DIY 360° Review: How I Asked Colleagues for Anonymous Feedback About Myself

I explicitly asked colleagues, customers, and friends for anonymous feedback about myself – a self-administered 360° review. Here’s how I did so (twice in 5 years), and how anyone with 30 minutes can do so for free.

Why I did this

I thought that my role could make it less likely I’d receive unsolicited negative feedback, and that those negative comments were disproportionately valuable (compared to, say, compliments). Specifically:

  • I mostly work with people whom I hired or at least chose to work with, so I’m part of the furniture. It’s easy to think of me as an aspect of the company that can’t change, or that at least requires taking a risk to change.
  • While I regularly ask coworkers for feedback, making the feedback totally anonymous transfers the burden of interpretation on to the recipient, me. Since I care about the happiness of everyone I solicited feedback from, that’s ideal. I want someone to feel safe saying anything, even if it’s totally subjective and unsubstantiated. I can choose to disagree with and not act on it.
  • In a small company, there’s little or no formal HR. If I don’t solicit this feedback (or more broadly, try to personally improve), no one else is going to do it.
  • Although my main goal was incremental improvement, if I or the company did have any true blind spots, this could be the only way I’d find out. Sometimes a blind spot isn’t even a personal trait or skill, it’s not accommodating different personality-based perceptions.

What I wanted to learn

In product management, asking users for non-specific comments (“Do you like our product?”) usually leads to less actionable feedback than providing a bit of focus, or even a lot of focus.

I wanted this survey to take less than 10 minutes, and if a recipient didn’t have much to say, less than 5. That meant I couldn’t ask many questions. I asked open-ended questions for recipients who wanted them, but also tried to save time with short answer form fields and some pre-populated choices.

I was most interested in things which don’t come up on their own in daily conversation, so here’s what I asked:

  1. When you think of Troy, do any word(s) come to mind?
  2. What is Troy best at?
  3. What is Troy worst at?
  4. When I interact with Troy, it’s (choose one): Painful; Tolerable; Unremarkable; Enjoyable; Great; Describe it yourself
  5. Complete the sentence: “My own work with Troy would be more gratifying if he…”
  6. Tell me anything – things I suck at, life advice, whatever.

If you do this, adapt the questions and answers to your personality and situation. I’ve this twice, so the questions above

How I asked

A Wufoo form

I chose Wufoo because its form URLs are so simple: anyone can see they don’t contain personally-identifiable information like a UUID, so it’s relatively anonymous. I also stated that in the preface. Also, Wufoo’s standard themes feel very approachable.

Here’s the form exactly as reviewers saw it:

An email request

I emailed myself and BCC’ed about 20:

  • Coworkers
  • Business counterparties, though not only those who I interacted with the most. I biased the sample towards edge cases: projects where I wasn’t sure how satisfied the other person was (an open feedback loop), one-off tasks which I felt pushed my skills or where I may have under-executed, and personality types whom I didn’t interact with very often. Basically, I tried to get as wide a range, and as much criticism, as I could.
  • Friends

Here’s the email, exactly as sent:

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Hi,

I'm conducting an anonymous 360-degree review of myself.  You're
receiving this because we've worked or interacted a lot, over a long
period of time, or in a unique situation, and I value your feedback.

I'd really appreciate 5-10 minutes of your time, preferably by Sunday,
April 14. Head over here:

    http://example.wufoo.com/my-form

The URL has more. Again, it's completely anonymous and should only
take a few minutes. If you have questions, just reply.

Thank you!

Troy

Results

I received the same number of form submissions as received my email, so in as much as I can measure, 100% responded. None of the comments were totally surprising (not a bad thing!) and they actually skewed more positive than I expected. There’s no substitute for seeing people’s assessments in their own words, though. The return for the time – mine and others’ – was very high. I did this twice over 3 years and I’ll do it again if I’m in a similar working situation.