Does 360 Degree Feedback Work? What Do You Think?

I had an email from a Grapevine reader a while back asking what she could do about some very unpleasant feedback she had had.

Roughly, it suggested that she did a poor job, was bad at prioritising and often missed important things.

In the past, all the feedback she had had was about how well she was doing. She had never had any feedback like this before and was completely distraught. Worst of all, it was anonymous and there was no way of finding out what the individual meant, who they were or what they were referring to.

The feedback had come through a 360 Degree Feedback process that her company had introduced.

360 Degree Feedback

Just to clarify, 360 Degree Feedback refers to getting feedback on your performance from all levels of people you work with; managers, peers and those working for you.

Another Example

I worked with a client that had called me in because they had introduced a 360 feedback system and it had caused some serious problems. The MD had decided to ‘have a go’ first himself to show that it would be fine.

Unfortunately he got some feedback indicating all was not well. He then went on to ‘share’ the information he had been given, but omitted to mention any of the less favourable comments.

Unfortunately, for those who had written those comments, this immediately destroyed the credibility of the whole system.

The Problem

In this case one of the main problems was the design of the system and the poor quality of the questions. They were really a licence for anyone to launch a rant about whatever they liked, instead of a way of getting useful, factual information that would help people to develop.

Training and Guidance

In my view people should not be asked to give this kind of information without, at the very least, some kind of guidance on how to do it. I have trained enough people on giving feedback to know that many people need some help in this area.

This is particularly true when they are looking for improvement or have problems with an individual. Any fool can moan and complain, but it takes a little skill to be clear about what is required in a helpful way.

The system (or ‘solution’ as it’s often called) also needs to be very carefully designed, especially the questions. If not, it can cause many problems.

A Question For You: What Are Your Experiences of 360 Degree Feedback?

I’m asking this question because it came up in our Appraisals Teleseminar last week. Rachel, who works for the Alzheimer’s Society, and was taking part in the Teleseminar, wondered if anyone had got experience of this they were willing to share.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have had both good and bad experiences in this area. So, please let me know, on the blog so we can all share this, what those experiences are and what you would recommend/not recommend.

I’m sure many of you have opinions on this topic. You probably also have your own questions. Please add them here.

Do Optimistic People Live Longer?

Last week I was speaking to a group about Emotional Intelligence, NLP and Neuroscience. A discussion started up about the link between positive thinking and longevity. People were asking if it really made a difference to your health.

Then by coincidence there was a programme on the radio about a similar topic: learning to be optimistic.

The Nuns

You may be familiar with a study on some nuns that was carried out some time ago. When they joined the convent they were each asked to write a short autobiography. 70 years later the words they put into that text were analysed and linked with their longevity.

About one third used positive words; the others did not. It turns out that of those who used positive, optimistic words such as ‘eager’, ‘happy’ and so on, 52% were still alive at 94. Only 11% of those who did not use those words were still alive at that age.

As a result of this, people asked if you could train people to be optimistic. And if you did, would it have a similar impact on their longevity and a positive impact on their lives.

It turns out that it does improve lives.


According to Professor Martin Seligman if teenagers are trained in optimism, they reduce their chances of depression by about 50%.

Not only this, but optimists tend to do better than they are expected to in exams and succeed in other areas of their lives as well. Pessimists tend to do worse. Which I imagine leads them to conclude that they were right all along.

How Annoying

No doubt this is annoying for the pessimists, but Professor Seligman’s research indicates that they would be better off learning to be optimistic. This is what they have been doing at Wellington College and claim that their ‘A’ level exam results have improved quite substantially.

So, What Can You Do?

It’s not about being completely unrealistic, he says.  Here are a few things you can do.

The Worst Case Scenario

One key thing is to identify what is the worst that can happen and what is the best that can happen and then re-assess the situation.

Professor Seligman also points out that you don’t want overly optimistic pilots. He suggests that if the worst that could happen is disaster, then you don’t want an optimist. However, if the consequences of failure are not disaster, it’s good to be optimistic.

