What does the 360 review process in Visuality look like? Part 2

My previous blog post highlighted the history behind 360 review in Visuality. And as I told you then, designing a new 360 review process was one of the first challenges I’ve taken care of after joining Visuality forces. I’ve learned about the first why behind the process, how it was introduced to the organization — it shows me the grounds of the current shape. With that perspective, I was ready to discuss with Michał current obstacles.

Understanding of obstacles

I’ve asked Michał, how he recognizes that the process is not good enough. Turns out, an important job was already done — Michał together with Alicja (Office & HR Manager) have gathered feedback about the process from each employee. They have prepared the survey, so people could rate the current process in terms of actual impact on self-development and usefulness of its shape (Start/Stop/Continue); each person could share other difficulties and ideas for improvements. I’ve dived deep into that feedback and I’ve concluded that the biggest obstacles of the current process were:

  • superficiality: feedback from colleagues showed some direction for growth, it was motivating (because people are eager to know other’s perspectives), but it wasn’t detailed enough to make a deeper impact; feedback was also anonymous, so there was no way to ask reviewer for elaboration if something wasn’t clear
  • too open questions (What your colleague should... start doing / stop doing / continue doing): it was hard for most of the people to gather thoughts, recall actions and write a half-year summary; they also didn’t know what areas they should focus on while describing
  • feeling judging: people didn’t feel comfortable about preparing the review that might hurt someone or e.g. affect the decision about the raise

When analyzing the needs and expectations, it turned out that people would like to have a template or a guide on how to prepare the review. Also, they were wondering if closed questions with a scale would enrich the feedback.

Research and brain-storming

So there I was, seated with a blank page for the new 360 review process, armed with knowledge about obstacles and needs. I’ve deepened my perspective on the Visuality process, but I decided to take a step back and do the research about 360 review in other companies. I don’t know how many of you know that process from your own experience, but people often associate it with a very long, corporate survey, where teammates are asked to write that feedback for their colleague and when they do it - that colleague can get an average rate in a few different areas. I found multiple examples of such surveys divided into areas such as communication, efficiency, problem-solving, teamwork. The questions in such surveys are usually closed and have a scale from 1 to 5 (e.g. strongly disagree, disagree, hard to say, agree, strongly agree; or never, once in a while, about half of the time, most of the time, always) and they are describing the behavior that is related to a particular area (e.g. How often does your colleague take responsibility for own mistakes?). And if you’ve ever learned about counting average or other quantitative measures, you probably know that it’s very important to have a solid number of questions and a solid number of reviewers to make the results statistically significant. The question is: what value do they bring? For sure, you can compare the changes of scores in time. You can also quantitatively see, what area is the strongest one and which one has the lowest score. That process has its value in large corporations that are built on numbers; where you have hundreds of people and it will be really hard to analyze qualitative information about each employee regularly. What’s more, usually the more people you have on board, the more complex the environment gets, and you simply need clear rules to make such important decisions as promotions or raises - the numbers are almost a perfect solution, because they make the picture simpler.

But Visuality is not a corporation, nor a big organization. I was able to adjust those processes to make a process that will serve Visuality people and their growth. So I started to challenge those questions by asking them questions ;) Hey question, what answer can I expect from you? What value will you bring me? Should you be closed? I know from experience and knowledge, that in terms of feedbacking, the most important aspect is a description of behavior… So people would actually see how they’re perceived….

I prepared a sum-up of my findings and reflections and set up a meeting with Michał to challenge my way of thinking.

