The 360 Degree View on 360 Degree Feedback
By Bradley Wilson - June 10, 2019
Feedback is crucial for development, growth, and improvement. It is used in a wide variety of contexts: students incorporate feedback from teachers to improve skills and understanding; patients use feedback from doctors to improve health; and of course, organizations rely on employee and customer feedback to improve work processes, culture, and a variety of other factors that impact business success.
The 360 degree feedback model is particularly useful for leaders and managers. Where it differs from a standard performance review is that the 360 degree survey relies on feedback from a number of different sources, which can include not only subordinates or supervisors but also peers and people external to the organization. It provides managers and leaders the opportunity to understand how they are perceived by others, how the perceptions of others align or misalign with their self-perception, and the strengths they can build on while working to manage or minimize weaknesses.
Advantages Of 360 Degree Feedback For Senior Managers & Leaders
Senior managers and leaders may struggle with receiving reliable feedback or accepting the feedback they receive. At their level, there is distance from subordinate employees, and the tendency may be to question the intention, motivation, and reliability of those providing less-than-positive feedback. Because leaders’ knowledge, skills, and abilities have enabled them to attain a position high in the organizational hierarchy, they may assume that they “know best.” But the past patterns of thoughts and behaviors that helped them gain their position may be insufficient to enable continued growth and development. Self-knowledge is always limited; everyone has blind spots. By understanding the perceptions of others, leaders may be able to break through to higher levels of self-awareness and performance. This is where 360 degree feedback excels.
The 360 degree model incorporates feedback from multiple sources and perceptions. Unlike a traditional performance appraisal it includes feedback from peers and direct reports, and may also incorporate feedback from people outside the organization—including clients and sometimes relationships not connected to work. The inclusion of multiple raters across different contexts enables the individual receiving feedback a more holistic understanding of how they are perceived by others.
Conflicting feedback is one criticism of the 360 model’s validity. However, this can be a source of meaningful information; if all respondents had the same perception, there would be no need to ask more than one person to conduct the assessment. While 360 degree data is subjective and based on raters’ interaction with the subject, by understanding the similarities and differences in how the individual is perceived by peers versus direct reports, or internal versus external work relationships, the subject can better understand how his or her words and actions translate in different environments.
Most organizations will use a leadership model or set of competencies for designing a 360 assessment. Aligning the assessment with the organization’s approach to leadership provides a level of consistency and context for both the raters and the subjects. It also helps ensure the feedback aligns with the organization’s priorities and culture.
Individuals who participate in 360 degree feedback surveys report benefits from both quantitative, scaled data, and qualitative, open-ended comment responses. The quantitative data enables easy comparisons between the subject’s self-rating versus the ratings of others on relevant dimensions, while the qualitative feedback provides context and detail. Comment questions also provide an opportunity for raters to explain why they provided the ratings they did. The focus is less about a score and more about the subject getting feedback they can understand and apply.
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Challenges In Using 360 Degree Feedback Surveys
Organizations that use 360 assessments have the responsibility to set the appropriate context so results are interpreted and used appropriately. Managers and leaders should be prepared to receive feedback as a measure of how they are perceived; the 360 is not an assessment of performance so much as a starting point intended to identify opportunities for improvement. For 360 degree feedback to have the greatest impact, participants need to identify simple actions they can take to leverage their strengths and opportunities while minimizing weaknesses and threats. A successfully executed 360 assessment provides the participant with actionable feedback that helps inform a simple action plan. But more importantly, it helps them adopt a growth mindset. (Tweet this!)
Surveys with a 360 degree feedback design are subjective in nature. Despite this, a well-designed assessment provides a valid measure of the respondents’ perceptions; even if there is disagreement within the feedback, there is opportunity for self-reflection to better understand why others feel the way they do or why there are conflicting perceptions. One strategy is to focus on observable attributes; rather than asking about a subject’s priorities, values, motives, or beliefs, the 360 should focus on the individual’s behaviors. For example, to measure integrity, asking raters if the individual keeps commitments is a more clear-cut measure than asking if they have a clear set of values.
Using Self-Assessments In 360 Degree Feedback Surveys
When the subject conducts a self-assessment using the same dimensions or criteria as the other raters, a comparison between how the individual perceives themselves versus how they are perceived by others can be made.
Self-rating can provide a form of SWOT analysis. Themes where the subject and others provide high scores are agreed strengths; themes where both the subject and others provide low scores are agreed weaknesses. Where the subject scores themselves high but others provide a low rating is a threat or blind spot, and themes where the subject rates himself or herself lower than others do is an opportunity or unrealized strength. This knowledge offers the opportunity to develop an action plan that stresses maximizing strengths, minimizing weaknesses, addressing blind spots, and leveraging opportunities.
In the right organizational context, 360 degree feedback can bring about significant organizational change, by equipping and enabling individuals with greater self-awareness and the tools they need to rise to the next level in their work, relationships, and leadership.
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