I was recently discussing leadership development with a client. She explained that they were trying to rebuild trust in a particular leadership team after their involvement in a 360 feedback process left them with “raw nerves” and was perceived to have damaged their performance as a team. I’m sure she is not alone in this experience - evidence on the effectiveness and impact of 360 degree feedback programs is mixed and disappointing. In some instances, 360 feedback has led to improvements in individual and organisational performance, but equally as often there has either been no effect, or even a negative impact. Giving and receiving feedback is a sensitive process.
Thankfully, there has been an abundance of research into what makes the difference between a successful 360 program and a failure*.
While there are some personal factors that impact an individual’s likelihood of benefitting from a 360 process (such as openness to feedback and change), there are many things HR managers can do to ensure organisational benefits, as well as a safe and rewarding process for individual leaders. These strategies are designed to promote acceptance of feedback, and accountability for change (Bracken & Rose, 2011). Participants in a 360 survey need to feel that the feedback is accurate and worthwhile, and be supported by processes that ensure the feedback is translated into real change.
Contact Voice Project for advice on implementing a 360 process in your organisation, or click to receive a free copy of Voice Project’s 360 degree feedback toolkit. In the meantime, here are our 10 ‘top tips’ for successful implementation of 360 degree feedback:
- Develop and communicate a clear purpose, with consistent policies and practices for use of 360 results in HR processes and workforce decision-making. It will be hard to build trust in the process if there is confusion around who will see the report and how results will be used.
- Implement organisation-wide participation. Start modelling the process from the top of the organisation with participation and support from senior management. Widespread use of the process will create efficiencies, demonstrate consistency and fairness, and build organisational leadership benchmarks.
- Check alignment with organisational values and leadership competencies. 360s will work best in organisational cultures that value and support safe, open communication, and can demonstrate a clear link between the 360 content and the leadership behaviours identified for success in your organisation. Don’t start the process until you have laid the groundwork.
- Use a trustworthy instrument. It should be professionally designed by survey experts using clear behavioural items in a logical and transparent layout. Your process may be terrific, but the content needs to be valid to be useful.
- Have participants choose their raters in consultation with their manager. Raters should come from a range of working relationships, but especially include all direct reports. Opt for more, rather than fewer raters to increase reliability.
- Provide instructions or training to raters on how to provide helpful feedback. This can include things like how to use the rating scales, when not to rate a behaviour, and how to frame free-text comments.
- Plan your approach to free-text comments. These can provide the most valuable information in the survey, but also the most harmful. If you include them in the survey, open-ended questions should be carefully worded to elicit positive and constructive comments, and these comments should be screened carefully. If necessary, consider summarising the feedback and present it in a way that will help manage the potential negative emotional reaction.
- Encourage participants to share their results with raters. The degree to which leaders follow-up with co-workers after their 360 is a strong predictor of subsequent change in perceived leader effectiveness. It shows employees that their input is valued, allows an opportunity for clarification, and builds accountability for specific changes. Sharing insights with peers in support programs also provides encouragement and facilitates transfer of learning into action.
- Provide support to participants to interpret and understand their results. For senior managers this may be a one-on-one feedback session with an independent consultant or coach. For front-level managers or staff this may be a group session with an independent facilitator. Having an independent debrief session allows participants emotional scope to digest the results, encouragement of a balanced view, and expert guidance to understand the results in the context of the participant’s role and other performance indicators.
- Require participants to use the results to create a development plan with their manager as performance coach. This means communicating expectations upfront, supporting managers to coach, committing resources for training and development, and providing tools for monitoring progress.
What would you say is the secret to success for your 360 program? Comment below.
Bracken & Rose (2011) When Does 360-Degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How would We Know It When It Does? Journal of Business & Psychology 26:183-192;
Morgeson, Mumord & Campion (2005) Coming Full Circle: Using Research and Practice to Address 27 Questions About 360-Degree Feedback Programs. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 57:196-209;
Nowack and Mashihi (2012) Evidence-based Answers to 15 Questions About Leveraging 360-Degree Feedback. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 64: 157-182.