Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Legal Ethics, Litigators

Inside Straight: Learning From My 360-Degree Review

Here’s proof that I view my readers at ATL as family: In this post, I’m going to share with you the results of my recently concluded 360-degree performance review and tell you how I plan to improve my personal job performance. (That may not be quite as sexy as pictures of naked judges, but you must admit that I’m making terribly personal information awfully public.)

I’d never been through a 360-degree review before. As part of the process, I completed a self-evaluation, so we could see whether my self-perception matched how the world perceives me. In addition to my self-rating, I received anonymous feedback from (1) the person to whom I report (who was classified as a “peer,” so that his responses would remain anonymous), (2) five other “peers,” or people who hold jobs equivalent to mine in the company and who work with me occasionally, and (3) seven “direct reports,” or folks who report up to me through the ranks. The human resources guy who discussed the review with me did a very nice job; he knows a fair amount about performance evaluations. (Aon is not just the world’s leading provider of insurance and reinsurance brokerage, but also the leading provider of human capital consulting. This means that (1) at long last, Aon finally just got some free publicity out of my having written this column for almost a year, and (2) we have many colleagues at Aon who do human resources consulting for a living, so they’re slightly better at delivering the results of reviews than the kid down the block or the head of your practice group at your law firm.)

What did I learn from the results of my 360-degree review?

First things first: I was told that 360-degree reviews often disclose multiple blind spots to folks in “executive leadership teams” — people who hold relatively senior jobs and are responsible for managing others. On a scale of one to five, executive leaders often view (and rate) themselves as fives across the board, and those executives are dumbstruck when everyone else in the neighborhood rates them as twos. I was pleased to learn that I didn’t suffer from that problem. Although my self-ratings didn’t always match up perfectly to the ratings that others gave me, the ratings were generally similar. Moreover, the mismatches ran in both directions: I occasionally rated myself slightly higher than others rated me, but I also occasionally rated myself lower than others did. (Thank God! There’s one personality flaw that I don’t suffer from.)

We then focused on what the HR guy said are the most interesting parts of a 360-degree review: “Hidden strengths” and “blind spots.” “Hidden strengths” are areas in which you give yourself relatively low ratings, and your peers or direct reports rate you significantly higher; you’re better in these areas than you perceive yourself to be. “Blind spots” are the opposite: You give yourself relatively high ratings in these areas, and your peers or direct reports rate you lower. (As I said, “executive leaders” apparently tend to be loaded up with “blind spots.”)

What was my single biggest “hidden strength”? The category was: “Takes visible stands on issues that exemplify ethical behavior.” I rated myself a 3 in this category, because I figure I’m about as ethical as the next guy, and I surely don’t go around pounding my chest about my honesty. My “direct reports,” however, rated me a combined 4.7 in this category — a full 1.7 higher than my self-rating.

That “strength” of mine, if it is one, was truly hidden from me; I can’t explain this at all. Maybe the nature of my job — the global head of litigation — prompts the surprisingly high ratings. On the few occasions when folks at my firm are accused of errors (or lapses in judgment), I spearhead our defense, and I also work proactively to try to prevent errors (and lapses in judgment) from occurring. Perhaps that institutional role naturally causes me to be an enforcer of ethical standards, which makes me take “visible stands on issues that exemplify ethical behavior” more often than the next guy does. (If that’s true, then I’d expect our global head of compliance to have received similarly high ratings in that category. I think I’ll go down the hall and ask her.) In any event, I’m not quite sure what I learned from having this “hidden strength” revealed to me, apart from the obvious: Next year, I’m rating myself a 4 on ethics to show that I’m keenly self-aware.

And now the part you’ve been waiting for — and from which I learned the most during this review process: What was my single biggest “blind spot”? The category was: “Fosters a culture of recognition by modeling the celebration of individual and team accomplishments.” My self-perception was that I’m pretty good at celebrating accomplishments: When we win something, I congratulate the person who had day-to-day responsibility for the accomplishment, and I send an e-mail to either senior management in the law department or senior management in the company (depending on the size of the victory). Although I send those e-mails, I studiously avoid taking personal credit for anything that we achieve. I never give myself credit for anything, and I always identify both the in-house lawyer who was directly responsible for the matter and the outside law firm that handled the case. When I rated myself in this area, I figured that many folks in my position would claim credit for accomplishments actually achieved by others in the department, and my studied unwillingness to do that was a supervisory strength. Call me crazy (as my direct reports did), but I gave myself a 5 for celebrating accomplishments.

Shame on me: My direct reports rated me, in the aggregate, 3.1 — a whopping 1.9 points below my self-rating. That obviously was a blind spot of mine, and I’m going to fix it. In the future, I’ll be doing much more to celebrate the accomplishments of folks in my team. These are the things I’ve thought of to date: First, I will send e-mails reporting our victories not just to senior management (which I foolishly thought was kudos enough), but also to everyone on our team, senior or not. When you accomplish something, you’re probably looking not only for praise from above, but also for a shared sense of achievement with others in your group. How could I have been so blind?

Second, I can work harder to mention the accomplishments of others during departmental phone calls and meetings. When we have those calls, I can save a minute or two to mention that some of the folks in my area recently achieved some good results for us, and I can congratulate folks by name.

Third, I can convey congratulations more personally. An e-mail, or a phone call, or swinging by an office (or cubicle) to say congratulations is nice, but perhaps a congratulatory lunch (or at least a cup of coffee) feels more personal. (On the other hand, forcing folks to endure yet another cup of coffee or lunch with me may not exactly be perceived as improving our working environment.) I can — and will — celebrate our accomplishments more effectively.

But remember: This is my blind spot. Don’t take advice from me on this subject; I’m lousy at this. In fact, if you have additional suggestions for things that I (or others situated similarly) could do to celebrate individual and team accomplishments in a corporate law department, please let me know. By next year at this time, I won’t be so blind.

Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at

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