360 Degree Feedback: Pluses and Minuses


360 Degree (or Multi-Rater) Assessment Done correctly Can Be Beneficial

By: Dale Mask

Everyone seems to be talking about 360 feedback these days. And, 360 Feedback certainly has merits for most organizations. Still, how you go about the process of implementing the system is more important than actually doing it. Having provided 360º feedback assessment tools and services to many organizations, we have found planning is the key. You will want to know up front how the system will be initiated, and how it will be monitored, so it will have credibility as a valuable tool for individual and organizational growth.

The 360 degree feedback system has proven to have a positive impact on teamwork, to improve communication, and improve productivity. The 360 degree process involves "bypassing" the employee and asking their supervisors, direct reports, peers and clients about the employee’s performance. The information gathered from people all around (360 degree) the employee is used to evaluate the individual’s job performance and to create performance and career development plans.

The process overview is simple enough, but switching from the traditional top-down, manager to employee feedback system is not a simple process. The most difficult task is gaining support and commitment from management. Training on the benefits and value of the process is critical to its success. Often, the 360 degree system is not mandatory. If the managers at the top of business units are not committed to the process, most will not use it. Some companies have used the success stories from those that use the system, and benefit from it, to gain support organization-wide.

Organizations that have implemented the 360 degree system effectively have found:

  • Feedback coming from a variety of sources gives a better picture of an individual’s performance development needs
  • Overall company performance improves when employees' goals and areas of improvement are more accurately identified
  • Multi-source feedback pushes rating decisions to lower levels where the day-to-day job behavior is most actively observed
  • Single-rater bias can be avoided
How to implement a 360º Assessment System

Step 1:  The first task is to design a feedback instrument that captures the most important job data. We suggest developing a questionnaire relative to key values and skills within the organization. The questionnaire is then tested and evaluated using a focus group made up of different levels of employees who understand the job issues. There are currently many 360 Feedback Assessment Tools available.

Step 2:  The second step is to identify who the people are that interact with the employee being evaluated and how the raters will be chosen. Sometimes everyone interacting with the employee is asked to evaluate. Often, the person being evaluated will choose their “rating team.”

When the individual being evaluated chooses who they want to rate them, most suggest the rating will be unreliable because they will choose friends or people they feel will give them high ratings. Studies have identified this does not happen if the actual ratings are kept anonymous. Even best friends seem to be brutally honest when their ratings can help the friend and not be held against them personally.

A system where possible raters are identified, and then randomly selected, begins the anonymity process. Then allowing those selected few the option to rate, or not to rate, completes the anonymity process. Everyone has an "out" - no single rating is traceable to a specific individual.

Step 3:  The third step is to collect the data. With optional rating systems, you hope to get enough back to give a true and representative evaluation.

Step 4:  After the data is collected, remove the names of the respondents to maintain anonymity. The results are shared and tabulated to provide an average rating in each area of performance. This helps maintain anonymity and avoids a potential “witch hunt” for the person who might have given a low rating. The results are then given to the individual. The individual ratings are then discussed and performance direction is defined.

Some organizations opt for a less formal approach which involves informal meetings between managers and their subordinates. Using a facilitator and a work study instrument, such as the DiSC® or another leadership assessment, issues are raised and discussed in an interactive setting.

Is 360 degree feedback the way to go?

A recent study found 360 feedback can be counter-productive if not done correctly.

Even when the basic concept, getting feedback on employees from all sources, seems sound, it can still be perceived as negative. For some managers, meeting with their subordinates and discussing what the boss needs to do to improve was simply too alien and frightening a concept. For some, insufficient training on how the process was to be used doomed it from the start.

Some managers have chided, "Once a year we have to go around and ask somebody for a peer review. It's either screw your buddy or kiss up to them. The whole process is ridiculous."  Whether or not to use 360 degree feedback as part of the compensation equation is another question to be seriously considered. Some employees feel that once you have included it in the review, it is automatically part of the salary determination process. Also, because the process is anonymous, no one is accountable for ratings. Will the system have the validity and credibility to be used to determine pay? 

How to make 360º feedback assessments work for you?

Up front, you will want to ask and answer these questions:

  • How you are going to develop the process?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • How will you get key stakeholders to buy in to the process?
  • Will the managers be involved in developing the program?
  • Will training on the process be done for managers and subordinates?
  • How will anonymity of raters be maintained?
  • How will it be explained that the process is designed to help those being evaluated?
  • Will it be seen as truly a developmental process helping everyone?
  • How will employees be held accountable for listening, responding, and changing behaviors as a result of the process?
  • What follow-up steps for individual development are included in the process?

How will the process itself be reviewed? Is it working? Does it fit the organizational culture? What adjustments need to be made?

These questions can be answered. The process can be beneficial. The answers to these questions will help you create an evaluation system that is right for your organization. The 360º Assessment Process can be a valuable tool, but it is not a one-size-fits-all process.

For many organizations, the best approach may be to initiate 360º feedback as simply a developmental tool because that is exactly what it is. Performance information is coming from more than one source which can help identify areas where performance can be improved most effectively. Plans for development in those areas can be made. And, as improvement is made, it is reflected in higher ratings in the next review. The result is that the 360 assessment system develops its own credibility and is seen as a valuable career development tool by everyone involved. When the 360 degree system has that level of credibility, it can even be seen as a valuable tool used to make pay and promotion decisions.

By:  Dale Mask

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.


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