Organisational life revolves around performance monitoring and measuring. Often it’s a single person who will assess your performance. But what if they had access to the observations of all sorts of people who work with you in different ways? That’s the big idea that 360 Degree Feedback represents.
The idea and practice of 360 degree feedback has been through rises and falls since it first appeared in the 1950s. And it really took off in the 1990s. But it is as important today as it’s ever been. So, let’s examine 360 degree feedback from a number of angles.
Why Do We Need 360 Degree Feedback?
Two people need to understand your performance more than anyone else: you and your immediate manager or supervisor. But there are a lot of other people who see your work from different perspectives. And some of them may be in a position to notice things your boss cannot. And certainly, all of them will have a different point of view from your own. Arguably, it’s a more objective perspective than your own, although no one is free from an element of subjectivity.
360 degree feedback is a way of collating all of those points of view. As such, it serves:
- A valuable organisational need, in providing your managers and supervisors with evidence for your capabilities, attitudes, and performance. They can use this for determining remuneration and reward, recognition and promotion, and development priorities.
- An essential developmental need, in giving you information on how other people perceive you. Awareness creates the power to make changes.
What is 360 Degree Feedback?
360 degree feedback is a method for conducting a performance appraisal.
It gathers feedback from a range of people, including your:
- Direct reports
- Senior colleagues
- Other organizational colleagues
- Suppliers and partners
- Clients and customers
There will be processes for:
- Gathering the information – usually some form of standard survey
- Collating and analysing the information
- Presenting the findings back to you and your line manager or supervisor
The range of feedback that 360 degree feedback can gather has the potential to give line managers a wide-ranging and accurate perspective on performance. This will help them to improve performance management by making it a fairer, more objective process. And it will give you, the individual staff member, plenty to reflect upon, to help you calibrate your performance strengths and development needs.
How to Conduct 360 Degree Feedback
I’ll try to summarise the process with a simplified outline of the steps involved. I shall assume that you have already selected a suitable tool for collecting and analysing the data, and that you have tailored it to the needs of your organisation. Some organisations will choose an evaluative approach that rates performance and supports this with observational evidence. Others will prefer a more developmental approach that offers helpful observations.
Another essential decision is the degree of anonymity that the process will protect. At one extreme, all statements and scores are presented in aggregate form only, making it as hard as possible to infer who said what. At the other, an open culture will allow both appraiser and performer to see how each reviewer responded on each aspect of the 360 degree survey.
Four Steps to 360 Degree Feedback
I am also going to assume that your organisation has an effective performance framework that, as a minimum, sets out what good performance looks like in each domain of activity. This is essential if the feedback you get is to be consistent.
- Select a group of people to offer feedback.
This is typically 6 to 10 people. Clearly, the more you choose, the better your data. But there is a law of diminishing returns. And, over-doing this can place a large burden on people. Ideally the performer and their appraiser will collaborate to agree the right group of people, who should represent a wide spread of the kinds of people the performer works with most, or on critical activities.
- The reviewers complete a questionnaire
This 360 degree questionnaire usually has a number of statements that relate to the framework of competencies that the performer will be measured against. The reviewers will rate performance against each statements on a scale, for example from one to five. And they will then add observational evidence in a free-text field.
- The software produces a report
The report will usually summarise performance against each statement, offering statistical data on the ratings and a collation of the free-text statements.
- Appraiser and Performer meet to discuss the findings
This works best as a facilitated discussion or coaching session with the appraiser facilitating a reflection of the findings by the performer.
This Sounds Good. What are the Problems with 360 Degree Feedback?
As you’d expect, each reviewer has the potential for more or less accurate assessment of the performer. Inaccuracies can arise due to:
- Lack of clarity around the performance standards that the organisation expects, and how to assess them
Resolve this with strong up-front work to determine a robust performance framework, and document it well.
- Lack of accuracy in applying the competency standards framework
Resolve with good training for all potential reviewers (often, the whole organisation)
- Selective observation
This means the reviewer has not seen a representative sample of the performer’s work. Resolve by selecting reviewers with care, to be sure this is not the case
- Biased assessment – unconscious
It’s hard to separate first impressions from thorough observations, when we have not known someone for long. So, resolve by selecting reviewers who have known and observed the performer for at least a year.
It’s also hard to be objective about someone you have known and worked with for a long time. You’ll have formed opinions about them and be prone to confirmation bias – noticing more easily any behaviours that confirm your conceptions and not so easily noticing conflicting evidence. Resolve by selecting reviewers who have not worked with the performer for over 3 years or so.
- Biased assessment – conscious
Some people have an axe to grind (positively or negatively). So resolve this by working together to spot the risk of this and not selecting these people as reviewers.
What is Your experience of 360 degree Feedback?
We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.
To learn more…
The 360 Degree Feedback Pocketbook is full of tips, tools and techniques on how to introduce, develop, facilitate, and participate in a 360 degree personal development review scheme.
The Feedback Pocketbook is full of tips, tools and techniques to create feedback conversations that underpin learning, build relationships, and engage motivation.
The Performance Management Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools that will enable individuals, teams, and organisations to excel.
The Performance Conversations Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools to bring about outstanding employee achievement through focused and motivational conversations.