For every good point I just made about 360 degree feedback systems, detractors and people who have had bad experiences with such systems, can offer the down side. The down side is important because it gives you a roadmap of the things to avoid when you implement a 360 feedback process.
Following are potential problems with 360 degree feedback processes and a recommended solution for each.
Exceptional Expectations for the Process: 360 degree feedback is not the same as a performance management system. It is merely a part of the feedback and development that a performance management system offers within an organization.
Additionally, proponents may lead participants to expect too much from this feedback system in their efforts to obtain organizational support for implementation. Make sure the 360 feedback is integrated into a complete performance management system.
- Design Process Downfalls: Often, a 360 degree feedback process arrives as a recommendation from the HR department or is shepherded in by an executive who learned about the process at a seminar or in a book. Just as an organization implements any planned change, the implementation of 360 degree feedback should follow effective change management guidelines. A cross-section of the people who will have to live with and utilize the process should explore and develop the process for your organization.
Failure to Connect the Process: For a 360 feedback process to work, it must be connected with the overall strategic aims of your organization. If you have identified competencies or have comprehensive job descriptions, give people feedback on their performance of the expected competencies and job duties.
The system will fail if it is an add-on rather than a supporter of your organization’s fundamental direction and requirements. It must function as a measure of your accomplishment of your organization’s big and long term picture.
Insufficient Information: Since 360 degree feedback processes are currently usually anonymous, people receiving feedback have no recourse if they want to further understand the feedback. They have no one to ask for clarification of unclear comments or more information about particular ratings and their basis.
For this reason and for the points listed in the several bullet points following this one, developing 360 process coaches is important. Supervisors, HR staff people, interested managers and others are taught to assist people to understand their feedback. They are trained to help people develop action plans based upon the feedback.
- Focus on Negatives and Weaknesses: At least one book, First Break All the Rules: What The World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, advises that great managers focus on employee strengths, not weaknesses. The authors said, "People don't change that much. Don't waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough."
- Rater Inexperience and Ineffectiveness: In addition to the insufficient training organizations provide both people receiving feedback and people providing feedback, there are numerous ways raters go wrong. They may inflate ratings to make an employee look good. They may deflate ratings to make an individual look bad. They may informally band together to make the system artificially inflate everyone’s performance. Checks and balances must prevent these pitfalls.
- Paperwork/Computer Data Entry Overload: Need I say much more here? Traditional evaluations required two people and one form. Multirater feedback ups the sheer number of people participating in the process and the consequent organization time invested.
There are minuses with the 360 degree feedback processes. As with any performance feedback process, it can provide you with a profoundly supportive, organization-affirming method for promoting employee growth and development. Or, in the worst cases, it saps morale, destroys motivation, enables disenfranchised employees to go for the jugular or plot and scheme revenge scenarios.
360 feedback can increase positive, powerful problem solving for customers or set people off on journeys to identify the guilty - the feedback provider who rated their performance less than perfect.
Which scenario will your organization choose? It’s all in the details. Think profoundly before you move forward; learn from the mistakes of others; assess your organization’s readiness. Apply effective change management strategies to planning and implementation. Do the right things right and you will add a powerful tool to your performance management and enhancement toolkit.