Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback is simply consolidated feedback collected from multiple sources. For individual feedback those multiple sources might include peers, direct reports, managers, and supervisors. For an organization seeking feedback the sources might be employees, customers, and suppliers.

When used in conjunction with a web-based application, performance feedback which may have previously been difficult to gather is now easily within the reach of most organizations. Pulling in data from 360 degrees around a subject provides a far more balanced perspective for use in planning and decision making. Two common application examples include:

People Development: You can use multi-rater (360) feedback to measure individual and group proficiencies in the skills, competencies, behaviors, and practices needed to perform their respective jobs. Individuals can use the feedback to create, implement, and monitor their own development plans. When deployed across the organization it can also provide the aggregate data decision makers can use to quickly recognize performance gaps and more accurately target training and development investments.

Organization Development: Improving an organization’s performance relies on the degree to which leaders can access and act upon relevant information. What do employees think about the organization? How would they describe what it is like to work here today? How do we measure up when it comes to "walking the walk" around our vision and values? Do employees feel valued, their ideas and suggestions encouraged? Thoughtfully crafted and administered feedback projects allow leaders to take the pulse of the organization, identify improvement opportunities, and begin the process of charting a path forward.

360- feedback projects can be designed and administered in-house or though a fee-based external service bureau. For a robust in-house capability you can purchase fully featured software systems. For limited scope projects requiring less functionality and flexibility you can choose from a variety of low or no cost on-line providers.

Survey information is collected anonymously and entered into a computer. Scores are averaged, and the results are reported in a matrix of performance data. The feedback may be quantitative (numerical scores) and qualitative (narrative comments). Developmental plans can be created based on improvement opportunities identified by the feedback. Using aggregate data an organization can spot themes, trends, and gaps...locally or across the enterprise.

Most 360 systems have extensive safeguards for anonymity and confidentiality. These features assure participants that 360-degree feedback is a safe way to share information that is hard to measure and awkward to communicate.

While 360 is an extremely effective diagnostic tool, don’t expect it to solve all your organization's performance improvement problems. In fact, don't expect it to do anything for you unless you use it as part of an overall development strategy. Keep in mind that 360 degree feedback is not intended to be used as a performance appraisal tool. Rather, it is best when used for developmental purposes.