360 feedback: good evidence of competence to practise

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26 January 2016

Posted by Nicola Jones, director of Legal Futures Associate Athena Professional


Jones: Done well, 360 can be a valuable part of a robust learning culture

Jones: Done well, 360 can be a valuable part of a robust learning culture

360 feedback puts the individual in the spotlight. Delivered well, it can be powerful stuff, providing real evidence of ability and showing up what behaviours work well with colleagues and clients, and what rubs them up the wrong way.

It’s a great way of bringing people to an understanding of how they affect other people at work. In terms of the regulatory requirement to provide evidence of competence to practise, it hits the nail on the head, providing:

  • Qualitative and quantitative evidence of performance;
  • An excellent means of identifying development needs; and
  • Evidence of the firm’s commitment to continuous improvement.

Who uses 360?

360 feedback is widely used in other sectors. As yet, re-registration as a solicitor has been avoided. However, if we look outside the legal sector at the medical profession, in 2011, 360 feedback was introduced for doctors as part of their GMC re-evaluation. Medics receive feedback from their fellow doctors, other health professionals and non-clinical staff. They also receive feedback from 20-45 patients. This has to be completed at least once every five years.

For some years the Legal Services Consumer Panel has been calling for something similar in legal world.

360 feedback is also routine in many commercial organisations, occurring every two years or so. Commonly it is used, for example, to inform performance management conversations or as a benchmark at the outset and conclusion of development programmes.

How it works

Managers, peers, reports and clients are invited to rate performance over a range of work behaviours. They are also asked to give written answers to a couple of questions. As well as being rated by others, the individual rates themselves.

The comparison between self-rating and other people’s rating is highlighted and provides a clear indication of whether self-perception accords with how they are perceived by others. All this information is brought together in a report containing quantitative and qualitative data.

Using 360

We recommend the following when using 360 feedback:

  1. Make it part of a strategic approach to learning and development. As with any learning activity, a piecemeal approach is unlikely to yield value.
  2. Set expectation at an early stage. Bring people (both appraisees and respondents) together and explain why 360 is being used and to what purpose. Tell them how the feedback will be managed and about on-going support and development opportunities.
  3. Ensure that people are clear that scores will remain confidential.
  4. Use trained staff to handle discussion of feedback sessions with individual so that strengths are recognised and role modelled within the organisation.
  5. Use the 360 to encourage the individual to take responsibility for their own learning by coming up with their own action plan during the feedback sessions to address strengths and weaknesses identified. Invite them to share that plan with their line manager if they wish.

When not to do it

  • If there are significant personnel issues in play. Sort those things out first. As with any learning and development intervention, it is important to ask whether the conditions exist for it to be well-received and result in business benefit.
  • If you are looking for evidence for disciplinary proceedings or are planning redundancies. 360 is not an appropriate tool in these circumstances
  • If you are using 360 feedback as a standalone process.

Opening Pandora’s box…

Introducing 360 feedback is a great way of tackling the behaviours which inform the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s competency statement. Possibly more compelling are the business benefits of raisings self-awareness and awareness of impact on others.

In a way, 360 feedback does open the Pandora’s Box of performance. Getting value for money from the process depends on tackling it in an informed way and making sure the process is well planned and executed. Those appraised need to expect to be held to account for the actions they decide to take in order to address both negative and positive feedback they receive. In order for this to happen, there will need to be on-going support and development opportunities.

We all know that the working world is changing with increased competition, increased communication flows and a seemingly insatiable desire for immediate response from all and sundry. These changes put a premium on working relationships, teamwork, the ability to be flexible and adapt. Done well, 360 can be a valuable part of a robust learning culture and that is really the best way we have to make sure we are fit for whatever the future holds.

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