Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Effective is 360 Degree Feedback?

Eric Jackson wrote in Forbes in 2012 that “when it’s done well, 360 programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team. When it’s done poorly, 360 programs create mistrust, anger, conflict and can leave a team with lower morale than when you started the exercise.”
In case you haven’t gone through the process, here’s how it works. Your boss, your direct reports, and your peers give you feedback on ‘something’ – which may include performance, behaviours, strengths, weaknesses and/or highlight developmental needs and/or opportunities. Therefore, you get feedback from everyone around you, those that like you, those that don’t, but supposedly from those who know you well - hence, you’re hearing it from 360 degrees around you.
When it comes to asking for feedback a few basic criteria are important for it to work. Firstly and most importantly the organisation have to be very clear in respect of ‘what feedback’ they are assessing and why? Because 360 has become a bit of a buzz word, some ‘organisations’ just ask for feedback from the 360 degree participants without clearly understanding what they are assessing? How clearly they are asking for the assessment? And worse still how they are going to constructively utilise the feedback once it’s gathered.
Secondly, organisations need to be sure that the feedback they get is integral, i.e. honest. This is a huge assumption in many organisations to create a process that only works when all those giving feedback are going to give it with total honesty and objectivity.
Thirdly, over what period of time are you asking for feedback and do your questions allow the respondent to differentiate between feedback on a ‘topic’ over the short term and feedback over the same topic over a longer period – and give the respondents the opportunity to explain why there may be differences in responses at different points of time.
As with most business principles – done well and accurately 360 degree feedback is an excellent mechanism for personal, team and organisational development that can add real value to all involved.
A study on the patterns of rater accuracy shows that the length of time that a rater has known the individual being evaluated has the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree review. The study shows that subjects in the group ‘known for one to three years’ are the most accurate, followed by those ‘known for less than one year,’ followed by those ‘known for three to five years’ and the least accurate being those ‘known for more than five years.’ The study concludes that the most accurate ratings come from those who have known the individual being reviewed long enough to get past the first impression, but not so long that they begin to generalize favourably.
Eric Jackson highlights 7 reasons why 360 degree feedback fails;
1. The Boss doesn’t get involved or discounts the program’s importance;
2. The 360 tool/questions are too vague;
3. People offer comments that are personal in nature rather than constructive;
4. No plan is set following receiving the feedback;
5. If there is a follow-up post-360 plan, it happens only once;
6. Lack of confidentiality;
7. Forgetting the strengths and only focusing on weaknesses.
Although you will find different commentators with different views on 360 degree feedback ranging from the positive to the negative, the simple undeniable fact is that as a basic theory it makes sound sense to get feedback from all those who work closely with you – so that you can get feedback that can help you develop.
In the ultimate organisation – a formal process won’t be necessary since constructive feedback will be taking place on a day to day basis, i.e you’ll know exactly what those around you think of your behaviour and competencies as they’ll be telling you.
In other organisations that don’t have that transparent and honest culture, then 360 degree feedback can still be useful but only if you appreciate the pitfalls mentioned above and are prepared to both recognise them publicly and minimise the potential negative errors, by working to have a culture that optimises the outputs from assessments like this.
Jackson, E. (2012). The 7 Reasons Why 360 Feedback Programs Fail. Forbes. [On-line:]

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