Many organizations use 360 Degree Feedback as part of their performance or people development agenda. The ultimate goal is for behaviour change at individual or group level. But is 360 effective in doing this? Where is the evidence that 360 Degree Feedback can actually change behaviours and skills in the workplace? And what does ‘effective’ mean when you’re talking about 360 Feedback?This article explores practice and theory to answer the question ‘can 360 change behaviours’.
A key first step: 360 feedback provides insights, awareness and information
Structured and competency based 360 feedback is a tool that provides insights from work colleague at all levels (manager, reports and peers) into someone’s behaviours, style and values. If it’s a bespoke 360, it can be based on the organization’s key skills, competencies and value-based behaviours. In this way it offers insights at both individual and group or organization level. For individuals, understanding their true impact on others, and how they are seen by their colleagues, is the first step in developing their skills. At the organizational level, the 360 feedback data provides key information on behavioural competencies by region, role, department or other criteria. It can spot pockets of high capability and help to put these in place in other parts of the business. Where there are skills and behaviour gaps, the 360 data can identify needs for development and training. But can 360 change behaviours?
360 Feedback works with activities that create behaviour change
To create change, the organization has to commit to providing 360 feedback, as a first step and benchmarking tool. But on its own, this is not enough. To improve management and leadership skills, people also need one or more of the following:
1. A one to one debriefing and coaching of their 360, identifying strengths as well as areas for development
2. A actionable development plan and learning contract to be agreed with their boss (who is responsible for supporting them to achieve these)
3. Regular check-ins
4. Learning and training activities to build skills, online and offline
5. Time and opportunities for reflection
6. Opportunities to try out learning, practice new skills and make real and lasting changes to behavior
7. Regular re-runs of the 360 to measure progress and adjust development activities and targets where necessary.
In this case study with Plan International, we were able to measure the change and improvement in manager performance through the repeated use of bespoke 360 feedback. As a flag for behaviours that needed to change, and a tool to measure whether those behaviours had actually changed, the 360 was key to this leadership development programme.
The research findings
In a research project carried out in the large organization over a 15-year period*, the observations above were largely shown to be accurate. The key findings of the research were:
- Follow up activities – focused individual learning, action learning sets, coaching etc – were just as important as the 360 feedback itself. In particular, 360 feedback followed by Learning Contracts created the biggest change in manager behaviours.
- The optimum time to re-measure with 360 was 12 – 18 months. This gave managers enough time to evaluate their feedback, create their learning contracts, and put their learning into practice.
- The more often a manager went through the 360 process, the better their 360 evaluations were, compared with managers who went through 360 less often. Again the improvements were strongest where there were 360 plus consistent opportunities to learn and grow.
- High level sponsorship (by the CEO in the surveyed organisation), was critical to the effectiveness of the 360 as part of the development plan.
- The success of the 360 was also that it became part of the informal and formal feedback culture of the organization.
- Sustained behaviour change and improvement takes time, effort and persistence – with 360 feedback at the start, in the middle and onwards.
360 is a diagnostic, a driver of organizational change and ‘leads to sustainable improvements in managerial effectiveness’
360 Degree Feedback is a powerful tool for individual and organizational development. On its own it can help to change behaviours by defining and measuring those behaviours. It does this through increasing self-awareness and helping managers and leaders to get clarity on their blind spots, which can derail career plans if not dealt with. It also opens up the opportunity for better performance discussions with line managers – these conversations will clearly lead to behaviour and performance improvements at both individual and group level.
- Identify strengths and areas for development for individuals to allow them to focus on their personal and professional development
- Measure and track the organisation’s management and leadership behaviours, values and skills
- Provide a powerful discussion tool for learners to use, to discuss and create their learning plans and contracts
- Give line managers an update on how their teams are doing (based on behaviours they may not always see themselves)
- Integrate with the organization’s other talent processes, like talent identification, talent development, promotion and succession planning
- Building and nurturing a culture of feedback and learning
In this way, a sustained 360 process, that is, one that is repeated regularly over time, “can be a valuable business practice that leads to sustainable improvements in managerial effectiveness”.
*Frank Shipper, ‘Investigating the sustainability of a sustained 360 process’ The Academy of Management Annual Meeting August 7-11, 2009 Chicago, Illinois