360 degree feedback = concentration camp

360 Degree Feedback

When I was doing the whole UMN HRIR thing — which kind of broadly regressed my life in some ways — one of the major companies that came to speak to us was Anheuser-Busch. I love beer, and St. Louis is a cool place, so I kinda figured … hey, maybe there’s something here. I ended up chasing that lead down a rabbit hole (more on that joke of a process here), but one thing I specifically remember from A-B’s info session is that they kept talking about 360-degree feedback.

If you’re unfamiliar with that idea, generally it refers to a process like this:

  • Your manager asks a bunch of people who interact with you for feedback (“all around,” i.e. a circle, i.e. 360 degrees).
  • Your manager collects that feedback.
  • Your manager presents you that feedback, often devoid of context and always devoid of specific names.

Performance reviews are essentially a gigantic tire fire anyway, but 360 is particularly dangerous. Here’s why: it’s super buzzword-heavy, so you know a top executive instantly wants to get in bed with it. (“360? That’s a big but odd number. I like it…”) And it basically accomplishes nothing. It allows a manager to have a detached conversation with a direct report, and hide criticisms behind nameless/faceless others. It’s basically one core tenet of the doomed employee-manager relationship.

Don’t believe me? OK.

Are you into interesting parallels? Because this might stop and make you think, then:

My colleague David had spent time in a re-education camp in North Vietnam during the Vietnam war. He reacted when I told him we were going to use 360-degree feedback in our HR programs. “I cannot participate in that,” he said, very softly and respectfully.

“That’s how they got us to turn in our colleagues and keep everyone off balance, back in the re-education camp,” he said. Three-sixty-degree feedback was used in the re-education camp — essentially a concentration camp in the jungle — to intimidate people and keep them from trusting other people. It was a form of psychological torture.


So basically, HR programs all over America (and the world) are using an employee evaluation program that’s basically tied to human psychological torture.

Does that not strike anyone else as funny and awful at the same time?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. My last company did 360 feedback. It wasn’t helpful, despite including positive with negative. In my first group, provided firsthand comments (without names of course), so wasn’t hard to figure who said what. No surprises. In another group, the comments were more vague, being secondhand, basically no surprises, but some struck me as nitpicking, which I found hard to appreciate. In any case, it was more information than I cared for.

    Didn’t like providing feedback myself, so I would try to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, in protest, despite both types of feedback being “required”.

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