Performance Management – The Value of 360 Degree Feedback

posted by WMC

One of the tools that I believe is under-utilized or poorly executed in performance management is 360-degree feedback. I have found it to be worth the effort it requires both as it relates to my own performance assessments and to those that have received evaluations from me.

The value of a 360-degree assessment comes from the fact that no one individual or supervisor ever has a complete picture of another’s performance. As I’ve noted in other posts on performance management, a leader often has many individuals reporting to them and has their own individual tasks and duties to perform. So it isn’t realistic to assume that a leader will have sufficient interaction to get the full story on performance. In addition, with only one perspective in play, we run the risk of maximizing our personal biases. This runs the risk of having an either overly positive or overly negative performance assessment. So the ability to assess the performance of a direct report in a comprehensive fashion is significantly aided by enlisting the assistance of others who interact with the person being evaluated either on a more frequent basis or in ways that the leader can’t replicate with ease.

The way that I have approached 360-degree assessments in my past leadership roles has been through a partnership approach with my direct reports. We’ve worked together first to identify categories of people that we would engage in the evaluation process. Oftentimes this has meant that we are looking to capture feedback from peers, subordinates, and external clients/customers for the process.

There are several keys here. First, we are looking for a representative sample of key groups of individuals that the employee interacts with. We are not going to be exhaustive in this process and work to capture all people in a given category. Second, I strongly believe in having subordinates be part of the evaluation process. They are the people who, on a day-to-day basis, directly experience the quality of leadership skill that the individual being evaluated brings to bear in their work. Third, I also see value in including external contacts in the evaluation process. These evaluators provide an unique perspective on relationships outside of the work unit or organization that are critical to organizational success.

Startup Stock PhotosOne of the first reactions to this sampling procedure might be “Well, wouldn’t the person being evaluated simply make sure they picked people that would give them a positive evaluation?” If left entirely to the individual that could happen. However, the way I approach the final selection of the 360 degree evaluators is more by way of elimination. Once the key categories of evaluators has been established the next question I ask is whether there is anybody that the employee would not want me to talk to and the reasons why. There may be very valid reasons for non-selection, including both personal and professional conflicts that would not support constructive feedback. That being said we might still proceed to include these potentially “hostile” evaluators. I have done this with 360s performed on me. The feedback received might in fact be very constructive and valuable in helping to improve personal performance and should not be discounted out-of-hand. However, both the leader and the person being evaluated should understand the context or circumstances in which the feedback might be provided and weigh it accordingly. Ultimately, I believe the entire evaluation is not about getting 100% positive results, but rather forms the basis for goals and objectives for ongoing leadership development. Our harshest critics might in be our greatest source of knowledge about where to focus our improvement efforts!

I strongly believe that anonymity in the 360 degree evaluation process is critical in getting good feedback on performance. I see this as the most effective way to get honest and open feedback. It does have the potential drawback in that you cannot do follow-up or seek clarification on information provided. However, I have seen some extraordinarily bad outcomes when this anonymity was not assured. While some individuals are prepared to provide feedback regardless of format many others tend to water down their feedback in the interests of preventing hurt feelings. In the worst cases, particularly where a leader is being evaluated, there can be huge actual or perceived risks to the working relationship or even the employment status of the evaluator.

The 360 process must also include self-assessment. Ultimately assessment, learning and action come from personal insights and commitments. So there is great value in personally evaluating one’s strengths and opportunities for improvement, identifying potential challenges in achieving greater levels of success, and finally (and most importantly) setting goals and objectives for the coming year.

Make no mistake. A 360 degree evaluation process is a lot of work. As a leader (and as the person being evaluated) you are putting additional workload on others to give time, thought and effort to an evaluation process. As a leader, there is also significant effort required on your part to manage the process and synthesize the diverse perspectives into one common evaluation report back to your direct report. This is often one of the main reasons that leaders or organizations do not pursue the 360 degree evaluation option. In addition, the culture of the organization must be supportive of this type of assessment. If your organization’s culture isn’t one that can handle giving or receiving constructive feedback or isn’t one that is “trust-based” a 360 degree evaluation process is unlikely to succeed or accomplish much.

However, I believe the benefits of a 360 degree evaluation process far outweigh the challenges – if properly done. Individuals should be assured of getting a comprehensive assessment of their skills and abilities; they get feedback from more than just one person and can have more confidence that the evaluation is less subject to personal bias; they have a better sense of how their personal assessment does or does not match with the views of others; and, ultimately the 360 degree assessment provides a strong base for developmental efforts.

With the right effort, commitment, intent, transparency and connection to organizational goals, a 360 degree evaluation can help you build leadership skill and capacity – including your own.

Greg Hadubiak is an Executive Coach/Consultant with with Western Management Consultants (WMC) and a TEC Canada Chair. He is passionate about supporting and developing great leaders. He brings to bear over 25+ years of senior leadership experience, a commitment to life-long learning, and a passion for his client’s success in all avenues of his work.

See his original post on LinkedIn.

The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.