Note from Art: this rave was prompted by one too many discussions with good people about the frustration they feel over their firm’s evaluation systems and the lack of good quality developmental feedback.

While I’m certain there’s a good 360-degree feedback program out there somewhere, the trash frequently heaped upon unwitting corporate victims by misguided management groups via their HR departments is….well, it’s trash. Please place it in a proper container and dispose of it before it starts to stink.

Vague input filled with gross generalizations provided by untrained (in delivering evaluations and providing feedback) and potentially politically motivated individuals is truly not worth the paper it’s printed on. In fact, these systems are often de-motivating, potentially destructive and often nothing more than a compliance game that distorts behaviors and keeps people from having the right discussions for fear of reprisal.

Talent development is a critical responsibility and the delivery of high quality, timely, behavioral, specific and business-oriented input is priceless. Priceless and all-too rare.

What’s a Manager to Do? 4 Ideas:

If you’re stuck with one of these turkeys…the kind that asks others to assess their opinion on the value of your role with questions such as: “Is this a valuable position?” I empathize with you. Perhaps the spirit of revolution sweeping parts of the world will translate to disgust at poor evaluation and feedback systems and cause managers and employees to rise up. Just in case that doesn’t happen, here are some suggestions:

1. Redouble your efforts. The existence of a 360-degree system does not allow you to abrogate your responsibility for constant evaluation and timely behavioral and business focused feedback.  In fact, the system creates so much FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the workplace, that your work here is essential for salvaging the working environment.  Seek developmental support, training, coaching/mentoring and study and practice delivering feedback until you develop both competence and comfort.

2. Encourage improvement in the system, but don’t expect much. Push to encourage organizational investment in teaching and training on how to offer input with some redeeming actionable value. Short of the overthrow of the 360-degree system, you’ve got an obligation within your organization to encourage improvements that might move the value meter for the process in the proper direction.

3. Build an effective feedback culture on your team. Encourage and reinforce the obligation people have to engage in constructive, open discussion about group and individual performance. I observe teams all of the time that don’t do this, and the results are always sub-par.

People need to trust you and their team members before they talk openly about key issues, and you own the responsibility for creating an environment of trust. It’s hard work, and requires you to “do as you say” in all matters, including soliciting, accepting and acting upon feedback on your performance from your team members.

4. Champion great people. Regardless of evaluation systems, top leaders are almost always interested in finding people who can do more. It’s OK to advocate for those with potential, and your advocacy can help to stand out in spite of the fog of the evaluation system.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Don’t fall into the trap of letting internal systems and programs do your work as a developer of talent. I’ve witnessed good 360-Systems in cases where reviewers were vetted and selected based on evaluation of their ability to provide quality input…and then were active in a professionally administered program. Unfortunately, most people and most firms don’t take the time to move these programs beyond a compliance tool to this level.

You own the responsibility to deal with the good and bad of performance on your team, and no sheet of paper will substitute for your deliberate and relentless work observing, evaluating, and engaging with others to reinforce the good and help stomp out the bad.  And remember, this isn’t a game. It’s serious business with the goal of developing great people to grow your business.