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3 Things Sure to Derail 360-degree Feedback

Posted by Louellen Essex on March 27, 2014 in Performance Management, Team Development

Research and experience has shown that leaders can benefit from receiving feedback from their staff, other leaders, and their own manager, i.e. 360-degree feedback. However, if the process is not appropriately employed, the results can be unreliable, making the feedback inaccurate and even damaging. Avoid undesirable outcomes by becoming alert for these significant trouble spots.

A biased sample
Be careful about the process used to choose respondents to the 360-degree survey. Sample bias will occur if only one person, most typically the manager, makes the selection. The bias is somewhat reduced if both the manager and the person being assessed contribute names of those they would like to provide feedback. The best approach, however, is to make a random selection, ensuring no partiality enters into the process, thereby making the responses much more dependable. Or, if the size of the potential respondent group is small, including everyone is ideal. For the leader evaluated, having feedback that is as accurate as possible is critical to effectively using the information to enhance strengths and modify weaknesses. A biased sample can lead to misperceptions and a focus on faulty development plans.

Lack of guidelines
Make sure those responding know what kind of feedback will be helpful. Distribute guidelines or provide training that coach them to:
• Avoid giving ratings without specific examples to explain the number selected. This includes positive ratings.
• Avoid judgmentally critical remarks. Rather, begin the sentence with “X (name of person) could be more effective if…
• Focus your feedback on patterns of behavior, not one-time events that are atypical of the leader’s behavior and have been resolved.
• Don’t use the 360-degree process as a substitute for direct feedback. Make it a practice to go directly to the individual when you have significant concerns to discuss.*
In the absence of specific examples, it is hard to understand what behaviors to maintain or change. If critical remarks don’t include the substitute behavior, i.e. what the person should do instead, it makes knowing how to change more difficult. Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of 360-degree feedback is that it may become a replacement for direct communication which should be the ultimate goal of a well-functioning work unit.

Dysfunctional group dynamics
If the organization is wrought with significant interpersonal conflict among staff members, avoid introducing 360-degree feedback into the fray. In this context, feedback is likely to be focused on personal vendettas, creating more harm than good. Instead, begin a team building process to improve relationships and help the group develop effective communication skills. Consider collecting comprehensive feedback at a later date.

Be attentive to the methodology you and your organization use to design the 360-degree feedback process. You can then be confident that leaders are receiving valuable, rather than questionable, input that can help them be more effective.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex