This week I’ve listened to the first few chapters of Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor.  (It doesn’t look like there is an English spelling version!).  The basic premise of the book is that managers need to “challenge directly and care personally” when giving feedback to their colleagues.  I love the idea – partly because it resonates with other models like Nevitt Sanford’s challenge-support matrix and the “unfiltered debate” in Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And partly because it fits with my personal values.

The challenge I have – as a provider of a bespoke 360 degree feedback service – is how to get radical candour in feedback that is written into an online survey?  How do we get respondents to be honest, direct and challenging at the same time as being kind and constructive (kind, clear, specific and sincere as Kim Scott puts it)? 

The people at suggest that feedback should be in person and immediate – and if that is not possible, then video conference, and then phone, is preferable to email or text message.  But immediacy trumps in-person they say.  So that sounds like another argument against 360s.  Radical Candor requires strong, trusting relationships and helps to maintain them – and that might point to at least one solution to my challenge.

Here’s where my thinking has got to so far:

  1. It might help to think of the 360-degree feedback survey as a review of the relationships; a moment to summarise all the immediate feedback that has been given over a longer period of time; and a time to reflect on how we conduct our working relationships (the process, as opposed to the content, of working together)
  • Choose respondents carefully. I often say that one of the first benefits of the 360-degree feedback process is the conversation between recipient and their manager about who should be on the respondent list. If you have been building trusting relationships with your colleagues, can you also trust them to be honest, challenging and kind in their feedback? If not, then what do you need to change?  
  • Don’t use 360 feedback too soon:  If you have not built the relationship, don’t ask them for feedback in this way. Practice face-to-face feedback first. Encourage respondents to give andreceive feedback and to reflect on what would help them.  Do unto others…
  • Design the questions well: Do the questions encourage respondents to be kind, clear, specific and sincere?  Ask for examples to back up scores; ask for suggestions for improvement; ask for offers of assistance or more detail
  • Encourage recipients to develop the skills and attitudes of receiving feedback well.  Make sure they are coached to process their feedback – to squeeze the juice from the kind and the unkind, the clear and not so clear comments or trends in the scores

360 degree feedback never was a replacement for ongoing candid management conversations but now and again, often at moments of transition in our careers (promotion, organisational change, personal growth) gathering the considered reflections about how I do my job from a balanced compliment of colleagues, can provide a rich seam of insight and material for reflection.