Notice what is going well in your life

Write down things that have gone well in your life on a daily basis,  or three successes, before you go to bed. Not just ‘counting your blessings’, but reflecting on them; looking at why they went well. They only need to be small things, apparently.

I remember Peter Honey talking about this kind of thing years ago. I found it quite a revelation. He pointed out that we spend much of our time looking at what has gone wrong and why. But this comprises a very small percentage of our experience. So we are limiting ourselves to learning from this small area instead of looking at what went well and learning from that.

This is a very useful strategy I have used ever since.

So, on hearing about the ‘three successes’ strategy I decided to try it out that evening. The very next day I noticed quite a strange effect. I was out on my normal Sunday run, which is traditionally slightly longer than my usual one during the week. As I ran, listening to an excellent play with Geoffrey Palmer in, I wondered what I was going to include that evening in my three successes.  I found myself working out how the run could be included. What would I have to do to make this run successful?

This is a very different thought to the usual one of ‘How can I prevent myself from stopping and taking a rest or just doing a short run?’

Resilience training

Another area is resilience training. This is all about having the mental skills to deal with the difficult situations in your life. Much of this is what is called ‘Emotional Intelligence’, which includes being able to get yourself into the right emotion for the situation you are in.

Put things into perspective

By this, I don’t mean the ‘Total Perspective Vortex’ of ‘Hitchhiker’s Guild to the Galaxy’ fame. It’s a bit easier than that.

A client of mine came to me because she was ‘useless at meetings’. I asked her to outline what had happened. Sure enough she gave me an example of a very difficult situation with another participant who had got quite aggressive. She hadn’t been able to deal effectively with it.

I asked her if this happened with everyone or just this particular person. She told me it was just him.

‘How many meetings have you had with him where there had been this problem?’ I asked.

‘Four.’ She told me.

I then asked her how many meetings she had a week. It was in the area of 25. I asked her how long she’d been working.  It was around 10 years. ‘So that’s about 1250 a year, and over 10 years, 12,250, roughly.’ I said. ‘And you’ve had a problem with four.’ She nodded.

‘And what is your degree?’ I asked.

She started to laugh, till tears were rolling down her cheeks. ‘I’m a statistician.’ She confessed.

That’s what I mean about putting things into perspective.

Have A Go

It may be you are already a generally optimistic person, but if not, have a go at one of these techniques. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Can You Resist A Marshmallow? How do you feel?

You will probably remember the experiments carried out by Walter Mischel about 40 years ago at Stanford University. He gave a group of four-year-olds a marshmallow and promised them another one if they had not eaten the first one when he returned 15 minutes later.

About one in three of the children managed the task successfully.


My favourite was the boy who was given a biscuit made up of two halves stuck together with some kind of icing. As soon as the experimenter had gone, separated the two halves and licked the icing, then stuck the biscuit back together again. We wonder if he later became a senior manager at Enron.

In follow up studies Mischel discovered that the ability to wait, or to ‘delay gratification’, is about the most effective predictor of success.  It out performs IQ by a long way.

Why Does Waiting For A Marshmallow Predict Success?

In a lecture I attended recently at the NeuroLeadership Summit, Matthew Lieberman, Ph. D, who works in the field Social Neuroscience, looked at these experiments and explained what was going on in the brain as far as his research shows.

Your Options

When you are trying to resist some kind of immediate reward in favour of a long-term benefit you have various options:

Distraction – Focus your attention elsewhere on something that will keep you occupied. This works because you only have a small amount of space in your working memory to think about anything, so using it up with one thing means you have no space for anything else.  Unfortunately, thought, next time you face the same situation you have to do the same thing again so there is no learning. It also impairs your thinking skills at the time (and even later).

Suppression – (The ‘stiff upper lip’ here in the UK.) This can be effective, but is quite hard work. It also increases stress.

Reappraisal – This can work well and give you a new insight into a situation. However, it only works if you believe it. If you do, it can work in other situations too.

