360 Degree Feedback:
Vicious Circle or Vital Link?
By Jack R. Snader and Marsha Wells
Realistic feedback on job performance is invaluable to anyone who wants
to grow professionally. Feedback comes in many forms, and among the most popular is the type of tool called 360-degree feedback. The name "360-degree" refers to the full-circle process of
gathering information about a person's job performance from his or her
customers or subordinates-and from his or her manager-and then rolling
the information into a confidential report that is delivered directly to
the individual in question...without identifying which customers or subordinates
While 360-degree feedback is an excellent concept, it has the potential to either help employees grow or intensify their defensiveness. When screening a 360 assessment company, be sure to avoid these pitfalls:
The Wrong Instrument. Survey instruments appear to be easy to generate. But some organizations
skip the step of asking what they want to measure and why they ought to
measure it. Measuring skills that are highly correlated with job success
Assessment instruments may be geared to measuring personality traits, social
styles, trainable skills, or sets of competencies based on a job analysis
or a developmental theory. Personality or social styles tests may be valuable
for diversity training, but would not be particularly helpful in choosing
the right candidate for most jobs. Developmental theory-based competencies
will only be as effective as the accuracy of the theory. And an assessment
of trainable skills isn't such a good bet if the trainable skills measured
are not the primary predictors of job success for the positions concerned.
Lack of Validity. A good assessment tool for performance improvement must be able to distinguish
between high and low performers. People who are already successful in a
position must score well on the instrument consistently, and people who
currently perform poorly in their jobs must score poorly on the assessment,
or the test is simply not reliable. And even the right type of instrument
can fail if it is not psychometrically valid. Organizations get into trouble
and waste money when they use instruments that cannot be demonstrated to
be valid and reliable.
Lack of Confidentiality. Reliable results are more likely to emerge within an environment of privacy.
Assessments backfire when employees are not carefully prepared to receive
feedback. Particularly when downsizing is suspected, employees are all
too likely to view the announcement of a 360 assessment process as a way
of separating the sheep from the goats. Another fear is that a 360 assessment
will be linked to a salary review.
It's vital to assure employees that the survey results
will be strictly confidential, that only the assessed individual will see his or her assessment
information, and that employees' positions or incomes are not contingent
upon the results. Unless they understand this, employees will harbor fears
that breed dishonesty. They are likely to go to great lengths to make sure
all survey news is good news. They may appeal to their customers or subordinates
directly, "My job is at stake here, so I hope you're not too hard
on me!" Or, they may give subtle cues to a similar effect. Such manipulation
damages the growth potential inherent in the process.
Unprofessional Delivery of Results to Participants. Beware of any 360 degree feedback offering that does not provide a highly
professional delivery process! Without full-service counseling at the time
results are delivered, personal feedback can create confusion and resentment.
It's not uncommon for a certain percentage of employees to be stunned by
what they learn about themselves, to be angry and upset, or simply to deny
the validity of their results. Unless the feedback recipient is offered
professional one-on-one counseling to interpret his or her personal results,
the value of the process may be lost to resistance.
Skilled feedback consultants emphasize that feedback results are a matter
of perception, not fact. They know how to connect assessment information
to the individual's work goals, and help participants see how their customers'
or subordinates' perceptions may be blocking them from achieving their
goals. Rather than perceiving a need to change, when guided by a talented
consultant the participant will perceive a need to change customer or subordinate
perceptions. Professional consultants keep the focus positive.
Lack of a Systematic Follow-up Process. To be useful, 360-degree feedback processes must include developmental
support materials and a loosely supervised process for raising skill levels.
Once individuals have an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses
and a strategy for elevating the perceptions others have of them, the employees
work with their managers and coaches to develop individual improvement
action plans, complete with targeted behavior goals and time frames.
Developmental tools can include books, seminars, mentoring experiences,
videotape courses, and audio tapes. Finally, the developmental phase must
be followed by a chance to remeasure skills and show improvement through
Continuing the Growth Process
If your company is considering programs to enhance sales training and development,
360 assessments that are provided in conjunction with a complete, continuous
growth process are among the finest developmental tools available. Not
only do they provide a meaningful gauge, but they motivate participants
by helping them realize how others actually perceive them. They provide
the vital link between customers' private opinions and the seller's awareness.
They sound a wake-up call that stimulates sincere growth efforts, so that
when professional follow-up training is provided, employees are eager to
For more information on Systema's assessments program which includes valid,
confidential 360 assessments, professional delivery consultations, and
a complete developmental process, e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Energizing Sales Performance World Wide Since 1969