The Great Debates about 360-Degree Feedback

Keys to an Effective 360 Degree Feedback System

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Most people want to know how they're doing at work. They especially want data that tells them that they're doing well. The challenge for managers is to provide the information in a kind, gentle, and encouraging way.

The goal of a 360-degree feedback system is to give employees—including managers—a glimpse into what their coworkers think of them and their work. It can be an effective and useful component when your goal is to increase an employee's development and potential to contribute, but it can be harmful to your organization's success if it's used punitively or unprofessionally.

How 360-Degree Feedback Works

The entire workplace isn't typically polled about an employee unless the business is small. More commonly, less than a dozen employees are questioned, often by completing an online form. It's not a free-form submission in most cases. Rather, it usually involves targeted questions that are ultimately rated and tabulated, although some include "comments" sections as well.

Feedback is supposed to be confidential so it promotes openness and honesty.

The 360-Degree Feedback Debate

The debate over 360-degree feedback effectiveness can be a heated one. Some take the position that it should be delivered anonymously, while others are staunch proponents of face-to-face disclosures.

There's also an argument as to whether 360-degree feedback ratings should affect performance appraisal ratings and salary increases, or if they should be used solely to guide employee development.

These and several other debates rage on in the performance management world. The introduction of 360-degree feedback methods almost invariably sparks volatile discussion when the topic comes up in an organization. Proponents and opponents offer viable arguments for each point of view.

Debated Approaches

These are the key areas of debate about 360-degree feedback plans:

  • The goal: It can be used as a developmental tool or a performance appraisal tool.
  • The method: Feedback might be filled out anonymously, given face-to-face, delivered via a coworker, or a combination of all three might be used.
  • The personnel: Serious thought should be given to which employees will provide feedback.
  • The outcome: This type of feedback can impact salary increases, or it might have no effect on compensation at all.
  • Availability: The individual owns the data from 360-degree feedback, or the organization, including the manager, has access to review and use the data.

The measurements typically used to determine compensation include meeting measurable goals, attendance, and contribution, not just 360 feedback.

Organization Readiness

You're probably more ready for a 360-degree feedback process if your organization's climate and culture is one of trust and cooperation. Otherwise, implementing 360-degree feedback will be a lot about addressing the needs of the employees.

You could end up developing systems that are secretive, anonymous, and confidential. Even then, people probably won't believe that the feedback is confidential, and this will impact the data you collect.

It's best to first understand your current culture, then work on your climate to create the type of organization in which 360-degree feedback will be truly valued. From there it can be used for the development of the people within the organization.

The Bottom Line

In all cases, 360-degree feedback is most successful when it's fully integrated into your work environment as a tool to support the development of employees in the attainment of the organization mission, vision, and values.