360 Degree Feedback

360 Degree Feedback Guide

The Challenge of Doing it Right

Our firm has offered 360 Feedback Services and products for over 20 years.  We have found it to be a very powerful tool for professional development. Unfortunately, we have also seen it have devastating effects if used inappropriately.  We created this guide in the hope that some of what we have learned over the years can help you meet the challenge of doing 360 Degree Feedback correctly.

My personal experience is with two 360 feedback products:  20/20 Insight Gold published by Performance Support Systems and Everything DiSC® 363 for Leaders published by Wiley.  Before we get into the pros and cons of products that are available, let’s start with a simple definition of feedback which forms the underlying foundation of why you would want to conduct a 360 project:  

Communication of information about behavior or performance in a way that enables receivers to use it to their advantage and benefit.

Day-to-day feedback between managers and direct reports as well as peer-to-peer feedback fits this definition and is very important in professional development.  

However, when adding a number of people providing feedback on the same behavior, it becomes a 360 Degree Feedback or multi rater process. Different rater relationships often result in different feedback.  This, in itself, becomes a coaching tool as you try to understand why one group observes a participant  one way while another group sees the same person very differently.

360 Degree Feedback: 9 Tips to Consider

Tip #1: 360 Degree Feedback is only for development

 Organizations that want to use a 360 Degree Feedback should only use them for development purposes only and never tie them to disciplinary action, pay or promotion.  Therefore, the resulting data and report should be confidential and viewed by the subject of the feedback only.

Disciplinary action, pay, or promotion should be based on observable behavior not the ratings or comments of others–no matter how significant ratings may seem.  

If done well, the ratings and comments obtained through a 360 Degree Feedback process can be used by the subject to develop actionable goals to be monitored and evaluated.  More on that in tip #7.

Tip #2: Assess what is important to YOUR organization.

What is important in your business environment today?  What issues are you facing?

Mergers, acquisitions, growth, decline, flat sales, new competition, quality issues, speed issues, loss of talent, new leadership, engagement issues, high turnover and more are all potential issues requiring specific behaviors in addressing them successfully.

Based on your business environment, what is the driving vision for this feedback process? What does your organization want to get from this process? If you keep that vision in front of you, it helps communicate its importance and ties it to business needs/results. 

We have seen a number of 360 feedback versions addressing such needs.  If there are specific behaviors that will help meet current organizational goals, evaluating how well subjects are executing those behaviors can be very important in professional development.  Likewise, putting an organizational vision (or the values that drive it) into observable behaviors will help develop the desired culture to attain the vision and live the values.

Tip # 3: Write feedback items as single and observable behaviors.

How would you rate this item on a 10-point agreement scale?

  • “Subject name” has good problem-solving skills and deploys them with team members.

What if the subject does have good problem-solving skills but never uses them? Additionally, what if they have great skills but is not good at using them with team members. Furthermore, what score would you give?

If collaborating with team members in solving problems is the important behavior, something like this would focus on a single behavior:

  • When brainstorming with team members “Subject name”  records ideas for all to see.

Get the point?  Be sure each item is a single behavior and is very observable to the rater.  If you are creating custom messages, ask someone to read your questions and let them determine if the questions are measurable in the way that you intended them to be.

Tip # 4: Choose raters with a good “line of sight” to the subject and use an “invitation” approach.

If  raters are not in a position to actually observe the subject’s behavior regarding a specific assessment item,  be sure to provide a “Not Observed” option. If that option is not available, there will be a tendency to give an inaccurate rating.  Depending on the relationship with the subject, the rater may use the opportunity to rate high (halo effect) or rate low (hoof & horn effect).They may also choose a middle of the scale rating.  In either case, the report will not provide accurate information.

The subject should invite as many people as possible who are in that good “line of sight” category while making sure to not choose only those who will provide positive ratings.  The primary purpose of a 360 feedback project is to help the subject truly understand how his or her behavior is being perceived by all stakeholders.  

