360° feedback

"Horses have always understood a great deal more than they let on. It is difficult to be sat on every day by some creature without forming an opinion of them. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to sit all day, every day, on top of another creature and not have the slightest thought about them whatsoever."

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

In a similar way, research suggests that the most accurate observations about a manager's performance come from those being managed! This is therefore an important source of objective information on which to base leadership and management development activities. Whilst it is important to be clear that this source of information is, strictly speaking, upward feedback and not 360° feedback in its fullest sense, it is probably the most significant for developmental purposes. Thus, the purpose of 360° feedback is:

To provide a mechanism for honest communication between individuals about significant issues, in order to assist learning, development and performance improvement.

Research also suggests that the magic number for the number of feedback providers is about 9, i.e. if less than 9 people contribute to the feedback process, some important bits of feedback can be missed. Conversely, once we get into double figures of respondents, new information tends to become rarer.

There are myriad multi-directional feedback tools available these days. They are invariably based around a competency framework, the main elements of which for leadership development purposes are quite well known. However, it is also a good idea to ensure that if an organisation has certain leadership competencies which are important to it, such as entrepreneurial skills or emotional intelligence, then these should be included in the competency framework.

These frameworks, and the 360° feedback tools derived from them, are easy to customise.

Nowadays, 360° feedback processes are fully automated, using web-based technology. It is therefore an extremely easy process to administer. Reports are usually produced for individuals, as a basis for 3-4 coaching and action-planning sessions, over the course of a few months. It also possible to amalgamate reports for a team of people, in order to look at collective strengths and weaknesses too.

Research also suggests that it is extremely important to garner both quantitative and qualitative information. It is especially important to obtain qualitative information in the development context, as this provides the clues to useful development actions. Most 360° feedback tools will use a numerical rating scale of some description and then automatically average the respondents' scores. Thus, someone might obtain an average score of 2.3 out of 5 for transforming teams. The inference would be that they might perhaps be able to perform a bit better in this area, and thus, may well ask the question how can I improve my performance here? Insightful and constructive feedback will provide such clues and therefore, the 360° feedback tool employed will need to be designed to capture this information.

There are also a number of other issues that will need to be considered, when planning and implementing a 360° feedback process, including:

  • Clarity and communication of purpose to all concerned.
  • Alignment with other processes, e.g. competency frameworks, development programmes.
  • Cultural issues receptiveness to giving & receiving constructive feedback openly and honestly.
  • Timing e.g. at start of, or as part of, leadership development programmes.
  • Engendering commitment leading by example.
  • Confidentiality enhances reliability.
  • Evaluation how will we know if it is having the desired effect?

DWHRC can work with you to plan the implementation of such projects, and help you carry them out successfully. Please contact us for a free, no obligation consultation.

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