Feedback doesn’t have to leave you feeling bruised

The Inland Revenue has learned a lot from 360-degree feedback

Operational managers at the Inland Revenue remember the introduction of
360-degree feedback as a bruising experience.

In 1995 the department went through a major reorganisation. Officers in
charge in the network offices found themselves managing their offices – now
with just one layer of management. This was a culture shock to them and the
managers below them.

As part of a development exercise, the 600 officers in charge were asked to
undergo an upward feedback process. Each nominated nine people to give them
feedback and set up two open commentary boxes for them to use.

These were used fully by many participants who took this opportunity of
letting the officer know exactly what they thought of them. And although
officers then had a one-to-one session with a consultant, many were left very
bruised and having to deal with strained relations on return to the office.

But we have moved on, and with the help of 360-degree specialist Feedback
Fundamentals the IR has developed processes that reduce this bruising.

What was missing in 1995 were two key elements:

– Education and support for all those going through the exercise

– A safe process to allow the managers to explore the results with the team
members in order to make greater sense of the results.

Upward feedback, although part of the 360-degree concept, is far narrow and
potentially more emotive process. Unlike a 360-degree exercise the audience is
more likely to be working closely with the manager concerned.

We put three elements in place:

– Set up a two-hour education seminar for managers who were considering a
feedback process

– Encouraged managers to arrange a meeting with team members to educate them
about the process and their roles

– Set up support networks or helplines for all those involved.

These elements helped with the next stage, which was bringing together the
manager and team members to explore the results.

People are happy to complete a questionnaire anonymously. But to attend a
meeting with the manager to discuss their report is another thing.

Obviously team members need to be made aware of what to expect, so there
should be no surprises of being involved with the discussion stage of the

It is often not enough to stop the process at the stage where the manager
receives the feedback report and has a one-to-one coaching session. The team
meeting goes a long way to explaining perceptions and offering ideas for

It has to have a high level of comfort attached to it for the manager and
team members. Getting the ground rules in place for giving and receiving
feedback is vital. A facilitator is also key to the success of the exercise.

At the meeting, team members are given copies of the manager’s report. They
have time to absorb the report, then work in small groups and finally share
thoughts with the manager. This develops team members just as much as managers
because it gives them a greater insight into each other and how relationships are

Is this still bruising stuff? We think not. Instead, handled properly, it is
a powerful method of building relationships all round.

By Peter Leighton, a management consultant with the Inland Revenue and is
speaking on 360-degree feedback at a Roffey Park forum on 11 May

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