4. Do qualitative comments relate to improved performance?
Best practice advises that qualitative comments are provided by raters to expand on their numerical rating scores but how accurate and beneficial are they, do they relate to greater improvements in performance?
Qualitative comments fill in the gaps left by numerical ratings alone and can be particularly beneficial when creating a development plan. They can provide specific examples of where an individual‟s current behaviour has worked well, as well as showing the consequences of when it has not.
“The real colour of a 360, the brilliant insights, are obtained from the qualitative comments.”
The ability of qualitative comments to provide these benefits will of course depend upon their quality; and it could be argued that really helpful qualitative feedback is hard to come by. There may be many reasons for this, such as inadequate guidance or lack of time but organisational culture may also be a key factor. If an individual is supported in, and rewarded for providing in depth feedback they are more likely to take the time to do so. “High quality and constructive feedback takes significant time and effort from the individual providing it – including moral courage and resilience. In today’s KPI driven and short term numbers focused environments, little time, support and recognition is given to those who make the effort to give vital feedback. There seems to be greater emphasis in reducing cost than there is on focusing on staff, and many business leaders find it difficult to relate time/effort spent on people development (especially performance management) to the ‘bottom line’ or indeed other more pressing financial targets.”
Even if constructive, specific comments are made the focus may reject them if they feel they are inaccurate or from a source they do not trust. In addition to rejection of feedback, there are alternative negative reactions that could follow from qualitative comments. An individual may become pre-occupied with identifying who the comments came from by analysing perceived „give aways‟ of a raters identity such as typical wording or spelling errors. An individual may also become pre-occupied by negative feedback. Each of these negative reactions will cause a hindrance in moving the individual through to acceptance. The negative impact of these reactions could be reduced by a number of measures discussed in this report, such as use of a professional coach, removal of qualitative comments for particular groups e.g. when showing the report to managers, provision of the feedback report prior to coaching session, or checking for overly personal or inappropriate comments prior to release of the report.
The consensus view seems to state that qualitative comments are beneficial as long as they are of a high quality and are constructive. Our view on qualitative comments at Talent Innovations is that more is better. They provide the context and the real learning points that help an individual understand their perceived behaviour. However we do feel it is important for an independent party to review comments prior to the feedback report being released. This both ensures that comments are constructive but also allows time to plan for particularly difficult feedback sessions – which in our experience are few and far between.
Regardless of the feedback method chosen by our client we offer the support of a trained career coach when needed and this offer is typically accepted for the most difficult of cases. Remember it is essential that all those who take part in a 360 benefit from the experience and follow through into acceptance of the data. Although infinitely valuable when approached correctly, if a 360 is not managed well the negative impact can be detrimental and long lasting.
Part 5 discusses whether a 360 feedback should provide surprises….
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