We have found It is not unusual for a subject’s intentions to be misunderstood because the actual behavior is perceived by the raters differently than intended.  We often coach subjects to consider these situations as a “marketing problem”. This may be the most important result of the feedback.

Once a good set of raters is identified, it is time to invite them into the process.  Communication at this stage is also critical. The raters need to know how the feedback is to be used and what confidentiality and anonymity procedures are in place. 

360 Degree Feedback

Tip #6: Avoid rater fatigue.

The first 360 assessment project that our firm conducted included 100 items.  The client had a lot of ideas on behaviors they thought were critical.  This meant quite a bit of time was required of a rater. And, if a rater is asked to provide feedback on more than one subject, as is generally the case with subjects who have the same supervisor (or a group of subjects rating each other as peers), the project is doomed to failure.

Keep the number of assessment items as low as possible.  Choose items that are truly important for the subject to master.  If you use two scales, such as Agreement and Importance in order to get a gap analysis, it’s even more important in order to get actionable data.  

Our general recommendation is no more than 15 items covering 3 categories and a 6-point scale to focus the responses.  

In addition, pay attention to how many subjects a rater will rate.  We suggest you break a large feedback project into smaller projects spread out over time.  Another good idea is to set aside a specific time in your organization dedicated to responding to the assessment – a “do not disturb” time – so the responses can be thoughtful.

Tip #7: Never deliver a report to a subject without a debriefing process.

Deliver all feedback to the subject during a professional development process.

We have developed a process for both of the feedback systems we use.  In each case, it begins by showing the subject(s) how to read the report.  Usually, this is done before providing the personal report. Once the subject has their report, encourage them to ook for strengths and look for ways to build on their strengths.  Most of us will skip this step and look for the negatives first.

When reviewing the negatives, be sure there is no “witch hunt” or trying to figure out who gave a negative response.  Review the “intention/perspective” problem mentioned in Tip #4. If possible, include a behavioral style assessment, such as DiSC, for the subject.   Many times the perception of behavior is built on either the subject’s strong style or the filtering of the behavior through the rater’s style or both.  This is not to be an excuse for behavior. However, in my experience, it helps the subject come up with ideas on how to solve the “marketing problem” assuming the intentions were appropriate.  

It is also a good idea to help the subject(s) evaluate the source of performance gaps.  A good place to start is in Bob Mager’s classic book Analyzing Performance Problems.  For this, we like to use a tool in the 20/20 Insight Gold system, or use a simple handout showing the Mager model.

Be sure to include suggestions in this initial review of the data on how best to go back to the raters: (1) truly thank them for taking the time to provide feedback, (2) ask for additional, clarifying feedback, (3) identify one behavior change that can be made immediately to show raters that the subject is serious about professional development.

Assuming the subject’s immediate supervisor takes the professional development of direct reports as part of their role, provide some guidance on how the subject can take a section or more of the report to the immediate supervisor for support and goal setting.  Generally, this would be category summaries without specific item ratings or comments. Then, in collaboration with the supervisor, a coach, or both, the report data can be used to identify 1-3 SMART goals to put into action and tracked over time.

Tip #8: Consider evaluating your organization’s readiness for 360 feedback.

A number of years ago, we worked with a very large organization that conducted a regular employee opinion survey.  One of the questions on the survey asked raters this type of question: “Do you believe the results of this survey will be acted upon?”  

Less than 25% of the raters chose“Yes”.

Knowing your organization’s culture, past experience with 360 feedback and belief that feedback will be taken seriously and acted upon is important. 

There may be some organizational work to be done before you embark on this journey. It has been said, “do it wrong and you will never have the opportunity to do it again”.  With 20/20 Insight Gold we recommend using the readiness survey included in the survey library but any survey that covers these basics will be important if there is any question on how your project will be received by the raters.

Tip #9 - Take your time, and do it well.

360 feedback is a powerful tool and can have a positive effect on your professional development program – if it is done right.  We hope you consider these tips and reap the benefits of 360.

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