How Important is 360 Feedback?

I was a relatively new and inexperienced supervisor back in 1977, the Assistant Director of the Social Work Department at St. Joe’s Hospital in Paterson. The fall semester was winding down for a group of Social work student interns. During a bi-monthly meeting with them I announced I had received the last of their final evaluation forms from their respective schools and would be completing them shortly after which I would sit with them individually to discuss. As I finished informing them, one asked “When do we get to evaluate you?”. I responded to her and the group that I was certainly open to constructive feedback and would give it some thought. That was the beginning of my Supervisory Expectations Questionnaire, a tool adapted to the different work places I worked in for the rest of my working career. I describe it as an inexpensive alternative to the 360 degree feedback process.

I developed a sixteen question multiple choice survey (with space to add comments). The questions covered my management and communication style and the work environment. Students and staff could fill out the form anonymously but were encouraged to sign it so that I could sit with them individually to review, clarify ratings and remarks, perhaps explain myself and discuss where we go from here. I also explained that I would like to continue the practice and having signed forms would allow us to compare for progress or slippage over time.

Throughout the years it worked as I had hoped. Direct reports felt empowered and appreciated having a constructive voice in the workplace. While the scoring was always positive overall, there was always room for improvement. Successive administrations of the questionnaire confirmed a positive and improving work place.

I would also have a group meeting with my direct reports, share aggregated scores and narrative comments (absent any author identifying information), discussing strengths and opportunities, offering suggestions to address areas for improvement, and invite the group’s suggestions. I also shared results with my supervisor. As I advanced up the administrative chain of command, I invited direct reports who supervised others, to adapt the questionnaire and process with their direct reports inviting them to share the results with each other and with me. Most opted to share the results with me though some did not choose to share results the first time they used it.

I do believe the supervisors expectation questionnaire is a win, win, win, win process. The supervisor wins by learning about his/her strengths and weaknesses and growing from taking action on those results. The direct reports win in that they feel empowered to improve the work environment and improve communication with their supervisor as well as trust. The one on one discussion that take place between supervisor and direct report helps both persons to get to know each other better. The organization wins because the first two wins build and strengthen a positive work environment. And clients (customers) win because a positive work environment leads to better service.

To implement the Supervisory Expectations Questionnaire in your workplace, start with the sample provided here. Adapt/edit it to suit your workplace. There is no magic to the number of questions, though I do suggest you keep it short which itself increases likelihood of getting a timely response. The 16 questions I used seem to be comprehensive and fit nicely on one two-sided piece of paper. If you are a new supervisor I suggest you wait a period of time for the staff to start to get to know (and trust) you, perhaps six months before introducing it. Then introduce it at a group meeting, circulate it (via email, handing it out, interoffice mail or survey monkey (if staff are familiar with survey monkey), read and think about the results. After considering the results and your reactions, schedule individual meetings to discuss each questionnaire. At these meetings ask clarifying questions of anything that you were surprised about, offer explanations (being careful not to be defensive), and discuss possible actions to improve upon areas identified for improvement. And be sure to thank the person for his/her candor and willingness to share. Then have a group discussion at a regular or special staff meeting.

I suggest waiting until you have administered the questionnaire at least twice before suggesting your direct reports who supervise other, use it with them. Once they are comfortable with the process they will be more receptive to using it with their direct reports. They might even ask to use it before you bring it up.

To learn more about the supervisory Expectations Questionnaire and about the importance of knowing yourself read chapter 13 Know Yourself (self-Assessment) in my book Being a Supervisor 1.0: A handbook for the New, Aspiring, and Experienced Supervisor.

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