How can 360 feedback help Law Firms demonstrate “Competence to practise”?

360 feedback is a process to provide performance feedback for an individual (The Appraisee) from their managers, peers, direct reports and any other relevant groups (The Repondents). The feedback given is against a set of behavioural competencies.

Respondents are identified and an electronic questionnaire is sent for completion.  Feedback is usually both quantitative and qualitative.

The resulting report is ideally fed back to the Appraisee by a skilled coach familiar with 360 tools. This feedback session will identify strengths and development areas and an action plan to address the findings.

If the behavioural framework used is aligned to the SRA competency framework  this process can provide an independent assessment of the appraisee against those standards.

If we look outside the legal sector at the medical profession, in 2011, 360 feedback was introduced for doctors as part of their GMC re-evaluation.  They receive feedback from both medical colleagues, other health professionals and non clinical staff.  They also receive feedback from 20-45 patients.  This has to be completed at least once every five years.

On the face of it, using 360 feedback in a similar way within the legal profession, appears to be a no-brainer.

On an individual level, legal professionals will be able to manage their own development based not only on their own evaluation of their performance, but with the balance of a range of inputs from within the firm, and possibly from external stakeholders too.

On an organisational level, strengths and areas for development will emerge enabling more targeted spend on learning and development across the firm. 360 feedback will also help provide evidence of “competence to practise” if required.

Why aren’t all law firms clamouring to conduct 360 feedback on their people?

Some of the reasons we have heard include:

  • It is too difficult
  • It is too expensive
  • We did it once and it didn’t work
  • We don’t want to open a Pandora’s box

Let’s look at these one at a time:

It is too difficult…

With online providers and ready-made behavioural frameworks, it has never been easier to conduct a 360 process.  The SRA have kindly identified a set of competencies against which you can assess your competence to practise.  We have mapped those competencies against a set of observable behaviours to provide a picture of how Respondents view the Appraisee against those competencies.

The challenging part of 360 feedback is ensuring that the feedback is heard, understood and acted upon.  This can be handled in house if you have the right skills, or can develop these skills.  Alternatively you can use experienced coaches to manage feedback effectively.

Either way, it is important to ensure that any gaps between where each Appraisee is and where they need to be are addressed.  Otherwise the report becomes another dusty document on the shelf, read once and never really accepted.

It is too expensive….

The online reports cost from £100 per Appraisee, dependent upon quantity purchased.  Respondents and the Appraisee will take time to complete the questionnaire (typically 10 minutes per questionnaire), which will incur some opportunity cost, however, this is a relatively small up-front cost.

The more expensive part is the 1-2-1 feedback, which, when handled in-house costs time, or when handled externally, costs time and money.

However, if as a result of the feedback:

  • Actual behaviours of Appraisees become aligned to desired behaviours
  • Respondents see a change in undesirable behaviours and an increase or continuance of desirable behaviours
  • Appraisees consider their specific development needs and create an action plan to ensure these are fulfilled

a return on investment can be realised quite quickly.

Typically 360 would be completed for partners on a 3-5 year cycle, as a result this reduces the number of Appraisees needing to complete the process each year.

We did it once and it didn’t work….

Often there are two main reasons why 360 feedback process does not work:

  • Poor communication – The 360 process is not clearly communicated and set up properly in the first place. This lack of clarity will create suspicion amongst the Appraisees and Respondents.  Suspicion can result in very bland results due to the independence and confidentiality of the process being questioned, and Respondents not feeling able to be critical in any way.  Alternatively suspicion can result in the purpose of the process being misunderstood and the 360 being used as an opportunity to vent, and Respondents being overly critical of everything.
  • Poor feedback – The 360 process was not fed back effectively and the Appraisee held to account to take action on the feedback received. This can be overcome dimply by using a skilled external or internal facilitator.

Either way, just because it did not work once, does not mean that, with the right set up and support, it cannot work in the future.  Additionally the SRA framework gives a clear steer on which competencies need to be assessed, enabling the 360 to be targeted more effectively.

We don’t want to open up that Pandora’s box….

If there is no appetite for tackling the behaviours which might lead to the SRA competencies not being complied with, then you are probably better not to open the box.

However, all the firms we talk to recognise that there is need to continually review behaviour to be able to meet the commercial challenges facing the legal sector.  The legal market is changing, there is increased competition, there are increased communication flows, and a seemingly insatiable desire for immediate response.  The old ways of doing business if they are not disappearing totally, are having to rub shoulders with these new ways of working.

360 feedback will enable you to peek inside the Pandora’s box, and help you to identify what needs to change or continue both on an individual and firm wide level.

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We have developed a set of observable behaviours which map against the SRA Competency framework.  If you would like some help and advice on introducing a 360 feedback process in your firm please contact Jane or Nicola at Athena Professional.