If implemented properly; there are very few disadvantages to 360-degree feedback. However human error can be the difference between a successful and a failed 360-degree feedback system.
Managers who aim to replace their traditional performance review systems face a tough choice. There is an abundance of evidence from firms such as Dell, Deloitte and Adobe - who were among the first to introduce Agile Performance Management - which shows that such systems can be highly effective, with very positive results.
However, the unfortunate fact is that most organizations use these systems ineffectively. In Scaling Up Excellence, performance reviews are compared to a drug. One that ‘wouldn’t be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it is often so ineffective and has so many vile side effects’.
Similarly, many companies have joined the 360-degree feedback revolution with the idea that it will automatically solve all of their performance review headaches. While, when implemented effectively, 360-degree feedback systems can have a significant impact on employee engagement and professional development, it is this misunderstanding that accounts for the failure of a 360-degree feedback system. In this article we’ll outline the potential benefits of introducing 360-degree feedback and the common pitfalls that companies face when implementing it.
Let’s start with the positives: Advantages of 360-degree feedback
Brings people together
360-degree feedback, is one of the most valuable features of Agile Performance Management. As the name suggests, it provides feedback from all angles; that is from peer groups, to managers, to subordinates. As this communication comes from a variety of different sources it will contain a multitude of differing opinions and perspectives, which is of vital importance when looking for feedback. In a sense, it can be seen as more valid and objective as it is from such a varied audience.
Identifies development opportunities
As the feedback a person receives is most likely diverse, this provides a unique opportunity to uncover areas that may need development or open up gaps in knowledge that could be valuable. Such feedback can then be incorporated into personal development plans. This is very useful information that the individual may not have thought of on their own.
Core competencies adhered to
When a company introduces a 360-degree feedback as part of its performance management system, they can do so in a manner that relates to the company’s core competencies. These competencies reflect the organization’s standard for behaviours and interactions. When reinforced on a regular basis, they can have an impact in shaping your company’s culture. Making them a part of the performance management system means that individuals can receive feedback about how they act on and exemplify the organisation’s core competencies in their daily performance, encouraging everyone to live and breath these ideals in everything they do.
Disadvantages of 360-degree feedback
This point is entitled ‘inadequate’; as there are many ways in which feedback can be inadequate. As with all reviews, there is a chance that the feedback might have been filtered or edited in some way and therefore isn’t 100% honest. This can happen often as Managers will ask to receive (or be able to access) all feedback, even if it is not directed towards them. This can result in people being less frank because they are aware their manager might read it. Additionally, people often misunderstand the purpose of the 360-degree feedback exercises. The aim of feedback is to be constructive, not personal.
If a manager does not get on-board with, or is not enthusiastic about a 360-degree feedback program, it is unlikely that it would be successfully implemented. Whatever the boss gives importance to, gets the attention of his/her subordinates.
360 data is only helpful if it gets acted upon and used. A main reason for the failure of 360 programs is that feedback is given, but then swiftly forgotten. If no plan to implement the feedback is made; there is no change in behaviour, and the feedback is redundant. Managers should therefore be included in the initial discussions and recruited as 360-degree feedback ambassadors within their teams. Training on the need to follow-up reviews with 1-on-1s and effective goal-setting that takes feedback into account is essential.
Too often the priority for managers using a 360 program is to uncover their teams’ weaknesses. While, this is intended to be a consequence of use, there should be more of an emphasis on praise and positive feedback. If 360 programmes are used only to highlight negative aspects of a team member’s work, it is likely that they will foster a negative attitude towards the feedback culture, and then ultimately disengage from it. This leads on to the final disadvantage; that there are not enough participants in the 360-feedback process.
Less than 360-degree feedback
As suggested above, in order for the 360-feedback process to work, people need to engage with it properly, and use it on a regular basis. If only part of the team uses it, it loses many of its benefits. If feedback and input is not coming from part of the team the evaluations and suggestions lose their value, as the lower the number of sources they come from, the less objective the comments ultimately become. Therefore, 360-degree feedback processes are most advantageous in larger organisations (and feedback opportunities).
There are many articles entitled the ‘disadvantages of 360-degree feedback programs’ warning PR personnel and managers of the ‘many’ pitfalls associated with implementing a system of 360-degree feedback. But what most fail to acknowledge is that these mistakes are largely preventable, and almost exclusively have to do with how the system has been communicated and implemented. If people received proper guidance and training on how to use the tools, most of the problems commonly encountered would be eradicated. If adequate training has been done, and managers are on-board, the advantages of a 360-degree feedback process should far outweigh the disadvantages.
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