Is 360 Feedback Right for Your Team?

Mar 9, 2011
9 Min Read

Taking a self-report assessment (such as the DISC or MBTI or many others out there) can be great for self-awareness but the report can also be biased because it is only based on your own evaluation. Similarly, your annual performance review that is usually done by your boss can be biased because he or she only knows you in one context—the professional workplace as your superior. Multi-rater feedback, often called 360-degree feedback, is a style of assessment that combines data from several sources that know an employee from multiple dimensions, thereby eliminating the risk of bias that can come with a report that is based on only a single source.

How Does it Work?

In a 360-degree assessment, you’ll answer a few questions about yourself, as will your boss, your boss’s boss, your direct reports, your customers, your colleagues, your friends, and even your family members. The questions can be multiple-choice or open-ended, or most likely, a combination of both. The data is then combined and presented anonymously to paint a full and supposedly more accurate picture of your behavior and the impact you have on others.

If you have several direct reports and more than a handful of colleagues, the data may be grouped together so you when you receive your report, you know what impressions came from your direct reports versus what your colleagues think of you versus how your superiors view you. The reliability of the result of the assessment goes up with more raters. The trick to this assessment style is in finding consistent themes, and carefully dismissing outlying data points. When many people who you know in various contexts agree, you can be sure that they are on to something.

As an example, in a blog post over at the Intuit Small Business Blog, author Lorna Collier highlights a feature on Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit and his experiences with coaching and 360-degree feedback:  “Boy, did I learn a lot,” he says. “I could see through the 360 review that there were a lot of things I needed to change — things where I had bad impacts on people in the company. Founders can do that. If you’re the founder, you can wreak havoc on people’s ability to focus and get their job done.”

Advantages of 360-degree Feedback

Multi-rater assessments are perhaps the most helpful for new managers and new leaders. When we are part of a team in an individual contributor role, arguably how others view us and the impact we have on others is minimal. But when we step up to a team leader role, we may find that our intentions as a leader are not in line with our impact as a leader. There is a learning curve when you start with a new team, and one of the more effective ways to attain alignment is to get timely and honest feedback. Since 360-degree feedback is anonymous, it is a good way to bring that honesty to the surface.

Disadvantages of 360-degree Feedback

The same features that make 360-degree feedback attractive can also be seen as pitfalls. The anonymity of the feedback can certainly be a disadvantage. When provided with the safety blanket of anonymity, some people will let loose with the criticism, sometimes unfairly so. Receiving negative feedback in this way (especially if this is the first time you are hearing about it) can damage the morale of your team. The number of people providing feedback can often result in conflicting opinions, leading to the question of which one is accurate and more importantly, what should be done about it.

Quick Tips on Giving 360 Feedback

  • Don’t dwell on the past. Instead of pointing out what someone did wrong, and how many times, point out what they could do better next time to create a more ideal result.
  • Focus on their impact on you. Don’t guess whether they had good intentions or bad intentions. Don’t assume that their behavior was a result of character traits. Instead, point out how the behavior (regardless of why/how it came about) impacted you and your ability to perform.
  • Repeat yourself. It may seem that you have told this person over and over how you feel about their performance and abilities. Say it again. Especially the positive comments.
  • Is it fair? Consider why you are giving this feedback. It should have a purpose—to make them better, to make the organization better, or to make your team work together more effectively. Conversely, to get them back or to get something off your chest is not a good reason to give someone feedback.

Quick Tips on Receiving/Processing 360 Feedback

  • Focus on the future. Instead of questioning what you could have done better, ask yourself what will you do differently and how will you hold yourself accountable for that behavior change?
  • Listen well and seek to understand. It can be too easy to dismiss feedback we don’t agree with, sometimes to our own detriment. It is also very easy to become defensive quickly and to build a shield that prevents us from really hearing the feedback. Keep track of your feedback, both good and bad, whether you accept it or not. Read it when you are in different moods or at different points in time. For example, you may want to review all of your feedback once a year.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. There will always be a comment that stands apart from the rest—treat it just as that, an outlier. When a piece of feedback seems off the wall, or comes from nowhere, or doesn’t coincide with any feedback that you have received, you can take a chance that it’s not worth dwelling on.
  • Track feedback over time. It is likely that you will have the opportunity to take 360-degree feedback assessments multiple times over your career. Each time, this is a new experience because you are often working with different people at a different stage of your career. Pay attention to changes as well as consistencies between these reports.

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