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360-degree feedback – Developing self-awareness among employees


21 April 2014 06:54 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


In the 1990s, organisations started to change from highly structured pyramid-like hierarchies towards flatter and leaner shapes. The autocratic management styles that suited a pyramid structure won’t work in the modern organisation with its wide spans of control, high levels of self-management and a workforce that relies on motivation rather than control. Management styles needed to change.

Change is difficult at best of times but behavioural change is more difficult than anything else. Many things get in the way of the best intentions to do things differently. Behaviour is largely driven by habits – and habits are very hard to change. Some managers do not want to change. Some managers do not know how to change. Some managers do not think they need to change. In situations like these, something is needed to bring objectivity to the process of deciding how managers should change their style. Into this vacuum comes a tool that is almost universally known as 360-degree feedback. Researchers prefer to call it multi-rater.
360-degree feedback is an evaluation method that incorporates feedback from the employee, his/her peers, superiors, subordinates and customers. Results of these confidential surveys are tabulated and shared with the employee, usually by a superior. Interpretation of the results, trends and themes are discussed as part of the feedback. The primary reason to use this full circle of anonymous reviews is to provide the employee with information about his/her performance from multiple perspectives.

The feedback idea is based on the notion that if employees receive feedback on their behaviours from a number of different sources, then it is more likely to be accurate, accepted and specific. This approach is different to the feedback that the employees might receive in a performance appraisal with their boss.

The reasons for introducing the 360-degree feedback survey vary widely and that is why employees need to be clear about the purpose of the process will be for their organisation.

They may include:
Personal development - this is where the focus is on creating employees’ awareness of their strengths and weaknesses so that they can commit themselves to make changes in behaviour that will lead to better performance.

Cultural change - in this application, the purpose is to align employee behaviour with the preferred organisational culture. The feedback is a control mechanism designed to make sure that employees are adhering to the new ways of working and managing.

Team development - the purpose is to enhance the level of teamwork that is exercised with the teams. Teams can include management, project and even functional teams. When everyone in the team gets feedback from everyone else in the team, then issues about their roles, work styles and approach are rapidly resolved.

Under ideal circumstances, 360-degree feedback can be used as an assessment for personal development rather than evaluation. Unfortunately, not all circumstances are ideal.
There are a number of factors linked to the failure. Many organisations rush into 360-degree feedback without laying the foundation for success. Typical errors include:
  •  Not introduced carefully, therefore, employees do not know what is involved.
  • False expectations about how quickly employees will change their behaviour.
  • Feedback not linked to organisational goals or values.
  •     Feedback tied to merit pay or promotions.
  • Weak quality of feedback.
  • Survey questions are open-ended rather than structured.
  • Comments traced to individuals causing resentment between employees.
  •     Use of the feedback tool as a standalone without follow-up.
  • Poor implementation of the 360-degree tool negatively affects motivation.

Important points
If 360-degree feedback is to be effective, it is important to ensure that certain central principles are adopted:
  • Design a final report to help participants see how they compare to those in the top quartile and in the top 10 percent. This elevates everyone’s aspirations. No one leaves feeling complacent about being slightly above average.
  •  Tailor the results to each individual and to his or her position. Everyone doesn’t need to be good at the same things.
  •  Create a survey that requires just 15 to 20 minutes to complete, to avoid the survey fatigue that tortuously long instruments cause.
  •  Take the time to properly explain, both to participants and to the people giving feedback, about those participants, why they’re going through the exercise and how the data will be used for the participant’s development.
  • Begin by measuring the right skills, relying on empirical research to determine which leadership competencies really make a difference to the performance of their firm, rather than on some senior executive’s beliefs about what makes a good manager.
  •  Make certain and make it known, that there will be no breaches of confidentiality.
  • Focus primarily on discovering strengths rather than use the process to uncover deficiencies. Yes, the process sometimes identifies major weaknesses that need to be taken seriously, but in our experience, these have been in the minority of cases.
  • Present each person’s results in a way that enables them to digest them constructively and use the data to create a personal plan of development. They make the feedback report itself simple to read, presenting data in a graphical format that is easy to absorb.
  • Include a mini-employee survey that shows managers the impact of their behaviour on their subordinates.

Gaining trust
If the employees are to trust the 360-degree feedback process, there are a few points to be considered by the top management of the organisation.
  •  Feedback reports and developments plans should be kept secure and data protection rules are obeyed.
  •  Employees should not be forced or coerced to take part.
  • Brief adequately both employees and respondents on the process, how to complete the relevant forms and the aims and objectives of the exercise.
  • Set out clearly the process for identifying respondents with employees having some opportunity to input.
  • Communicate clearly the issues of confidentiality, detailing who will have access to the data and for what purpose.
  • State how feedback will be given and by whom.
  • Allow sufficient time to pilot the process and to consult with individuals and employee groups on both the design and implementation of the process.
  • Give adequate opportunity for employees to comment and raise their concerns.
  • Feedback should never be attributed to an individual.
  • The process should be constantly monitored and evaluated, with all concerns acted on and any changes adequately communicated.
In organisations that do not have a tradition of open feedback or upward communication, it is likely that 360-degree feedback will be seen with greater levels of mistrust. Addressing the issues identified above can help to overcome this problem, though there may also need to be some pertinent challenges to the prevailing culture to establish higher levels of trust.

More generally, an organisation may not be ready for 360-degree feedback at a time when it is undergoing a change programme that includes downsizing or restructuring, as the aims and objectives of the exercise might be misinterpreted.
One vital decision hierarchy of the organisation needs to make is how it will administer its 360-degree feedback process. Though seen as a tremendously valuable tool, many organisations shy away from conducting 360-degree evaluations because of the paperwork and administration involved in collecting and collating all the feedback. Automating the process eliminates the hassles for everyone involved, saves tremendous time, energy and effort and lets you extract all the value from the feedback.

(To be continued next week)
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’
senior managerial experience, can be contacted at

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