360 degree appraisal

I recently took part in a 360 degree appraisal process, which involved receiving feedback from people I line manage, my line manager and other colleagues in the management team and in more senior positions.

The appraisal takes the form of a booklet with nearly 100 statements which are divided into the following categories:

  • Getting information, making sense of it; problem identification
  • Communicating information, ideas
  • Taking action, making decisions, following through
  • Risk-taking, innovation
  • Administrative/organisational ability
  • Managing conflict; negotiation
  • Relationships
  • Selecting, developing, accepting people
  • Influencing; leadership, power
  • Openness to influence, flexibility
  • Knowledge of job, business
  • Energy, drive, ambition
  • Time management
  • Coping with pressure, adversity; integrity
  • Self-management, self-insight, self-development

Here is an example of a statement: “Shows mastery of job content; excels at his/her function or professional specialty”.

For each statement, the person completing the booklet marks a box to indicate that this skill is a strength or an area that needs developing.  If they do not feel strongly either way, both boxes are left blank.

I completed a booklet assessing myself, and the other members of staff each completed a booklet assessing me.  All these data were combined to show how my skills are perceived by the group of respondents.  The process is anonymised, and the feedback only identified the evaluation I gave of myself and my manager’s responses.

When I had to complete the booklet for myself and for other people, I often found it difficult to mark a skill as an area which needed developing as the form does not allow any comment or justification, and I frequently felt that I wished to explain why I had marked that skill as an area for development.  There was also no way to distinguish “needs developing” responses given for different reasons, such as “needs developing because their skills in this area are very weak” from “they’re not doing badly here but could improve further”.

All members of the management team at my workplace took part in this process (the departments we are responsible for are: Library, IT, Finance, College Office, Accommodation & Facilities, Conferences, Estates, Development Office, Catering; plus the College Bursar).  Once the booklets had been completed and the data analysed, we all had 1:1 meetings with Jerry Gilpin of Perception Development who guided us through our feedback.

I’ll admit, I found that meeting hard, even though when I look at my feedback now, it’s quite positive overall!  I think all of us found that we worried more over a small “needs improving” area than congratulated ourselves about the things other people think we are doing well – I guess that’s just human nature.

Last year, I took part in a Springboard self-development course, and one of the most useful things I learned was to accept criticism as a gift.  This doesn’t mean it won’t still hurt when someone does give you negative feedback, but I’ve found it helpful to try to accept the comment, step back and see if it has any justification, and if it does, do something to make things better.


How to write a job description

Earlier this week, I attended an excellent training session run by Cathy Hamer at the Bodleian Libraries.  Here is my summary of her presentation and my own notes.

What is the purpose of a job description?

  • Gives clear outline of the job
  • Helps applicants decide if the job would be suitable for them
  • Helps applicants apply for a job (suggests what skills/experience they need to demonstrate in their statement or covering letter)
  • Forms the basis of the recruitment and selection procedure (gives clear criteria against which to judge applicants)
  • Helps managers with appraisal of the post-holder

Source: http://gospeldrivendisciples.blogspot.com/2010/12/pastoral-job-description.html

The job description is also necessary when grading the job, and forms part of the contract of employment.  At the University of Oxford, jobs are graded using Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA) – an analytical job evaluation scheme which is used by the majority of universities in the UK.  Here are some other useful documents on the University of Oxford website which may be of interest to a wider audience too: UAS Job Description and Person Specification Template, Grading Review Request – notes for guidance, Recruitment procedure – guidelines for managers.

