How do we make 360 Degree Feedback more than just an “Interesting Experience”?
A 360 degree feedback program is no small undertaking, if only for the fact that several person hours must inevitably be devoted to obtaining feedback from even a modest number of raters. How often have participants in such programs said “It was an extremely interesting experience” or “It really helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses”? And yet, how often have managers been heard to express their concern that little or no behaviour change seems to result from that experience?
Some organizations have tried to address this concern by insisting that the 360 degree feedback data be provided to the participant’s manager in order to ensure that it is integrated within the performance management process. However, this violates one of the most important principles of 360 degree feedback – the principle of anonymity. It is well established that even the suspicion that 360 degree feedback ratings or comments might be seen by those in a position to make administrative decisions on remuneration or promotion significantly decreases the likelihood that raters will provide meaningful and balanced 360 degree feedback. Management’s attitude understandably is “I’m paying for it; therefore I want to see the data”. Unfortunately, however, having paid handsomely in time and money to gather the information, insisting upon access inevitably compromises the quality of the information.
The solution to this dilemma lies in shifting the focus away from the feedback report as the central object of the 360 degree feedback process. Instead, the focus should be on the individual action plan that each participant is required to develop and share with his or her boss. The action plan should cover five elements:
- Key insights and lessons – what did I learn from the 360 degree feedback process about my strengths, weaknesses and development needs?
- Development priorities – from what I learned, what are the strengths I should try to leverage and what are the key development needs I should work on?
- Action plan – what kinds of developmental experiences do I need? What additional coaching would be beneficial? What training should I obtain and what books should I read?
- Resources required – how much time (my own and other’s) and money will be required to put my plan into effect?
- Success criteria – how will I know my personal development efforts have been successful?
A key element in the success of the 360 degree feedback program lies in the ability of managers to incorporate the development objectives and strategies of their direct reports into the performance management process. It is also important that managers hold their people accountable for following through on the development strategies to which they have committed in terms of yielding observable, measurable behaviour change. Without this kind of follow through, multi-rater programs often end up as interesting experiences for the participants and expensive experiments for the organization.
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