It can cause great confusion if you don’t make sure people know whether the feedback will be used for evaluation or development purposes.
Some organizations use 360 feedback strictly as a development tool, and there are no repercussions for people getting negative feedback. Other organizations use 360 feedback as a vehicle for performance management, typically as an adjunct to existing systems. Sometimes, the feedback falls somewhere in between; its purpose is development and evaluation.
There are important trade offs to using 360 feedback as a development tool. Don’t gloss over that issue just to get on with the process. If you decide to use it for development purposes, be sure to make that clear. If you decide to use it for evaluative purposes, start slowly and move gradually. Whatever the decision, it is ill advised to change purposes after an intervention has begun.
An important consideration is which approach is most congruent with an organization’s culture. If 360 feedback is to be used in evaluation, it’s important to make sure people think the rating system is fair. They may worry about undue influence or retribution. That’s why it is advisable to start using 360 feedback for development only. When the process becomes familiar, people can be held more accountable and feedback can count towards their evaluations. What’s most important is that conditions are dear and people know what they are.
People must have ways to act on the feedback they receive. A recurring problem is that people don’t know what to do with the feedback they get. Insight isn’t enough; people need guidelines-such as individual coaching, training, or self-study-for taking action. Many people don’t know how to address issues they've been made aware of, often out of the blue.
Give people the tools to use feedback productively. The way it’s delivered can have a big impact on how constructively people will use it. One way to deliver feedback is one-on-one with a trained professional who can explain and clarify the feedback and also deal with people’s emotional reactions to disturbing information. Another approach is to provide feedback in a group setting with a supportive climate. After receiving feedback, people can benefit further from training, books, and other resources. If feasible, it’s good to provide people with mentoring, coaching, job rotation, or changes in their work conditions so they can develop needed skills.
Questions about access to and ownership of data are fraught with difficulties. It’s bad when participants are subject to surprises about who sees the data and for what purposes it will be used. The worst case is when people are led to believe one thing and the situation changes after the process has begun.
To the extent possible, give people control over their own data. In a 360 process used for development, people will feel most empowered if they get to choose exactly when and with whom they share their feedback. That doesn't mean taking a laissez-faire, hands off approach.
Provide guidance on the best ways to share data so that it is constructive for everyone. It’s also important not to exert subtle, unstated pressure to get people to share data when that may not be in their best interest.
If the feedback process is evaluative, it takes on more significance. When the process is incorporated into the performance management system, the organization owns the data, not the individuals. Within that context, however, there are still ways to give people control. If their views are considered in the design of the process and they’re kept well informed throughout, they’re less likely to feel that something is being done to them.
The administration and scoring of any 360 feedback process should be user-friendly. The process can entail a large and complex set of procedures.
Without a good questionnaire and a logical and clearly communicated set of procedures, there’s a danger of introducing a cumbersome, paper intensive process. In such cases, the response rate may be low and the feedback less accurate because people may not be motivated to complete the survey.
Insist that “user-friendly” be high on the list of criteria when designing a 360 process. Spell out who needs to provide feedback to whom. Make sure there are fair, logical, and consistent criteria for selecting respondents. Certain feedback providers may have many surveys to complete. In such cases, a survey especially has to be simple and user friendly so that people don’t feel burdened.
A 360 feedback system should not be integrated casually with existing performance management and merit systems. Too often, organizations just patch them together. When a feedback process is new and unfamiliar, people may not treat their ratings of others with the concern for accuracy necessary for such systems to work. Only later, it might be discovered that feedback providers were engaged in a ratings game, which can prevent future trust of multi-rater evaluation.
Organizations that have successfully integrated a 360 feedback system into their performance management and merit systems usually do a thorough job of piloting and evaluation. Typically a project team involving various stakeholders such as HR, line management, and field staff is created to design and pilot the new performance management system. It’s best to introduce the 360 rating system over several years. During the first year performance evaluation and merit increases should be based on traditional performance measures and the 360 results used only for development purposes.
As with other training and development interventions, 360 feedback systems can be considered flavors of the month to try, taste and discard until something new comes along. Many organizations introduce 360 feedback with much fanfare. Without follow up, commitment to continuous improvement and the linkage of formal and informal organizational rewards to successful implementation, it’s unlikely that a multi-rater system will have a positive effect.
A 360 feedback process should be repeated over time. That way, the intervention is truly a process aimed at increasing and improving critical competencies and behaviors rather than a single event providing a onetime snapshot to recipients. If they’re given feedback in a supportive manner and have the opportunity to learn and practice new behaviors, it makes sense to also provide follow up opportunities to receive new feedback – typically 8 to 12 months later. Then, they can assess their attempts to change their behavior and identify future challenges.
The administration of a 360 feedback can benefit from ongoing feedback and be continuously improved on, just as someone might walk down a dark hallway with a flashlight to avoid getting lost, organizations need to provide continuous illumination through 360 feedback.
Only through follow up and evaluation will an individual or organizations learn to what extent a behavior changes was successful and whether it had an impact on performance. Despite the growing popularity of 360 feedback and other multi-rater systems, few companies take the time tosystemically evaluate the impact and effectiveness of these powerful interventions. Scattered comments from respondents or feedback from senior management are often the only form of evaluation that takes place.
Invest in a rigorous and systematic evaluation of the 360 process. Multi-rater systems, when properly designed and implemented, make people aware of the crucial first step to changing their behavior overcoming their own resistance.
If you’re committed to understanding what constitutes successful implementation of a 360 process it’s wise to take the time to evaluate its effectiveness and make alterations. You can conduct an evaluation through post program surveys, focus groups, or a time series analysis of critical individual or organizational outcomes such as employee grievances, morale assessed through employee satisfaction surveys, quantitative performance measures, and implementation of development plans, or changes in relationships with a respondent’s supervisor, staff, or peers. It’s important to determine exactly how 360 feedback can be used to improve both individual and organizational performance.