CONSULTATION : Keeping Feedback Confidential

We have an annual 360° feedback process at work which is linked to our performance review process. Each year I have certain hesitation about filling in the questionnaires as although we are told it is confidential and no one will know who gave the feedback I am not sure this is true.

Three hundred and sixty degree feedback is delicate process and must be handled with care. The reason for implementing it is to achieve an internal culture that helps your organisation achieve its strategic goals. Any feedback can only be the other person’s perception and is not necessarily what is actually happening but it is what they see.
Theoretically receiving this type of feedback is intended to help people get good picture of how aligned they are with desired corporate behaviours and to help them strengthen this alignment. In practice this happens, but receiving feedback on your behaviour can step little too far into your own personal space and can feel uncomfortable or even hurtful.
Therefore the 360 implementers will usually guarantee that your own results will be kept confidential and only circulated to people you have agreed to seeing it, for example your manager. Also they will generally guarantee that the feedback you give on someone will be confidential and that the recipient won’t know who said what.
However, I have seen unscrupulous managers use power to find out who gave them what feedback and then chastise that person. I have also seen people who are managing the system, whilst trying to be helpful, make the decision to check who gave some particular feedback because they think it might have been biased. Then they have gone back to the recipient and advised them that the feedback was skewed by particular person.
One of these confidentiality breaches is done deliberately and the other innocently but both are easily done. Therefore there are absolutely no guarantees of confidentiality with 360° feedback system. This shouldn’t put you off provided you make sure you give straight forward and honest feedback. That is if you feel you could look the person in the eye whilst giving your feedback then there is really nothing to be concerned about.
Overall 360° feedback is very powerful tool if used properly and it is well worth the effort taking part.

I have moved into new management role in medium sized company. Unfortunately I have inherited computer system that basically doesn’t work but has cost around $250,000. I need to sort it out but am worried at taking on further cost and then failing to improve the situation. What should I do?

Implementing new computer system is probably one of the most difficult decisions manager has to make, especially if they are new to role. The fear is that it will be disaster and there is good reason for this fear.
The first thing to do is try to get good perspective on the overall situation. What sort of organisation are you and how important is the computer system to your business? It may be that you only require no frills, off the shelf, system rather than large and sophisticated bespoke one. You will find that people in the organisation will often want something complex and therefore expensive and difficult to implement. Part of your role as manager is to manage these expectations to realistic level.
You should also get fix on whether you actually need new system. Meet with your team and work through in detail what is working well and not so well with the current system. If you do this you may find that things are not as bad as you are being told and you may be able to work through solution with the existing system. Failing that, by doing this you are getting everyone focused on their actual needs and what to specify for the replacement.
If you then decide to go ahead and implement new system, talk to other similar organisations to see what their experiences have been and what they have learned. Then invite two or three suppliers to tender for the delivery of your new system and appoint project manager from your organisation to manage this process and the following implementation process.
Involve your team closely with the tender process and ensure they meet with the potential suppliers of the new system. Assess if you think the supplier can actually deliver and if you have any doubts at all do not go ahead with them. In particular don’t let them use you as test bed for new and as yet untried solution, even if it seems to be low-cost option.
Finally ensure you understand the full costs involved with the system. That is the ongoing support and update costs as well as the implementation costs. Otherwise you may find this will come back and bite you. Implementing new computer system is high risk and potentially very costly. It needs major investment of your personal management time because of this.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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