Detachment – This can have radically positive or negative connotations, depending on what you do and how you do it.

Walter Mischel was able to teach the children a technique that was effective. He got them to imagine a picture frame around the marshmallow and think of it as a picture. At the age of four, your prefrontal cortex has not developed enough to come up with this idea, but is developed enough to learn it and put it into practice.

The Problem You Face

This is the activation of your amygdala. It’s a part of your brain that is activated when you feel a strong emotion. It’s like your personal alarm system. The more activated it is, the stronger the emotion. So the key is to find a technique that somehow reduces the activation (or turns off the alarm), once you have been alerted.

It turns out that the part of your brain able to do this is the Right Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex (RVLPFC). In someone who is good at keeping their emotions under control, the activation of this area and the amygdala behaves rather like a seesaw. As the RVLPFC goes up, so the activation in the amygdala goes down.

It’s something you can learn to do.

What is even more interesting about this area is that it suppresses other things too. It’s the area of the brain affected by Tylanol or Ibuprofen that reduces physical pain.

So what Dr Lieberman and his colleagues found was that if you are suppressing one kind of thing others are also suppressed.

Feeling Worse

It’s also offers and explanation as to why why, when you are ill or in pain, you are more likely to feel lonely or upset. Or conversely when you are lonely or upset, pain is likely to be worse then when you are happy and cheerful.

Your Grandmother Knew This

As is often the case, it’s the kind of thing most of use ‘knew’ anyway, but it’s good to have a scientific explanation that shows us why it’s a good idea to visit someone who is ill or upset and cheer them up.

Inhibiting Your Response

A friend of mine is currently, very bravely, undergoing treatment to get over her fear of going to Tesco’s (a supermarket here in the UK). Now you may be thinking that you don’t like going there either, but for her, it’s a really serious problem. However, she has been going and conquering her fear. What she’s been doing in effect is training her RVLPFC to take control and it should and she’s making excellent progress.

What’s really interesting is that if I got you to inhibit a physical response; that would also inhibit any emotional responses that you have, because these are all run by that same part of your brain. Once it starts inhibiting it acts on everything. So if you inhibit your desire to hit someone, you will start to feel less angry. Hitting them won’t do that. If you reduce your feelings of anger, it will be easier not to hit them.

Labelling Helps

It seems that labelling the emotions you feel activates the RVPRC and prompts it into suppressing unhelpful emotions. Interestingly this is more effective for men than it is for women.

Dr Lieberman thought this might be because women talk about their emotions more than men in general. I think most of us would agree to that. What is particularly interesting is that, when asked, people say that they don’t think talking about how they will feel will help. But when he measured the activation of the amygdala in their brains, it clearly did help.

So come in guys, tell us how you feel! It really does help.

What Have You Achieved?

I’ve been working with a group recently who are in the middle of a merger. As is the way with these things, they will all have to apply for their own jobs. Some of the people have been there for 20 years and not been for an interview in all that time, let alone put together a CV.

Selling Yourself Is Hard

It turns out that many of these people are finding it hard to sell themselves and prepare for an interview.

I’ve put together a programme for them with a few key steps in it. It occurred to me that they are not the only people in this situation at the moment and you also might find some of these tips handy.

It’s also useful to be prepared should you ever find yourself in the position of having to go to an interview, or sell yourself in any way. So here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

What Have You Achieved?

This is the key. You need to be aware of what you have achieved. Astonishingly many people aren’t, and even those who are often have ‘blind spots’. So what do you do if you are one of those?

You need to build a list of your main achievements. ‘How do you do that?’, I hear you ask.

Your Past Appraisals and Performance Reviews

If you have kept copies of these, they can be a great source of material. Just read through them and this will prompt your memory.

Your Diary and Schedule

Go through your old diaries and review your schedule as far back as you can. You will soon be reminded of what you’ve been up to and what has been achieved.

What If You Have No Achievements?

I was confronted by several people who thought they were in this category. All of them were wrong.

