Monthly Archives: June 2006

Why use 360 degree feedback in the first place

The need for 360
An organisation starts off with a goal to achieve something. To reach that goal they need a plan. Turning that plan into action and achieving the outcome requires people. But not just any people. The organisation needs people with specific capabilities. And the more capable they are, the more capable the organisation is!

By capabilities I mean both technical skills and things like the ability to lead and communicate well.

Alright, once the organisation identifies the capabilities needed to achieve its goals, the next question is . . . do we have those capabilities? This is actually an ongoing question – people leave, retire and are promoted.

There’s a number of ways of answering this question. All with varying degrees of accuracy. Some very inexpensive and some very costly.

For example, you could ask managers to assess their staff as part of the annual review. This is inexpensive to do, but suffers from quite a few problems – the biggest of which is that it’s one perception and potentially highly inaccurate as a result. What a manager sees an employee as being able to do (or not do) could be very different to what the person’s peers, customers and direct reports see.

Enter 360 degree feedback. It’s inexpensive and is a lot more accurate. That’s essentially what it comes down to – it’s a good tool for the job.

So once the organisation knows what capabilities it does and doesn’t have, it needs to fill the gaps. There’s two ways of doing this:

  1. Recruit people.
  2. Develop people internally.

Buying in skills can work well, but is difficult when there’s a shortage of skilled people. Plus it can be costly for new recruits to build the knowledge of internal systems within a company. So a combination of the two approaches is used.

It turns out that 360 degree feedback is also really useful for developing people. It identifies precisely where the development is needed so you don’t end up wasting a huge amount of money on training that people don’t need. And it also provides something that’s needed for effective development – a measure of progress and achievement.

David’s questions
This is the third post to answer the questions asked by David in response to 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results.

There’s a few of reasons for going into detail on 360:

  1. To make sure we’re talking about the same thing.
  2. To describe it for others who may not be familiar with it.
  3. To provide the foundation for my suggestions for David.

So what are those suggestions at this point?

  • From the previous posts and this one, something really stands out – his organisation needs a clear set of goals for the year.
  • These goals then drive employee objectives and the competencies used in the 360 process.
  • David may not be able to persuade his organisation to do this on his own – but he can develop some goals for his group.
  • SMART objectives can be used to lift performance and remove annual review headaches.
  • The 360 degree feedback process needs to be done at a time other than the end of year review.
  • The results of the feedback should not affect pay/bonuses.
  • Open-ended questions can be used to get some useful feedback on areas that need to be developed.

From the comments to the previous post it’s clear that David’s company needs to review their reasons for doing 360 in the first place. It’s not being used to address the need described in this article.

In the next set of posts . . .
We’ll be looking at:

  • How 360 degree feedback works.
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.

What is 360 degree feedback

The definition
360 degree feedback is a process for providing a person with structured feedback from a group of people who have a range of different perspectives.

For example, a manager can receive feedback on their leadership, communication and planning & organising capabilities from their direct reports, peers, their own manager and possibly internal and external customers.

Now what I think about 360
It is a gift. It’s like asking people to help you become more successful and them saying, OK sure.

You know how you can always see things in others that they can’t see themselves. You can see things that they’re good at and sometimes you wonder why they don’t put them to better use. Other times you can see things in people that are holding them back. You wonder why they can’t see those things themselves. If only they did such and such they would be so much more successful – why don’t they do it.

Well, we have a single perception of ourselves and we can’t see outside that. It stops us from seeing those things that others see in us.

360 degree feedback is all about breaking through that single perception to help you be more successful. It’s about giving you confidence in your abilities, seeing the strengths that other people recognise. And it’s about identifying the areas where you can develop and grow – the things that’ll help you be more successful.

360 degree feedback is like being Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want. Being able to see himself as others saw him and benefiting as a result.

Getting back to David’s questions
This is the second post in a multi-part article where I’m addressing the questions raised by David in response to my post on 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results.

Last post we looked at the problem of 360 degree feedback becoming a replacement for quality objectives.

In this post I’ve talked briefly about what 360 is capable of doing. What would be great to know – if David is willing to comment on it – is how 360 is seen by himself and the people he’s working with? Is it helping him to be more successful?

When David says “360 has become a crutch because KPIs are almost always vague and unmeasurable” – I suspect that like many organisations 360 is being used as quasi assessment or performance review tool. This is largely a problem of perception. But it isn’t helped by the majority of companies who run it as part of the end of year review. This is the wrong time to use 360.

Coming up . . .
To continue shedding light on the answers to David’s questions, in the next series of posts we’ll be looking at:

  • The need for 360 degree feedback and how it works
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.