June 8, 2009

The Use and Abuse of 360 Degree Feedback

Multi-rater feedback surveys, also known as 360s, are now standard in many corporations. People are receiving large amounts of feedback from fellow workers on their leadership, management and work style behaviors. These come from peers, direct reports, bosses, sponsors and even clients and customers. The number of 360 assessments available for commercial use is staggering and indeed choosing among them can be a challenge.

If not familiar with the process, it goes something like this: you complete an assessment of your own leadership or management style (or other specialized topic such as emotional intelligence), usually online. You identify a number of other folks such as peers, direct reports, managers, etc and they also complete the survey. You then receive a report which includes mostly anonymous ratings (except for the managers) and you are able to compare your own perceptions to those of others which can give you a good view of your strengths, needed areas of improvement, and potential gaps. 360s can also be administered as customized interview-based assessments.

When administered properly, 360s can be of immense value--you receive feedback that you normally don't get which can help you become a better leader. We all have blind spots and getting the perceptions of others in a confidential format can be highly motivating and instructive. However, if not delivered appropriately, there are dangers. These include: political ratings, negative bashing from someone with an agenda, artificially heightened scores, which feel good but may be misleading, and "data dumps" an overwhelming amount of data delivered without personalized implementation to help you interpret and apply the information.

There are pros and cons to using 360s for performance reviews and I personally do not use them in this way because of the aforementioned potential problems. However, for DEVELOPMENT of your leadership skills, when delivered confidentially, a 360 can be an excellent resource.

BAD feedback can be worse than NO feedback, so before administering any assessment in your company you should consider these questions:
  1. What is your ultimate goal? What do you hope to accomplish?
  2. Is this the appropriate assessment tool to use?
  3. Are you using the right implementation strategy ---which includes the process, assessment choice, format and professionals involved in administering the 360.
A clear and thoughtful approach to implementing multi-rater feedback surveys ensures the integrity of the process and the value of the information received.

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