I concluded that:

  • We can prepare a 360 survey that will cover multiple suggested (by other companies) areas, but I’m not sure if it will touch the areas that are important for growth in Visuality. Maybe we should go back and reflect on Visuality values. Then, create a tool that will be focused on areas that are the reflections of those values, i.e. the most important traits of Visu Fellow (you can read more about Visuality values from Michał’s posts: How the remote-covid situation made our core values stronger? Part 1 and How the remote-covid situation made our core values stronger? Part 2 )
  • We can try adding closed questions, but I’m not sure if it’s the best solution for our kind of organization and if it’s cohesive with our way of doing things — closed questions will describe the behavior for the reviewer, so it gives us repeatability and consistency between reviewers. On the other hand, we’re losing the unique perspective of the reviewer, who — in open questions — can describe the perspective with own words
  • People suggested the questions with scale because they thought that it might be easier for them to choose a score than describe behavior only with words. On the other hand, we’ve talked with Michał, that we don’t like the idea of ratings and calculating average — we perceive it as a more harmful solution, because people tend to compare themselves to others and, above all, it might be demotivating for people, which is the opposite of our goal. Colleagues might also feel uncomfortable with rating other people because as a team, we care about each other — we don’t want to hurt anyone or negatively affect important decisions (about someone else’s growth, raise, etc.).

Choosing the right direction

During our discussion with Michał about previous obstacles and my conclusions, we came to goals we want to achieve with the new process:

  • Beside the tool we’re going to prepare, we should really, really focus on preparing a good instruction: one that will show people that the 360 review process is, above all, a support for their (and our) growth; that our reviews won’t directly affect the important decisions about someone else’s growth, raise, etc. because that might end up with unhealthy context
  • We can try with scale and see if it’s a solution that serves our needs, but: a. the scale won’t be mean to calculate an average; it will be only a preface, a starting point to the description of behavior b. we won’t give any labels to numbers to emphasize that it’s a subjective rate c. we’ll test a 1-10 scale because from our perspective, it’s less associated with the scholar system; it also gives more space for choice
  • We won’t focus so much on other companies’ way of doing review — we will focus on aspects that are crucial in terms of being a Visuality Team-mate
  • We’ll create a tool that will give both: a frame to gather thoughts and freedom to share different kinds of reflections. The most important is to create the tool that will be focused on behavior and provide real examples
  • Last, but not least: we’ll make the process non-anonymous, because, in order to build a great feedback culture, it’s important to not be afraid to share it. What’s more — it gives an opportunity to deepen the feedback with the reviewer, ask him/her what he/she had in mind while describing a given situation or behavior (by the way, as we were talking, it turned out, that the process even when called anonymous, was never like that — it was easy to guess whose opinion is that, but it was not allowed to talk about that, because “hey, we have to respect the anonymity”)

Phew, I’ve described a hell of the process, and still, you don’t know how exactly our 360 review looks like! But I’m certain that presenting a tool, without describing the motivation and rationale, is simply not enough — it’s important to understand the decisive factors to determine if it will apply to your organizational context.

I want to jump to our 360 review right away, but I need to tell you that between the discussion mentioned above and introducing that new process into Visuality, there have been:

  • few versions of 360 review template that was tested and adjusted after feedback
  • an RFC (Request For Comments) process that we use in Visuality when we want to make changes that will apply across the whole organization — we have lightning talks about it that you can check here: RFC process in Visuality - part 1 and here: RFC process in Visuality - part 2 Speaking shortly, it’s the description of the proposed approach/tool/process that highlights the expected effects, benefits and potential risks of it - once written, everyone in the organization is invited to give feedback about that change and we have a discussion if we want to proceed with that change)

So, let’s get to the point! How does the 360 review process look like in Visuality?

You know the background, so now, I’m going to simply quote the description from our Employee Playbook — thanks to that, you’ll be able to put yourself in our shoes :)

360 review is a summary of observations, reflections, and feelings regarding working arm in arm in the past months. Yes, the proper word for that is feedback. So this initiative is another very important piece of the Growth puzzle. Each employee, every 6 months:

  • gets feedback from colleagues about how do they perceive a collaboration with him/her
  • is asked to do a self-review — to reflect on his/her growth and way he/she affects the team And here's something extremely important: treat this review as a gift. For colleagues you're gonna review and for yourself — when they do the same. It's a gift because only by learning about ourselves, our strengths and potential for change, we can become better at what we do. It's like PullRequests and CodeReview — the purpose is to be better, not to blame about just a couple worse written lines 🙂

As I said, 360 review takes place every six months and the reviews are done by: - you (self-review) - people from your project (current and other from the last six months) - other people that you'd like to ask for feedback (e.g. members of the committee you belong to) (...)

