Previously we have discussed the importance and benefits of using 360 feedback for performance improvement. The most effective implementation of 360 feedback also requires knowledge of potential pitfalls. We have summarized some of the common pitfalls in this article below.
There are commonalities in the successes stories and the failures of multi-rater feedback. Most organizations using best practices anticipate potential mistakes and plan actively to avoid them. Successful implementation depends on whether it truly addresses and is important performance issues in your organization. When done well, multi-rater feedback systems can lead to enormous positive change and enhance effectiveness at the individual, team and organizational levels.
One of the main reasons for the unsuccessful implementation of a 360 feedback process is the lack of a clear purpose. Many organizations use 360 degree systems trying to address specific performance issues and problems. Similarly, training and performance improvement consultants, in their never-ending search for the latest cutting-edge tools, may unwittingly recommend interventions that appear exciting, without regard to whether they fit the culture of the organization or address important needs.
Performing an intervention without a clear purpose is like prescribing an antibiotic for a virus; it doesn’t treat the underlying problems and may lead to undesirable outcomes. Multi-rater interventions can be powerful. They should be designed and implemented to address specific business and strategic needs.
Whatever the needs, it’s imperative to have a clear and well-defined understanding or contract with employees on why the organization’s undertaking a 360 feedback process. Ideally, the process should be designed for a specific purpose (for example, management development, succession planning, performance management, coaching or career development).
It shouldn’t be to meet the needs of often conflicting human resource systems. It’s also a poor idea to use 360 feedback just because other organizations are doing it.
Multi-rater feedback isn’t a substitute for managing a poor performer. It’s a process for helping people gain a rich, accurate perspective on how others view their management practices, interpersonal style, and effectiveness. It shouldn’t take the place of managers assessing and managing people’s performance.
Although feedback delivery from a 360 process can stimulate an employee’s self-awareness, it can’t replace direct communication between that employee and his or her manager.
When you see managers substituting 360 feedback or some other performance improvement tool for effective management, bring it to their attention. Be sure not to collude with them, in an attempt to avoid unpleasant, but necessary management tasks. Ideally a training or performance improvement consultant can encourage managers to make feedback an ongoing, day-to-day process that contributes to keeping an organization healthy-instead of a once a year event that managers must check off their to do lists.
In addition to the one time benefits of exchanging feedback, it’s also a way to get people accustomed to living in a feedback rich environment. In high performing teams, exchanging performance feedback is encouraged. It’s important to remember that managers are responsible for confronting under performance or inappropriate behavior in a constructive way. Although others’ feedback can be valuable, it is no substitute for managers establishing and communicating performance goals or for tracking performance towards achieving those goals.
There is a danger in being too ambitious too soon when introducing any major change in an organization. Most 360 feedback systems represent a radical departure from the way people are traditionally given feedback and managed. The concept of upward feedback to a supervisor or manager and collecting information from peers, staff, and customers may be considered radical in top down cultures. To bring about such a shift in a short time can be hazardous if the appropriate groundwork isn’t laid.
Find a stakeholder within the organization who has a strategic business need that can be addressed by using a 360 feedback process. Introduce the process on a pilot basis so that it can be evaluated to determine its effectiveness and potential impact on the identified business need. Involve others in the planning, implementation and evaluation to modify the pilot program. Look for ways to integrate the multi-rater process with other HR systems. For example, hold employees accountable for implementing performance development plans that become part of the organization’s performance planning and evaluation systems. Build in checkpoints to evaluate progress and collect data to support the effectiveness and success of your 360 process.
It’s important to involve key stakeholders in the design and implementation of a 360 process. They need to be aware of important decisions and the rationale behind them. They should provide input to such decisions and assist with the implementation.
First, identify the key stakeholders. Get them involved and keep them informed. Stakeholders can be senior managers, the intended recipients of 360 feedback, their immediate supervisors or managers, and the potential providers of the feedback –such as staff, peers, team members, and customers. All parties should know the strategic competencies to be measured, the methods for gathering and summarizing the feedback, and how the feedback will be integrated with existing development or evaluation systems. This involvement is critical to ensure people’s support and commitment to a fair, objective, and constructive feedback process. A particularly good way to get people involved is to have them help select the survey instrument or help generate specific questions that will measure the targeted competencies.
Complete communication is especially important with 360 feedback. Given that some feedback can seem threatening, it’s important that its purpose be communicated clearly. To avoid potential misunderstanding or feelings of betrayal, it’s also essential to communicate clearly about confidentiality issues.
Be sure that all stakeholders and other interested parties have thoroughly discussed their concerns before implementation and that, at minimum, they understand the rationale underlying major decisions. It’s essential to communicate, especially about such major issues as how confidentiality will be safeguarded and what the potential impact of negative feedback might be on someone’s career.
It’s also important to communicate about lesser issues, such as whether written feedback will be transcribed verbatim or summarized and what terms will be used for example, direct reports, team members, or respondents? It’ a good practice to develop a written communication plan summarizing the administration, scoring, and overall feedback process. The plan should be shared with all parties.
Multi-rater feedback is based on the idea that people can feel safe providing anonymous feedback. Compromised confidentiality or anonymity or even the perception of a breach can be a death knell.
At the outset, nail down which data is ‘confidential’ and which is ‘anonymous’. Communicate those decisions clearly.
People need to know exactly what will be reported to whom, if they’re to speak freely. Be rigorous in enforcing confidentiality agreements. Even though feedback recipients may argue (sometimes with merit) that they can benefit from more information, safe guarding the feedback providers’ confidentiality is a greater concern.