360-degree Feedback Programs
post # 193 — September 19, 2006 — a Managing post
Michelle Golden, whose own blog is always worth reading, writes in to ask about 360-degree reviews and upwards evaluations, especially in light of what she perceives to be a much needed shift from a labor force (â€œassetâ€) mentality to a knowledge-worker mentality. She writes:
Personally, I find them to be a very effective tool when executed properly (which I believe I do and have done for small firms up to a Big 4) though I see them poorly executed sometimes with what can be morale-damaging consequences.
In a well-done 360, I appreciate the contrast that comes to light between the subject’s views of him/herself, their managers’ perspective, their peers’ perspective and their direct reports’ perspective. And sometimes, the clients’ perspective.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the subject usually underestimates or overestimates (significantly and consistently) how they perform across a broad variety of management and leadership areas such as decision-making, crisis management, teaching, learning, follow-up/accountability, delegation, etc. Done well, I’ve seen 360s build confidence around strengths and indicate a clear path of important areas for people to work on.
My questions for you are:
1) What do you think of 360 evaluations for those who manage others or will be doing so?
2) Do you know of or use other tools that help establish measures of management characteristics such as those just listed?
3) If used, do you think they should be private to the subject for personal development or as a tool the organization uses to evaluate the effectiveness of their people?
Michelle, I find this question to be on a par with the question: â€œShould we ask our clients for feedback on how we are doing?â€ It astounds me that, even in some very elite firms, that battle is still being fought, yet it rages on, as does the debate over 360 for managers.
The simple truth is that, if you really want to be more effective at anything (sports, playing an instrument, romance, managing) you have to find a way to get constructive feedback, somehow. In life, the absence of complaints is not a dependable indicator of the absence of opportunities to improve.
So, it all starts with that big â€œIFâ€ â€” do you care enough to want to improve? If so, then weâ€™re just discussing mechanics. If you donâ€™t (and the vast majority of people do NOT want to do what it takes to improve unless they are absolutely compelled to) then no 360-degree program is going to prove effective: there are too many ways for such systems to be gamed, subordinates intimidated, feedback to be ignored and change made optional.
We have discussed getting feedback on this blog particularly in the discussion: Getting Good at Getting Feedback (16 people joined in on that one so far).
I also reported in another blog post on a manager who asked his people to evaluate him and promised to resign if he did not improve by 20% (Teaching Guts), which tells you something about my view on your third question, Michelle.
In my experience, the overwhelming majority of 360-degree programs fail to deliver the desired benefits of actual improved managerial performance for one (or all) of the following reasons:
a) There is actually a lack of understanding of what the managerâ€™s role is, so itâ€™s hard to provide feedback to and evaluate the manager if what he or she should be good at is ambiguous (or has a high level of deniability â€” â€œThatâ€™s not my jobâ€ â€œThat shouldnâ€™t matter if I deliverâ€, etc.)
b) Feedback is collected with highly structured, bureaucratic questionnaires which do not address the relevant behaviors and characteristics. They are too formal.
c) The feedback is delivered in such a way (eg without coaching) that the recipient is allowed to â€œmisinterpretâ€ what the information is really saying
d) The feedback is kept â€˜confidentialâ€™ so there is no â€˜embarrassment factorâ€™ if the manager fails to improve. The system relies on best intentions â€” the system is not a strict accountability system, which it needs to be if it is to work. Mangers exempt themselves from accountability when they can.
My quick summary is that a manager who really wanted to improve would not need the formality of a companywide 360-program to get there, and managers who do not wish to be held accountable will not only not be helped by the system, they will ensure that it has no teeth!
Thereâ€™s more, Michelle, but letâ€™s see what you and others in the real world who have direct experience with 360-degree programs have to say.