on their list of references. But how helpful is that? Depending on the position, your network and access to opinion leaders may be quite valuable. But it doesn’t tell me anything about what it would be like to report to you.
Most candidates were genuinely — and pleasantly — surprised by my interest in hearing from the people on their teams. For others, it was clearly uncomfortable because they knew their weaknesses could easily be exposed. Either way, candidates sometimes forget that any reasonably well-connected person is rarely more than two or three degrees away from someone who has worked directly with them but who isn’t one of their references. This isn’t meant to scare you, but rather to open your eyes to the importance of managing your reputation at every step in your career. A 360- degree performance review is a great place to start.
How to get started
If it is up to you to make the performance review a 360-degree process, begin by letting the people you work with every day know your intentions. For example, you might say:
“Even though our company doesn’t officially do 360-degree reviews, your opinion is important to me. After all, you have much better sense of what it is like to work with me than my supervisor. My goal is not to put you on the spot but rather to get a better understanding of what is working, what isn’t working and how I might be more effective.”
For this approach to work, you have to create a safe environment in which people can share their impressions without worrying about your reaction. If you disagree with the feedback, avoid the temptation to get defensive. Instead, imagine you are an investigative reporter digging for the truth. That way, you can take an objective step back, acknowledge what has been shared and seek clarity. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to say something like:
“Thank you for sharing that feedback. So that I better understand your perspective, I would appreciate any examples that might help me know what I did to create that impression.”
More important than the exact words you use is the need to communicate the following:
A 360-degree review is not an opportunity to defend your past actions with a strong need to be right.
Instead, it’s an opportunity to see yourself through the eyes of your colleagues and underlings.
If you aren’t sure what people are thinking or you know deep down that you aren’t always the most pleasant person to have on the team, a 360-degree review can be a daunting prospect. But remember, just because you don’t ask what you can do to improve doesn’t mean your team isn’t thinking about it.
Even if you have made mistakes — and we all have — keep in mind that no one expects you to be perfect. In that sense, being proactive, doing a 360-degree review and making a clear commitment to change is a great step forward in your personal and professional development.