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Exposing the Truth About 360 Degree Feedback - Part 1

Nov 5, 2012 8:20:00 AM / by Karen Caruso, Ph.D.

Part 1: The Positivist View

360 feedback

Sadly….after all of this time…360 Degree Feedback is still misunderstood.

Over the years, my colleagues and I believe that we have heard every possible ‘myth’ or inaccurate assumption about the use of 360 degree feedback. I hope to set the record straight and to dispel some of these myths.  We have selected 8 of our favorites. In Part 1, I will address what I believe are myths that come from a Positivist viewpoint – We should use 360 degree feedback because it will solve our problems. Next time, I will tackle the dark side of 360 degree feedback.

Myth 1: Adding 360 degree feedback to the performance appraisal process will increase buy-in, trust and support for performance appraisal.

Aaahhh. This does make sense. I have worked with countless organizations that utilize 360 feedback as part of a comprehensive performance evaluation process. 360 degree feedback and performance evaluation can complement each other. Performance appraisal considers past performance and focuses on the accomplishment of goals.  360 feedback brings a behavioral and future focus to performance appraisal, providing insight on skills and behaviors related to ongoing development.

Unfortunately, adding 360 feedback to the performance appraisal process in an effort to bolster up a performance evaluation process that is on shaky ground is unlikely to work. If managers and employees have concerns about the performance appraisal process, resulting in lack of trust, poor compliance, etc., then adding 360 feedback is likely going to increase those concerns. Organizational leaders will need to take action to resolve the core issues related to performance appraisal before attempting to add 360 degree feedback into the mix.

Myth 2: Employees are dying to provide performance feedback to their managers and peers – it comes naturally.

When asked to informally comment on the performance of a boss or colleague, most people would offer some type of feedback.  We all appreciate being asked for our opinions and will probably share them in forums that we believe to be safe.

When a company initially implements 360 degree feedback employees are likely to be apprehensive about sharing their feedback on others, especially if they are unclear as to how that feedback will be used or fear that it can be directly ‘traced’ to them. This dynamic can be avoided through (1) effective communication about the purpose and confidentiality of the process, and (2) training and guidance on how to provide helpful feedback. Over time, as employees become accustomed to providing feedback and find that it is safe to do so, they will become much more open in sharing constructive performance feedback. You can read more about creating a 'safe zone' for employees in my colleague, Amanda Seidler's, article: 360 Degree Feedback: Really a Fatal Flaw?

Myth 3: 360 Degree Feedback will result in positive management changes. When people receive feedback from others they will be motivated to change.

I have to admit that HR experts and coaches are a bit to blame for the proliferation of this myth.  We are the ones always talking about the importance of feedback in development and performance improvement.  However, I must set the record straight by saying that the receipt of feedback alone will not result in positive behavioral change. Awareness of an issue is different from Acceptance of an issue.

This does seem counterintuitive. At a very basic level, motivational theory posits that learning of a gap between where we are and where we want to be will cause us to be motivated to take action to close the gap. However, in the real world motivation is not always so straightforward. Our personality traits, our perception of the credibility and relevance of the feedback, and a host of organizational variables contribute to our motivation to change behavior as a result of receiving 360 degree feedback.

Myth 4: 360 feedback is a useful tool in identifying poor performers and removing them from the organization.

Yes – some folks still believe this to be true.

360 degree feedback does provide individuals with the opportunity to gain insight into what they are doing well, as well as areas opportunities to increase skills and performance. If an employee has a performance issue, managers should not use the 360 degree feedback process to communicate it to the employee. When used in this way, the feedback process will not result in increased performance and will breed resentment and distrust.

The bottom line here is that 360 degree feedback should never be used to resolve performance problems.  It is the role of managers to manage performance issues and that includes providing ongoing feedback and coaching.  Managers can solicit performance feedback from others but ultimately it is their job to address performance problems.

Have you encountered any myths that you would like to share?  Let us know.

Ready for Part 2? Click here to read Exposing the Truth About 360 Degree Feedback - The Dark Side

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Tags: 360 Degree Feedback

Written by Karen Caruso, Ph.D.