Goals of the 360-Degree Feedback Process

Female manager is explaining the goals of the 360 degree feedback process.
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Organizations differ in their approach to 360-degree feedback. For some, 360-degree feedback is a developmental tool that employees are expected to use to further develop their personal and interpersonal skills. The most responsible employers want to help employees further develop their ability to contribute to accomplishing the stated goals of their workplace.

The employees share the data with their manager in many of these organizations. Then, the employee and the manager work together as a team to make a professional development plan that will benefit the employee and the organization.

Other organizations use multi-rater or peer feedback as one component of their performance appraisal process. In these instances, the responses from coworkers do influence the ratings the employees receive. In organizations with a process like this, coworkers worry about what to say because they know their ratings will have a bearing on their coworker's pay. 

Handling Feedback in Team-Oriented Environments

A personal bias that is shared by many managers in organizations about 360-degree feedback is that organizations need to first develop a performance management system. As your organization becomes more comfortable with and has fully integrated this overall performance management system, you can most effectively introduce 360-degree feedback as part of your overall system.

In today’s more team-oriented organizations, 360-degree feedback has value for every person in the organization. Traditionally and historically, it was a tool used to give executives, and later, managers, feedback, but this has changed. You will find more frequent uses of 360 feedback becoming universal in organizations with every employee expected, or encouraged to receive feedback from their peers and other managers.

All employees benefit from feedback if the process is well-managed and has structure. In a structured system, coworkers and the boss answer specific questions about the individual's performance. The questions may have rankings such as score the individual's skill in this area on a scale of 1-5 with 5 representing the best.

You will usually find some open-ended questions, too. This gives the participants a chance to express whatever the questions don't adequately cover. A free-for-all, say anything system with no structure can result in way too much information that is too difficult to process.

The manager, who often is the person sharing the feedback with the employee, has to spend untold hours wading through long-winded feedback. This makes managers dislike the 360-degree feedback system—and this is a loss for all parties. Why not create a system that makes it easy for managers to share the feedback, or better yet, develop a system in which employees exchange feedback verbally.

Participation in the Process

A 360-degree feedback process was held in the plant operations in the mid-1980s at General Motors. Looking back, it was a fairly open process although it was aimed at management development only. Staff members provided anonymous feedback about their manager's management skills and style to an organization development consultant.

The results of the 360-degree feedback were compiled by the consultant and given to their manager. Then, the managers shared the results of their 360-degree feedback with their staff. They then met with their teams in a facilitated group meeting to design action plans to move both the manager's managerial style and their office performance forward.

The process was comfortable and effective, especially because it was led by professional facilitators.

Concern About the Impact

In working with organizations, one of the biggest fears people have about 360-degree feedback is that a group of anonymous people will determine their raises, promotions, and standing. If this is the process, of course, results are untrustworthy.

People want to provide feedback, but for the most part, coworkers do not want responsibility for bad things happening to their colleagues.

Many managers are strong proponents of introducing 360-degree feedback as a developmental tool for individuals. Most who use and participate in 360-degree feedback are not proponents of the feedback having an impact on the compensation that employees receive.

In a performance development environment, the question of whether 360-degree feedback should impact performance appraisal becomes irrelevant. The performance appraisal has transformed into the performance development planning process that uses this performance development tool.

The measurements used to determine compensation in such a system include meeting measurable goals, attendance, and contribution. The 360-degree feedback is used for employee development.

Carried out effectively, people begin to trust that the goals of the 360-degree feedback process are truly developmental. Consequently, employees become more comfortable providing legitimate and useful feedback to each other.