Look at the difference between how things were when you started and how they are now. Even if you are doing the ‘same job’ you will probably find it has changed. Usually you are dealing with more. This could be more customers, sales, bits of paper, phone calls, emails, complaints or people. Or it may be you are doing the same with fewer resources or in less time.

Or it may be you have implemented new systems. If this is the case, focus on the service levels from the new systems or how you kept up services during the change.

Build Your List

Now you need to start listing out your major achievements. Between 10 and 20 would be a good start. Once you have done that, you need to hone them.

Honing Your Achievements

When you tell people about what you have achieved during an interview, you need to do it in a way that lets them know just how skilled you are. This means that you don’t just say:

‘There was this problem with the department and we fixed it.’

You need to let them know HOW BAD it was to start with. This is to highlight the difference between what it was like before your (excellent) intervention and how great it was afterwards. Otherwise your achievements will not be seen as being as good as they are.

Cut To The Chase

Do you know where this expression comes from? It’s from the cinema. It means that, when things are getting a bit boring, you need to get to the exciting bit. Showing how bad things were does that.

Time Scales

Let them know just how tight things were. It often sounds much more impressive when you include this detail.

Your Skills

Be sure to let them know what you did and what your thought processes were. They won’t ask, so you need to make it clear. Here is an example from one of the people I worked with recently. It started as: ‘I prepared the accounts for a company we took over.’

This was the finished version:

‘We had just taken over another company. It was nearly the year-end. The Chief Accountant had left. I had to prepare the year-end accounts in four weeks from a standing start.

I realised the information needed to be gathered quickly so worked out a plan to get it all in place first. No one was left who had the skills required to prepare the accounts, so I freed myself up from some of my other duties by delegating tasks to my team and focussed on the accounts.

I had the accounts ready with three days to spare. Once this was done, I put in place a plan to ensure that the information would be gathered more effectively next time and there would be someone there to do the accounts.’


If you have a copy of a job description from a position you are applying for, you can look through the competencies or capabilities and make sure you have examples of achievements that cover all of them. Usually you will find that each example, if you prepare it properly, covers several

You will also find that you have several examples for each competency. This is not cheating; it’s making sure that you can give the interviewer plenty of evidence that you have what they need in a convincing

A Side Effect

By the end of our workshop, one of the side effects is usually that people are feeling a lot better about themselves. They have discovered that they do have lots of skills and abilities and have achieved a
great deal.

A Suggestion

Even if you are not applying for a job, how about listing out a few achievements anyway, so that you are prepared?

Should learning be fun? The government doesn’t think so

When I was about nine, I came home from school one day to find that we had a family living in our spare room. They were black South Africans who had escaped apartheid. The mother, a wonderful woman called Amy, and her two children, Sheryl and Karl, lived with us for about a year, till Basil, Amy’s husband, was able to escape from prison.

Sheryl and Karl joined my brother and me at our school. They didn’t perform very well at the beginning, both coming near bottom in their classes in maths.


Over the next term they joined in with the games we played at home, many initiated by my father, a skilled maths teacher. They all involved doing some kind of mental arithmetic, though this part of the game was never stressed, it was just taken for granted.

Our favourite game, which we would beg my father to play, was traditionally conducted while we helped him with the washing up. It generally started with the phrase: ‘Think of a number…’ You would then be led through various mental acrobatics. At the end of the game my father would ask you what the number you had was. ‘Seven’ you might answer.

‘The number you first thought of was ten.’ My father would respond. We would gasp with delight and wonder how he did it. Then we would beg him to do it again.

Helping dad with the washing up was a real treat. I’m serious.

By the end of their first term with us Sheryl and Karl were up there with the maths test results, coming around 2nd or 3rd in the class compared to 32nd or 33rd.

A Report

So you can imagine how pleased I was to hear of a report; the Cambridge Primary Review, produced recently here in the UK, that dared to suggest that there was too much emphasis on formal education in the early years and that, up to the age of six, there should be more ‘play based learning’ in schools.