Dos and Don’ts for job descriptions


  • Be specific about the duties associated with the job
  • Break down the list of duties into sections.  Bear in mind how each can be measured – at interview and at appraisal.  Distinguish between regular, occasional and emergency duties, and those tasks for which the post-holder is involved in or responsible for.  Include the line “such other comparable duties as may be required by the Head of Department”
  • Be as honest as possible (no point in describing the job as other than its true nature, as the person you appoint may quickly become disillusioned and leave)
  • Use verbs when outlining the job holder’s duties e.g. “resolve enquiries in person and by email” is more descriptive than “communication”

Source: http://www.savagechickens.com/2006/02/job-description.html


  • Use jargon
  • Use acronyms or abbreviations – spell these out in full
  • Use names of other post-holders – use job title instead e.g. “reports to Library Manager” is more meaningful than “reports to Sue Denim”, especially to an external applicant who probably isn’t familiar with the organisational structure and the names of people already working there
  • Include details of how tasks should be carried out

What information to include

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Job purpose/aim
  • Reporting lines
  • Key responsibilities and duties
  • An organisation chart if possible
  • Could include why the job has arisen e.g. funding for a specific project has allowed the creation of this post to manage the project…

The HERA Summary of Elements provides a useful list for describing the different areas of a person’s role.  It lists the following 14 elements:

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork and Motivation
  3. Liaison and Networking
  4. Service Delivery
  5. Decision Making Processes and Outcomes
  6. Planning and Organising Resources
  7. Initiative and Problem Solving
  8. Analysis and Research
  9. Sensory and Physical Demands
  10. Work Environment
  11. Pastoral Care and Welfare
  12. Team Development
  13. Teaching and Learning Support
  14. Knowledge and Experience

Working through each of these, decide what is required of the person for each element and use this to create the job description.  Some examples:

3 Liaison and networking – are they involved in any committees?

10 Work environment – only necessary to include if the post holder has responsibility for Health and Safety

13 Teaching and learning support – include frequency and scale e.g. annual induction to 5 students or weekly presentations to large groups?

Aim for a maximum of 15 duties.

Selection criteria

Why are selection criteria important?

  • Allow the candidate to match up their skills and experience to the job and assess its suitability
  • Enable the panel to evaluate candidates and shortlist for interview
  • Form the basis of the selection decision
  • Using selection criteria makes shortlisting easier – use a matrix to evaluate the applicants (can also give different weightings to different categories)

  • Enable a focused approach to interviewing – can identify areas where skills/experience need to be explored
  • Provide a basis for feedback to candidates (especially if they were unsuccessful – you can explain that in their application, they did not demonstrate [skill or experience])

When deciding if a selection criterion should be Essential or Desirable, consider if the skill can be taught on the job.  If not, make it Essential.

Ensure that all criteria are justifiable, non-discriminatory, objective, realistic and measurable

Don’t specify age limits or physical fitness.  Instead of asking for “10 years’ experience”, focus on the type of experience, not the time.

For more posts in this series, click the “Recruitment” tag below.

Try feedforward instead of feedback

Annual appraisals can be beneficial, when done well, though I think that more frequent interaction between a manager and the person they manage is essential to bringing out the best performance in a person.  Not just informal one-to-one meetings, but a review of how things are going every few months or so.

Perhaps the trickiest part of an appraisal is going over any areas of work which have not been done so well.  Most people probably find it difficult to hear themselves criticised, however kindly, but it is also tough giving constructive criticism.

So here’s a great idea by Marshall Goldsmith.  In his paper from 2002, he suggests that we “try feedforward instead of feedback“.

His proposal is that we shift from performance feedback which focuses on past events, and move to an approach that focuses on future development.

Here is a summary of the main points:

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past.
2. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were  “wrong.”
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals.
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual.  Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.
5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback.
6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies.   Feedforward is based on the assumption that people can make positive changes in the future.
7. Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it.
8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback.
9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.”
10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers, and team members.

This concept appeals to me because it combines management and leadership.  As a manager, I supervise people’s work.  As a leader, I build a vision for the library and empower my colleagues to work together towards that goal.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit.

– Robert Yates

Feedforward combines making improvements in procedures and everyday tasks with a more exciting ambition of improving the library service overall.  I hope this approach will help my team to consider their appraisals as opportunities for personal development and catalysts for their professional growth.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

– Thomas Edison