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I’ll be honest, collecting proper 360 feedback for your direct reports, sanitizing that data and delivering that feedback is not for the faint-hearted.

It takes a lot of work, organization and time. Towards the end of sanitizing that data and writing succinct reviews for each of my team member, I was tired of writing and speaking. I may have stopped talking to my family.

The only thing that helped me push through it is because I know they want that feedback from their peers and with just a few improvements, many of our software engineers will become even better!

Oh, and scheduling a vacation at the end of the 4 weeks is an incredible motivating factor to finish.

All of my conversations are structured around 2 questions:

  1. What are the things John does really well?
  2. What are the things John should improve?

Side note: Perhaps I could expand beyond these questions but as a start, they’re simple enough to get a productive conversation going without overwhelming either the people I’m collecting feedback from or for.

Step 1: Create a feedback spreadsheet

First, create an excel template like the following. I recommend saving them in Google Drive, One Drive or anywhere in the cloud as you don’t want to ever lose this document.

For example, cell C2 is Sarah’s feedback for John in terms of what he’s done really well (question 1 above) and cell C3 is Sarah’s feedback for John in terms of what he could improve on (question 2 above).

Identify the people you’ll need to speak to, to gather sufficient feedback for each direct report. Those could be people within the same team or different team, people at a higher level (other Directors or managers in different department) and people that he or she is mentoring (junior team members) to get a good 360 feedback.

In my experience, for the newer or more junior folks, I only need to speak to a few people. For the more senior folks, their work is often more wide-reaching. They help different people in different teams so I tend to have more data points for them. And that is a good thing.

If there’s a senior software engineer where you were not able to get a lot of feedback from, that could be an indicator that he/she is more an individual contributor than a go-to person for the team.

Step 2: Give the teams a heads up

I usually send a team-wide email to let them know I’ll be scheduling one-on-ones with everyone to gather their feedback.

I’ll also let them know that I’ll be asking the two questions (above).

Step 3: Schedule one-on-ones

I schedule either a 30-minute meeting or an hour long meeting to go through all the people I want this person to provide feedback for.

If I know in advance, sometimes I’ll include in my invite the list of people that I’ll be looking for feedback and the questions (again) that I would ask. This is to allow the person I’m getting feedback from an opportunity to either write out the feedback (some people actually ask to do this) or at least, to think it through before the meeting with me.

Step 4: Listen and ask questions

During that meeting, I would ask the 2 questions for each team members I’m gathering feedback for. I would have my giant spreadsheet ready and I’ll type as they talk.

This is where I try to listen intently and ask any probing questions to dive deeper into their feedback.

For example, if the feedback given sounds something like “John is very organized.” I would probe further like “What do you mean by that? Can you give me an example of that?”

Don’t worry about editing the data at this point. Collect as accurate as possible what was said as the next stage would be to sanitize the data.

Step 5: Summarize the review feedback

At the end of all my feedback gathering meetings, for each team member, I would read all their feedback and try to summarize it on a different sheet.

Things I look out for are recurring themes in their feedback. If there are specific examples, I would use it only if it’s positive feedback (so for question 1). This is because teams are most likely okay with providing positive feedback so if the specific examples link back to them in this case, it’s usually fine.

However, team members tend to be nervous about providing negative or constructive feedback so I usually don’t provide specific examples unless I’ve asked for consent. And I would usually only ask for consent if the example is needed to clarify the feedback.

If there are multiple things for a team member to improve on, I usually reduce it to 1-2 things that are most impactful. I find anything more than that can be overwhelming or disheartening if it is a junior, new team member.

Step 6: Schedule one-on-one to deliver the feedback

In my invite, I would ask them to self-assess given the same two questions. They will have to come prepared to answer those two questions and they can write it down if they like or talk it through during our one-on-one.

Step 7: Deliver the feedback

When I meet with a team member, I usually start with their self-assessment first and I would write that down as well in the same spreadsheet.

I would listen and ask probing questions so I can understand in what ways those areas they’ve listed are their strengths or are areas for improvement.

A lot of times, this reveals a lot of their own insecurities or limited beliefs about themselves which can help steer future one-on-ones.

After they are done with their self-assessment, I would deliver what I’ve summarized for them.

For each question, I will stop and ask if they have any questions, any parts of it were surprising or needed further clarification. Most importantly, I give them time to digest the information.

For many, it might be the first time they’ve received feedback like this and you want to hold the space for them to digest the information and feel any emotions that might come up.

Step 8: Give them a copy of the review feedback

There are performance management tools out there (for example, BambooHR) which allows you to share both the self-assessment and your assessment as a manager. Or a simple email to the team member will work as well. Most importantly, I want to make sure the employee has a copy so they can refer back to them as it guides our future one-on-ones.

Conclusion

So I spend about the first 2 weeks or so gathering feedback. I probably met more than 22 people as it includes people from other departments etc. The next 1.5 weeks were pretty straight forward in terms of delivering feedback.

The hardest part for me during this process is summarizing the feedback. There’s often at least 5 different data points to read and to summarize it in a way that is positive and forward looking require significant mental strength.

Since then, I’ve received feedback from a few team members who went through this process as being very positive and much needed. There were things that surprised them but most were grateful that were recognized for the things they’re doing well and there’s concrete things for them to work on next.

Please let me know if this is helpful and if you’ve tried something similar.

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