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If implemented properly; there are very few disadvantages to 360-degree feedback. However human error can be the difference between a successful and a failed 360-degree feedback system.
Managers who aim to replace their traditional performance review systems face a tough choice. There is an abundance of evidence from firms such as Dell, Deloitte and Adobe - who were among the first to introduce Agile Performance Management - which shows that such systems can be highly effective, with very positive results.
However, the unfortunate fact is that most organizations use these systems ineffectively. In the book Scaling Up Excellence, performance reviews are compared to a drug. One that ‘wouldn’t be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it is often so ineffective and has so many vile side effects’.
Similarly, many companies have joined the 360-degree feedback revolution with the idea that it will automatically solve all of their performance review headaches. While, when implemented effectively, 360-degree feedback systems can have a significant impact on employee engagement and professional development, it is this misunderstanding that accounts for the failure of a 360-degree feedback system. In this article we’ll outline the advantages of introducing 360-degree feedback and the common pitfalls that companies face when implementing it.
360-degree feedback, is one of the most valuable elements of any performance management strategy. As the name suggests, it provides feedback from all angles; that is from peer groups, to managers, to subordinates. As this communication comes from a variety of different sources it will contain a multitude of differing opinions and perspectives, which is of vital importance when looking for feedback. In a sense, it can be seen as more valid and objective as it is from such a varied audience.
As the feedback a person receives is most likely diverse, this provides a unique opportunity to uncover areas that may need development or open up gaps in knowledge that could be valuable. Sometimes the feedback might uncover trends, but you may also receive unique insight from a single team member, which can also be valuable. Such feedback can then be incorporated into personal development plans. This is very useful information that the individual may not have thought of on their own, and may not have received when only receiving feedback from their manager alone.
When a company introduces a 360-degree feedback, they can do so in a manner that relates to the company’s core competencies. These competencies reflect the organization’s standard for behaviours and interactions. When reinforced on a regular basis, they can have an impact in shaping your company’s culture. Including these a part of the process - especially if it is supported by your chosen platform - means that individuals can receive feedback about how they act on and exemplify the organisation’s core competencies in their daily performance, encouraging everyone to live and breath these ideals in everything they do.
This point is entitled ‘inadequate’; as there are many ways in which feedback can be inadequate. As with all reviews, there is a chance that the feedback might have been filtered or edited in some way and therefore isn’t 100% honest. This can happen often as Managers will ask to receive (or be able to access) all feedback, even if it is not directed towards them. This can result in people being less frank because they are aware their manager might read it. Additionally, people often misunderstand the purpose of the 360-degree feedback exercises. The aim of feedback is to be constructive, not personal.
If a manager does not get on-board with, or is not enthusiastic about a 360-degree feedback program, it is unlikely that it would be successfully implemented. Whatever the manager gives importance to, most often gets the attention of his/her team.
360 feedback is only helpful if it gets acted upon and used. A main reason for the failure of 360 programs is that feedback is given, but then swiftly forgotten. If no plan to implement the feedback is made; there is no change in behaviour, and the feedback is redundant. Managers should therefore be included in the initial discussions and recruited as 360-degree feedback ambassadors within their teams. Training on the need to follow-up reviews with 1-on-1s and effective goal-setting that takes feedback into account is essential. You can even provide training to your managers, so they understand the value of feedback and are more confident providing constructive feedback amongst their teams.
Too often the priority for managers using a 360 program is to uncover their teams’ weaknesses. While this is intended to be a consequence and used for development, there should be a good balance of constructive feedback balanced with praise and positive feedback in the areas they are achieving well. If 360 feedback is used only to highlight negative aspects of a team member’s work, it is likely that they will foster a negative attitude, and possibly become disengaged from the feedback. This leads on to the final disadvantage; that there are often not enough participants in the 360-feedback process.
As suggested above, in order for 360 feedback to work, feedback should be requested by a range of people you work with - both within and outside of your team. It's great getting feedback from your team members, but this can also form bias' because you work together and they cab sometimes know you too well to say anything bad. It can be incredibly valuable to ask for feedback from people you work with in other teams. For example, if you work in the marketing team but you have recently worked on a project with a member of the sales team – why not get their perspective on what it was like to work with you and how you might improve next time? This helps get a broader view on your performance and opportunities where you could improve.
When considering to introduce 360 feedback at your company, there are many advantages (many more than we've listed here, in fact!), but there are also some things you should try and avoid. These things are largely preventable, however, and almost exclusively have to do with how the system has been communicated and implemented. If people receive proper guidance and training on how to use the tools, most of the problems commonly encountered would be eradicated. If adequate training has been done, and managers are on-board, the advantages of a 360-degree feedback process should far outweigh the disadvantages.
If you're interested in learning more about introducing 360 feedback, or a more holistic performance management strategy, you should download our 2019 Guide to Modern Performance Management, below.
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