The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback is a guide to the pros and cons of 360 Feedback, including detailed guidance on how to implement the process as well as how to avoid pitfalls such as unconscious bias or people who try to game the system.
Understand the value of 360 feedback and what happens if you don’t implement it correctly.
Feedback is an integral part of our lives. It affects everything from raising children to helping employees grow in the workplace. It’s no surprise that the act of collecting and delivering feedback in organizations has developed into a formal process integral to human resource and management practices.
Today, 360 Feedback, or the collection of information on employee behavior through multiple evaluators including clients, bosses, and subordinates, is a routine part of individual and organizational development. Increasingly, it’s also being used for decision-making. With insights from leading practitioners across the field, this summary lays out the best practices for you to reap the rewards of the 360 Feedback processes.
When Feedback Works
At a large General Mills manufacturing facility, corporate leadership wanted to set some strong goals in the areas of innovation and product improvement. To do this, they wanted to identify people who displayed the talent and behaviors necessary to advance their goals.
Having heard about the idea of 360 Feedback, the organization decided to conduct an experiment using 140 employees and giving them both 360 Feedback and the standard top-down performance appraisal.
At the end of a three-year period, they’d learned a few things. First of all, top-down appraisals tended to focus on key performance indicators and past performance, whereas 360 Feedback focused on behaviors and competencies present in each employee. Secondly, the two forms of rating often didn’t agree—an employee may rate high in 360 Feedback and low in appraisal, or vice versa. And finally, supervisors and peers see very different things.
As a result, the study found that both forms of feedback offered value. We’ll dig into the specific value of 360 Feedback in sections two through five – but first let’s discuss the conditions under which 360 Feedback works.
To be successful with 360 feedback, you have to have the right organization and the right parameters.
An organization is ready to implement 360 Feedback when there is a culture of learning, trust, comfort with feedback, and low competitiveness and ego. If your organization meets these conditions, it has a high likelihood of experiencing success using the 360 Feedback method.
However, there are still some pitfalls to avoid. Because the feedback is given by peers, you have to make sure everything is handled anonymously. Additionally, you want to be careful about informing your raters – people you’ve chosen to give feedback – of the goals associated with data from the feedback. This is to prevent people from rigging the game by being strategic or deceptive about their feedback.
If you can create fairness in your feedback collection methods, you’ll have a better chance of collecting pure, useful data.
Now that we’ve talked about the conditions for success, let’s get into the benefits of 360 Feedback.
360 Feedback is especially valuable when managing the future of your talent pool.
One company decided to implement 360 Feedback to analyze the potential between two of its employees, Robert and Amanda. Based on the top-down appraisal, Robert had far more management potential than Amanda. He’d been around longer, always performed well, and was reliable. Amanda had a good rating, but she was newer and had not yet proven herself as a leader. In fact, her manager credited her with growth potential, but didn’t see any future for her as a leader.
The problem here is that the manager is only seeing how the employees manage up. 360 Feedback gathered data from both peers and subordinates. The data found that Robert was only so-so when it came to working with peers and downright unpleasant when it came to managing subordinates. On the other hand, Amanda had a positive reputation among both groups and had displayed capability and a strong willingness to learn and grow.
Robert was good at managing up, but Amanda was a more well-rounded, capable leader.
So, in a way, 360 Feedback allows you to see more of the picture. Top-down appraisals give you one data source based on past achievements. 360 Feedback shows you what’s happening right now in various dynamics within the workplace using multiple data sources.
To make effective use of 360 Feedback for talent management, make sure to seek feedback based on the behaviors and competencies you need in the future and for the specific roles you’ll need to fill. It’s great when people are good at their jobs today, but when managing talent, you’ve got to look a little farther down the road.
Because 360 Feedback can be very time-consuming, you want to make sure not to fatigue your raters. To prevent this, be very purposeful in how and why you’re using feedback for leadership development.
360 Feedback is most useful for leadership development in three specific situations.
The first is executive onboarding. It is recommended that you implement the feedback system four to six months after onboarding a new executive to gather data on how well the new leader is adjusting and adapting.