Excellent, I thought.

Not only does my experience tell me that the Cambridge Primary Review has got it right, but the neuroscience I have spent the last 15 years learning about also indicates that this is the right way to go. I often wish I had known what I know now about learning when I was a student and back at school. As I write this I am on my way back from a neuroscience conference.

There has been fantastic research in this area. One of the key findings is that learning should be fun. In fact, if it is, you learn better. This is because, when your brain perceives a ‘threat’ (which can be anything you don’t like) it is less able to learn than when it is in the ‘approach’ state (feeling happy or positive).

In the ‘approach’ state, you have the capacity in your prefrontal cortex (PFC) to learn. Otherwise, space is taken up in the PFC with worrying and other negative thoughts.

Playing vs Learning

What we are talking about here is play-based learning. Dame Gillian Pugh, who co-authored the review, explained that play-based learning was not a “wishy-washy, ‘just let them get on with it’ thing”. “It’s a balance between children-initiated and adult-initiated learning,” she said.

The trouble is there are many people who don’t understand that. When I was at one of the excellent ‘Learning and the Brain’ conferences in Boston a few years back, I met a teacher, Penny. She was extremely enthusiastic. She loved the conference, where neuroscientists come along and talk about their research to teachers to explain what their research tells us about learning and how best to go about it.

Penny told me the sad story of one of her brightest pupils. Penny had been to a previous conference and taken on board many new ideas. She had gone back to her school and implemented lots of them.

Most involved using all the senses, involving the children and getting them to play ‘games’ through which they learned key concepts and ideas. The children loved the new games and the improvements in results had been dramatic.

Unfortunately the parents of this one poor girl had complained and said that their daughter was not to take part in these ‘babyish’ activities. So the poor girl had to sit on her own, while all her friends were having fun, working in her exercise book. Penny had completely failed to get across to the parents that these new tools improved learning rather than the other way around. Her parents were unable to comprehend that a love of learning is a gift for life.

A Step Backwards

It would seem that our government has a similar lack of understanding. They have dismissed the ideas in the report as ‘a step backwards’. Unbelievable.

For some reason other countries in Europe mainly do adopt this approach, it is we who are behind.

Why Don’t They Read The Research?

I will be writing to my MP about this and I know he will write back, as he has replied to all my previous letters. He usually has good answers too. But I’m really struggling to think how he can possibly answer this one well.

Another Example

I was recently working with a client on a ‘Staff Development Day’ for her organisation. She needed people from different sites to come up with ideas around specific situations.

She was planning to provide a flip chart and pens. I suggested she also provide some magazines, scissors and glue. A sad expression passed across her features.

She told me that, whilst the staff at her site had enjoyed this technique in the past, the staff from other sites had seen these tools as ‘childish’ and refused to use them. They felt this kind of thing was beneath them.


The job of any educational institution, school, college, university or training department, is to help learners to grow new dendrites. Dendrites are the links between your neurons. Even as you read this, new dendrites will be forming, linking hitherto lonely neurons together in your very own head.

Well, when I say ‘lonely’, a neuron can be connected to 10,000 other neurons, so I am exaggerating a bit.

If you are a trainer or a coach or fertilise learning in any way, this is your ultimate goal. It’s just like your old teacher told you. You are creating paths through a forest and the paths most trodden are the ones that form memories and learning.

Why Do Some People Think It Must Be Hard Work?

I can only imagine that they themselves had unpleasant experiences at school when they were younger and feel that, because they suffered, so should everyone else. Or perhaps they believe in the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra. Whilst this may be true for exercise, it’s not true for learning.

Unpleasantness of any kind reduces the ability to form new memories, to be creative and to problem-solve. The opposite is true of positive emotions and what is called the ‘reward state’ in the brain.

Making Success Easier

If you can help people to be happy at work and in a learning environment, your results will improve. It’s not that hard, give it a go.

Let me know what you think abou this? Do you agree? Or should learning be hard work?