At Work: Management - In theory ... Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak - 360-degree feedback

Have you ever had one of those dark days when you think everyone is staring at you? Is it a smudge of cappuccino froth on the top lip? Some shaving cream? Or do they know something you don't? This feeling of paranoia is a rare thing for most people, but not if you work in an organisation that embraces '360-degree feedback'.

360-degree feedback is a type of appraisal system that relies on employees receiving anonymous written performance feedback from their manager, their peers, their team members, staff reporting to them and customers. (Why not the cleaner, too?) It means that up to 10 people or more take time to assess your behaviour - and from every angle. Hence the 360 degrees.

To be on the receiving end of 360-degree feedback is to feel that all eyes are on you, watching your every move, your every foible, your every exasperated attack on your PC and the way you curse under your breath when your manager says something daft.

The theory behind it is that you receive a fully rounded and unprejudiced assessment of your behaviour at work; it's supposed to reveal everything - from what it is like to manage you, to what it's like to have you serve behind the counter of, say, your high-street charity shop. So much for theory.

What about all those embarrassing cock-ups you found yourself committing - the stuff you managed to keep hidden from the boss but confided in your colleagues about? Or even those small things like the way you chucked the newspaper in the bin rather than the recycling box, or the way you leave your stale coffee in your mug until mould starts growing on it?

The danger comes because the feedback is anonymous, which means anyone can report anything they've observed about you. So you have to be on your best behaviour with everyone in the fear that they might denounce you in their feedback report. It's enough to make anyone paranoid.

Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.

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