When 360 degree feedback is proposed by HR professionals to leadership teams, they sometimes receive responses like these:
- “Why do I need feedback?
- “My co-workers can tell me anything.”
- “I’m always open to feedback!”
True, leaders may be open to feedback without getting offended, but many of their direct reports and co-workers are reluctant to share for fear of negative consequences. The result is that leaders rarely receive complete and honest feedback about how they interact with others.
360-degree feedback allows leaders to receive comprehensive and candid feedback in a safe environment. This feedback usually comes from peers, supervisors, subordinates, or other individuals who influence an individual’s success. The results are averaged by group so that no individual scores or comments are attributed to any one person except for the person’s boss.
A Brief History of 360-Degree Feedback
Perhaps surprisingly, 360 feedback has been in use since 1940. This tool has evolved into a very effective management tool in employee development. 360 feedback grew out of the use of a training method called “T-groups” or training groups. Participants met with their peers who were encouraged to share feedback in an open session facilitated by a trained moderator. In the early years, 360-degree feedback was a difficult process to administer. The time and effort needed to collect paper forms, collate the data, and produce a summary report was extensive. With advances in technology, the entire process moved online becoming quicker and more confidential. Today, about one-third of all companies and 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use some type of 360-degree feedback.
How Vital is Feedback?
Without feedback, we tend to invent our own reality. Using 360 feedback is a vital part of performance, growth, and development.
Understanding ourselves and how we interact with others helps us understand the impact we have on those around us. The perceptions of others within our circle of influence (whether those perceptions are accurate or not) often impact our level of success. This is where 360 feedback comes in.
The first step in improving individual or organizational performance is gaining an awareness of our level of performance. Many of us have an incomplete perceptions of how others see us. This may lead to ineffective interaction and reduced overall effectiveness. We can’t begin to improve until we are aware of our behaviors and how others perceive them.
360-Degree Feedback Uses
Most organizations today use 360 feedback in some form or another, although the purpose varies. Based on the needs of your organization, it is important to align the feedback process to reach your objectives:
- Focuses on personal and career development
- Discovers where you are and where you need to grow or improve
- Results in the creation of a personalized action plan
- Focuses on team-effectiveness skills, along with strengths and areas for improvement
- Allows groups to come together to share their personal goals and work better as a team
- Promotes a safe environment to share “the undiscussables”
- Creates a 360 perspective of job performance and behaviors
- Provides a more objective and accurate view of individual contributions and effectiveness
- Results can be factored into administrative actions
In some cases, 360 feedback can be used to accomplish all of the above objectives but it may take a couple of iterations to create buy-in from all leaders. Start with the objective of personal development with the first 360 survey. When you conduct 360 surveys again, usually one year later, you can add more accountability for the results by using them for team development and performance appraisal.