When properly executed, a good 360-degree feedback process can be a valuable tool to use for development. The data received as well as the comments provided by participants can inform your developmental activities so that they are focused on the things that are most important. Not only to you, but to the people that work with you on a regular basis.
As good as 360-degree feedback is, it has a dark side. What is intended to be helpful, can also be damaging to a person’s career if it is not handled in the proper way. Hurt feelings are just the tip of the iceberg. Trust, credibility, and relationships can all be affected in a negative way. We’ve even known employees who have quit their jobs because the process was not handled correctly.
There are essentially four ways to ruin your 360-degree feedback process. Being aware of the four and working to avoid them will help you maintain a positive environment when it comes to the feedback process in your organization.
- Not protecting the confidentiality of respondents. The best feedback occurs when respondents can be sure that their responses will remain anonymous. Studies have shown that when respondents don’t believe their responses will remain anonymous, their scores are falsely inflated and are less likely to point out improvements the recipient can make relating to job performance. We do several things to help our clients with confidentiality including removing names from written comments and combining group responses if one group doesn’t have enough samples to maintain the anonymity of the respondents.
- Using the 360-degree feedback process for performance. As soon as individuals know that the tool is being used for performance rather than development, the entire process changes. Just like in the first item, there is a danger of having scores move to the extremes. If you like your colleague and don’t want to see them punished, your scores will be inflated. If you don’t care for the individual, you will “ding” them, even if they don’t deserve the negative feedback.
- Sharing the data. The feedback process is extremely personal. We feel strongly that the feedback report should only go to the recipient. The recipient can be encouraged to share the feedback they feel is relevant with their manager or supervisor, but it is never a requirement. The best development occurs when the individual takes accountability to take the feedback and create an action plan based on that. As soon as the manager or human resources requires that a copy of the report is given to them, it starts to feel more like performance rather than development.
- Not providing support. Just because this is a personal activity, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t provide coaching and support for the recipient. The data can be confusing for a first time participant. In addition, most people go through the SARA cycle when receiving feedback of any type and it’s good to have someone to help them through he process and answer any questions they might have.
If you can avoid these four things, chances are good your feedback process will run smoothly and your employees will reap the benefits of getting some information that helps them grow in their current position or sets them up for their next assignment.