360 review is splitted into concrete areas connected to Visuality values:

  • constant learning and growing
  • being a responsible team-player
  • taking great ownership and striving for delivering value
  • sharing constructive feedback and being mindful in our communication
  • having an impact on the inside and the outside world

At the end, you can also add "free thoughts" that haven't been covered and you find them valuable. (...)

There are also two sub-goals of 360:

  • As we said before, 360 review takes place every 6 months, and after each year, you can expect the discussion about a rise. What's taken into account is your growth, the way you collaborate with people, and the attitude you present towards clients (which results in a way you organize your work and get the job done). So it's quite clear, that 360 review with its areas is a perfect summary for that conversation 🙂 But don't worry, it doesn't mean that the review from other people is a decisive factor on your promotion — that might lead to not so healthy mechanisms and doesn't support open communication and honesty (because we don't want to ruin someone raise, right? We want to help our buddy!). 360 review might only help with summing up our own reflections and teammates' impressions, but the truth is: there shouldn't be anything we haven't already known. The main goal of 360 is to broaden the perspective at our growth by getting feedback from everyone we've been working with. By doing that, it will help us define the areas worth improving, set impactful OKRs, so we can become even better at what we do. The review will be taken into account when talking about promotion, but not directly — it should help each of us with a reflection if we've grown during the last year and if it happens in a good way. 360 won't simply decide on that, our everyday actions will.

  • Thanks to the complex feedback, it will be easier to compose a project team, by taking into account current strengths and growth opportunities

And if you’d like to see, how exactly our feedback template looks like, you can check it here:

self-review: https://www.visuality.pl/360-process-at-visuality-self-review.pdf

review: https://www.visuality.pl/360-process-at-visuality-review.pdf

(we’re using Google Forms to gather feedback)

You can notice that self-review has more areas — growth and visibility. The reason behind it is: we wanted to make the survey as short as possible (keeping it valuable). It still takes around 1 hour to fulfill a survey as a reviewer. We concluded with Michał, that the most important information about personal growth and visibility comes from self-reflection. It’s most important for us to know how someone perceives their self-development, what has learned and what improvements have been made. And because in the reviewer’s template there’s an impact on others section, we concluded that there will be enough information about how that person has grown from the perspective of others.

In the end, I want to say that I had no clue that this blog post is going to be that long 😅 On the other hand, I wasn’t able to make it shorter.

It made me even more certain, how that process is connected to many aspects of organization and how it affects the way of building culture.

By now, the feedback about the new 360 process is rather positive — it helps to gather thoughts and focus on what’s important. It brings a structure that prompts people to give examples and it makes feedback more deep. Although, it’s still sometimes hard to recall some examples — our tip is to go back to e.g. sum-ups of retrospectives to refresh memory — it’s also great proof that 360 review won’t replace a regular feedback, which is simply a basis. Speaking of scale — it triggers mixed-feelings; for some people it’s a good starting point to description, and for others, it still feels too judgemental. And anonymity? Not a problem at all, which means a lot to us :) (and yes: feedback is not too sugary, it’s motivating and constructive, so we’re pretty sure that people are not afraid, to be honest). The process is still under review — we never assume that any process will last forever in the same shape. If we’d make any changes to our approach, I’ll try to update that blog post. If you made it to the end — I’m impressed 😂 and I hope that it will bring you some inspiration — to 360 review directly, or to any process that’s connected to (feedback) culture in your organization.

Disclaimer: my blog posts are going to include gifs and memes only from Parks and Recreation because it’s simply the best TV show in the entire history 💁🏼‍♀️