7 tips for avoiding the most common mistakes.
360 Degree Feedback can be a powerful organisational tool for assessing skills, capabilities and values. So it’s an integral part of most strategic leadership and management development programs. It’s also a powerful performance measure and an aid to career development conversations. Because it has the potential to reach many people, getting 360 Feedback right first time is critical.
This article describes the 7 most common mistakes that professionals make when implementing 360, and how to avoid them!
Mistake #1: Starting too quickly without enough preparation
Many organisations, once they have made the decision to use 360, get excited and want to get started as quickly as possible. There can be a push from senior management for action. So they may try to cut corners and time on design, communications, piloting, data and user feedback. But 360 success is all down to the detail, so preparation is essential.
Mistake #2: Lack of a clear purpose
Take time to get clear on the purpose of the 360. Is it an assessment for benchmarking or performance review? Or is the purpose to identify potential leaders or ‘talent’? Alternatively, is it a support tool for coaching and mentoring? Or is its purpose to measure consistent skills and values across the organisation, as part of a change event?
If you are clear about the purpose of the 360, and specific about the outcomes you want to see, it will be easier to explain it, and obtain support and engagement from the organisation.
Even who gets the reports (individual, their line manager, HR), when and how (paper reports, online, downloads) are important factors.
Mistake #3: Not aligning the 360 to the organisation’s frameworks, values and language
Research* has shown that for 360 to contribute to behaviour change, it must include relevant content. This means questions etc that are specific and customised to the unique strategy of the organisation. The 360 should be tailored to the organisation’s specific skillsets and values. This is better than generic skillsets. One organisation has used 360 as assessment tool for senior executives. The 360 links with the organisation’s specific competencies.
Mistake #4: Unclear communication is a big obstacle in getting 360 Feedback right first time
If there is one thing you can do to ensure getting 360 Feedback right first time, this is it.
Like any change programme, you can’t over-communicate about 360 Feedback. If people don’t understand it in full, they will not trust the process. Not only that, they will share their doubt and fears with others. This can lead to a negative view of the whole process.
Other consequences of unclear communication are a low level of responses from feedback givers and poor quality feedback.
In your communications, be clear on:
- What: what the 360 is for, where will the data go, will the feedback be reported anonymously
- When: what is the time schedule, what is the deadline, when will we see the outcomes
- Who: people asking for 360 feedback, those giving feedback, and the roles of managers or team leaders’
- How: what happens at each point along the way
Mistake #5: Not enough communication
Some organisations forget to communicate to all the stakeholders in the 360 Degree Feedback process. That includes the people receiving the feedback, but also their feedback providers, team leaders and managers, senior management and even internal or external customers.
Even if your communications are clear, one communication channel, or one message, is not enough. Busy people need regular and consistent reminders, before and during the 360. Our clients use email, their intranet, short reminder videos and lunchtime workshops. Whether it’s the first 360, or a bespoke 360 for a global or national development programme, repeated communication is crucial.
Mistake #6: Lack of engagement from team leaders and managers
In a published article*, the involvement of the learner’s boss in the 360 was important in the success of the 360.
Therefore Team leaders and line managers have a large part to play in the success of a 360 Degree Feedback programme. The more involved line managers are, the more value the organisation will get from the 360.
This important group need to have a clear understanding of what the 360 process will mean for them. They will need to know if they have additional work to do. Also what is expected of them, and what is the benefit to them of being involved. If they are being asked to debrief or coach their team members, they will need to feel confident that they have the skills and the time to do this. By supporting team leaders and managers, they will help to make the 360 successful and enable their teams to get the most value from it.
Mistake #7: Learners trying to find out who gave them feedback
Sometimes a person who is unhappy about a piece of feedback will try to confront the respondent whom (they think) has given the feedback. It’s important to set out the rules for this before start of the 360, when briefing the people who will receive feedback. Their colleagues will have given feedback in good faith and they should trust that this will be the case. So feedback givers should understand that this is not acceptable.
To ensure getting 360 Feedback right first time, it helps if you can build a culture of feedback in the organisation. In this culture, people learn the benefits of receiving feedback. They view feedback as a learning opportunity, rather than a negative experience to be feared.
* David W Bracken and Dale S Rose. Journal of Business Psychology (2011) 26:183-192)