One of the most difficult things to do at work is the 360 performance review. Effective leaders welcome and appreciate the feedback, and they use the information to grow as a leader. Nevertheless, there are rather significant roadblocks to making these assessments truly effective. One of the most common techniques in 360 reviews is the three questions “What do you want me to keep doing, … stop doing, … start doing?” I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of these on numerous occasions and I’ve observed these conversations in many cases. Honestly, I’m never quite satisfied with the effectiveness of the technique.
Let’s be honest about what these three questions are really asking.
“What do you want me to keep doing?” is usually interpreted as “What do I do that you like?” Leaders enjoy the positive affirmation that comes from this and it helps to know what creates positive vibes in the office. However, is this line of thinking as helpful and effective as it should be?
Better questions would be “What do I do that helps you be more effective in your work?” or “What do I do that encourages your and the team’s success?”
“What do you want me to stop doing?” really asks, “What do I do that you don’t like? But that’s a very uncomfortable question for the leader and the follower. So very little gets said in response to that question and it doesn’t help the leader grow.
Similarly, “What do you want me to start doing?” is just the obverse of the “stop doing” question and is equally uncomfortable to address because the implied meaning is “You’re not good enough because you’re not doing these things now.” So little gets said that is direct. In my experience, followers make it more comfortable to answer this by turning their responses into a general wish list and the focus is not on the person being reviewed.
Better questions for the stop and start doing topics would also focus on helping people and teams be more effective in their work. So my informal analysis leads me to conclude that the Keep/Stop/Start doing questions are missing the point.
As I review the notes I have on multiple 360 Keep/Stop/Start conversations, my conclusion is that what leaders really need to do is focus on building relationships and create a general atmosphere of trust where honest conversations can be had.
Why? Here’s the pattern I’ve witnessed.
In the reviews where I sensed that followers were indeed being honest with their feedback and they really did provide meaningful feedback to the leader, they said things like, “Heather knows me. She understands what’s important in my life as well as my professional goals and the value I bring to the team. She is also open and ready to listen to me almost anytime I need her. She cares about me and about my work.” The comments offered were detailed and specific and honest… and sometimes uncomfortable.
In other words, Heather had built a relationship and trust with this employee.
Conversely, in the reviews where I sensed that followers were being circumspect with their feedback, I knew the leader to be less than effective in relationship building and not effective in building an atmosphere of trust. In these cases, followers were cautious with their feedback and it was therefore very unhelpful to the growth of the leader. So why bother?
You might say, “I don’t care about relationship and trust. We just need to get the job done.”
I have two responses to that.
- In some rare cases that may actually be valid. OK. It’s likely that you’re not asking 360 feedback questions anyway. This article isn’t for you.
- If you’re not absolutely certain that your work environment really would not benefit from the positive impact of healthy relationships and trust, then you need to have an honest conversation with another leader whom you trust. Show them this article and ask, “Do I need to work on building relationships and trust?”
Here is my bottom line on these 360 feedback questions: Rarely is the Keep/Stop/Start doing feedback technique effective. Don’t bother.
Instead, focus on building meaningful relationships and an atmosphere of trust in the office. With success there, you can focus your 360 reviews on more targeted topics such as workplace competency performance. When people know and trust one another, you’ll get high quality feedback on relevant performance behaviors.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.