Having a discussion with your employees or manager about job performance is never an easy feat. If executed incorrectly, the process could produce counteractive results. Managers have to find ways to provide both motivation and constructive criticism, and employees have to share individual goals underneath the scrutiny of their bosses.

However, what if you could knock down these obstacles with a single process? A system that created a platform for managers to discuss improvement opportunities, and one question that encouraged employees to be open with their managers. Well, you're in luck. One such process and question exists. First, let's take a look at the process: 360 feedback.

360 feedback is a system in which employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from those with whom they interact the most. This includes peers, cross-departmental colleagues, customers, managers, and even themselves. The process ensures the employee's manager (who functions as a filter or middle-man preventing employees from sharing direct feedback with one another) can draw off of multiple perspectives and objectively evaluate their employee's overall effectiveness.

As you can imagine, the idea can be intimidating. Employees have to rate their colleagues and managers have to open themselves up to constructive criticism. Nevertheless, if you can get past the challenges, the transparency that comes from 360s can be transformational.

In April's edition of HR Grapevine, Elva Ainsworth, CEO and founder of Talent Innovations, discusses four ways to know if your organization is ready for 360 reviews.

1. Intention to grow

Nothing could be farther away from the status-quo than a 360. The entire idea is to encourage career/team development, continuous improvement, and to uncover additional opportunities to support the company's mission. In other words, if you can't commit to employee growth and development, then 360s aren't for you.

2. Emotional openness

The biggest enemy of emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage emotions, is pride. Those who keep their egos in check and embrace objective feedback significantly increase their effectiveness as leaders. If not, they can close themselves off to advice vital for success. 360s require an environment where managers are emotionally mature and open to constructive criticism.

3. Integration and support

For 360s to be useful, you have to integrate their data with other support mechanisms and performance management tools. Without an avenue to address the feedback, the 360 process is counterproductive. If your organization can't help employees remedy their deficiencies, then you're not ready for 360 reviews.

4. Senior engagement

Without top leader's support, the strategic impact of 360s will be insignificant. If your senior leaders aren't engaged in the process, then the rest of the organization will have a hard time taking the exercise seriously. 360s are an all or nothing type of ambition.

Although 360s can be impactful, they are not the answer for every organization. If the right conditions don't exist, 360s can cause excess paperwork, skewed data, and become overly negative. However, if done right, Ainsworth says, "the process can transform the lowest self-esteem into confidence or the toughest skin into mature self-awareness."

The One Question

Last, let's take a look at the one question that lead to the most open and constructive development conversation I've ever had. My manager asked me this:

"If you could create your dream job, how would you write the job description?"

I was blown away. The truth is, in all my other development discussions, I had always tried to keep the discussion centered around what I thought my manager wanted to hear. I was terrified that if I was honest, my responses would seclude me from projects, development opportunities, or even worse, my manager's favor. Instead, this question did the following:

  • Brought down the shield. I was immediately disarmed as the conversation moved away from my manager and focused on my personal goals. I was encouraged to be open and honest about the areas of the organization that interested me the most.
  • Allowed my manager to channel my internal motivation and redirect it toward team projects that touched on the areas I enjoyed the most. Believe me; it's much easier to leverage preexisting motivation than to regenerate it for every new project.
  • Encouraged me to accept constructive criticism and advice as the conversation took the form of mentoring rather than dictating.
  • Permitted me to have a plan of attack and explore self-directed learning & development plans. I don't know if it's just me, but I have a much higher retention rate with information that I'm interested in.

The essence of a great manager is someone who doesn't have to continually motivate their employees, but rather uncovers their internal passions and leverages them. They give them something to believe in. This is the only way to create sustainable motivation and engagement.