Experiment: Family Feedback

The past few years I’ve been trying something with my wife. We have family 360 feedback sessions, very similar to those you might have done at work.

What Is a 360 Review

The idea came from work in fact. I really liked the format of 360 feedback sessions. For those not familiar, with 360 reviews, when a review cycle comes around, HR helps facilitate collecting feedback on an individual employee from their manager, reports, peers, and the employee themselves.

The feedback is then synthesized to help the manager and HR get a good perspective into how the employee is doing – where they excel and where they can improve. The idea is that more data points leads to a better evaluation.

How It Started

When we had been married for about a year, I thought it would be great to do something like this. Feedback is something that should be continuous, but having a regular process is a failsafe of sorts. Marriage is tough work and poor communication is one of the leading reasons relationships break down.

We stared off with a process that was pretty heavy. We each did a review of ourselves and the other. It was all on a sheet of notebook paper folded in half. One side had the reviews of me, the husband, both my self-review and her review. The other side has her self-review and my review.

That first year we included three things

  1. The three most important things expected of them in this relationship and how they lived up to that during last year on a scale of 0 to 10
  2. Three ways they excelled this year. With specific examples.
  3. Three ways they underperformed, and could improve. With specific examples.

We then talked about them for a while. It was obviously a pretty serious and somewhat emotional conversation. Lots of good things, but lots of tough things too. The whole process took a few hours. The plan was that the next year we start off by looking at the areas to grow from the year before, rating those and then starting the process over.

What We Learned

The first year, we did it on New Years Eve along side our predictions. We were flying then and happened to be in the United lounge of Dulles airport. Nothing surprising, but that is not the best spot to have a serious multi-hour conversation.

Key Learning: Don’t do this in an airport.

After that we sealed them away in an envelope to review the next year. That meant that once a few months had passed we had forgotten exactly what we had written. We never got around to finding and opening that envelope, so the next time we saw them was the next year on New Years.

Key Learning: Don’t seal them in an envelope – keep them somewhere easily accessible

I think most people will look at a process like this and think it is a bit overkill. I sort of figured there wouldn’t be much new that became apparent from it since we talk a lot. What I learned however was that there are often topics that a person might not bring up during regular living, but given a chance to write three items, will include. This becomes especially true once you have kids and time to talk as a couple gets dramatically reduced.

Even just the act of prioritizing is really important. I know there are lots of things my wife expects from me, but by her making a list of the three most important to her, I can know where to focus my energy.

Key Learning: A little process can draw out things that would otherwise slip through the cracks

How We’ve Improved It

By the second year, we had a new item to add, we had our first child and figured that should affect the family feedback. He is too young to participate right now, but I look forward to when he can. In the meantime Suzanne and I took some time to talk about his development and evaluate where we think he is doing well and where we need to focus more.

In this third iteration, we made the process a bit lighter. We removed the first category, ‘what is expected…’, since it has been the same the previous two years. Perhaps we’ll add it back in the future, but we wanted to try a year without it. We also removed the part where we fill in the sheet ourselves and went straight to talking – taking notes as we did.

What Is Next

Our intent for this year is to review these more throughout the year, perhaps quarterly. It is kind of hard to improve at something if you’ve forgotten what was on the list.

The idea is, of course, that this yearly review is a tool to assist with regular feedback – it will not be the only source of feedback. We will continue our normal communication channels, but these yearly lists and quarterly check-ins should help us focus our attention and hone our skills at communicating feedback.

I’m curious if anyone else does or has done something formal like this in their family. I’ve heard jokes of things like family court or ‘airing of grievances’, but I think those could actually be really healthy systems for a family to ensure regular communication.