The second situation is early intervention. If your new leader is struggling, results from 360 Feedback can be used to help get the train back on the tracks.
The third situation is when managers take on new responsibilities or move into new levels of management. In this case, implement the feedback a few months after the change to let managers know how well (or not) they are performing.
To get the most out of leadership development feedback, make sure that raters are very clear about the purpose of the feedback and that they feel safe and anonymous so they can be as honest as possible. Additionally, you should use feedback both formally and informally to create a continuous conversation around performance and results.
Back in 2011, Whirlpool began experiencing reduced profit margins and falling stock prices as a result of international competition. In response, they realized they needed to create a high-performing team of executives who could become a powerful force for change and innovation.
To create this team, they implemented a 360 Feedback process that evaluated the individuals on the team as well as overall team performance. What they found was that the group wasn’t acting as a team. Individuals performed their functions independently of the overall goal. Problems that could be solved within the team were taken to the leader, slowing down that leader’s ability to move forward.
Once the feedback results were delivered and explained, the team began working to make changes. They transformed from a group of individuals often working against each other to a united team capable of getting big results.
360 Feedback can help you measure the success of your team in three ways: first, by evaluating individual behaviors and performance to identify strengths and weaknesses within the team; second, by measuring team effectiveness and showing individuals on the team how their behavior and role affect the overall group; and third, by identifying how conflict is managed and emotional needs are met.
When used purposefully, 360 Feedback can be a continual source of valuable information to help your teams thrive.
360 Feedback can help you drive change in your organization.
Essentially, feedback at the organizational level is still feedback at the individual level. Rather than trying to change the culture to shape the individuals, you focus on the individuals to change the culture.
To make 360 Feedback effective for organizational development, you need to integrate it into everything from communication to development to ensure your ability to pivot and adapt quickly to meet organizational goals.
The first step to using 360 Feedback for organizational development is to bring everyone on board. Make your intent known to your leadership teams so that they can carry that vision down to their teams. You want to lay out the vision in a way that everyone can picture it and make it their own.
When it comes to rolling out your new systems, be sure to directly address everyone who has a role in its success or is in some way affected by it. Make them feel seen, heard, and valuable during the process, and let them help.
The second step is setting expectations about length of commitment. 360 Feedback is a long-term and ongoing system designed for continual growth. In essence, it’s a lifestyle change for an organization rather than a limited-time diet. It requires consistency and accountability. So making sure your team is on board for the long haul is essential to the effectiveness of the program.
The third step is making sure the 360 Feedback process is implemented in every aspect of your organization and tied to the broader goals and objectives. This form of feedback is effective for refining your mission, developing HR initiatives, adapting strategies, communications, and other structures. Using 360 Feedback as a one-off tool for a specific situation may provide some benefit, but it is best used as an organizational practice.
Now that we’ve looked at the benefits and uses of 360 Feedback, let’s dive into avoiding potential pitfalls.
The flaw in any system is the human element. 360 Feedback makes use of data from people, or raters, working in different roles around the person or situation being analyzed.
Rater performance can make or break your 360 feedback process. If you start receiving flawed data or information that seems inflated or lacking in variance, the problem may be ambiguity. Your raters may not understand the rating scale. They may not see the purpose in or understand what you’re measuring.
Knowledge is power, and the key to combating ambiguity is to increase understanding.
First, make sure your raters really understand what they’re doing. Ask them if they understand the purpose of their task and whether they have everything they need to fulfill that purpose. You may even ask them if the questions on their feedback survey feel relevant to the overall purpose. And once they’ve completed their survey, check in to hold them accountable for being honest in their answers.
Second, take a look at your rating scale, which can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your feedback system. Make sure your scale allows for a “Don’t know” or “Wasn’t observed” option. Allow for more variety on the positive end of the scale than the negative. For example, your scale may range through strongly agree, somewhat agree, agree, don’t know, and disagree.
Third, train your raters. Train them on why the data is being collected. Make sure they understand the definitions of the rating factors. Teach them the best way to use the rating scale so that they can provide effective and consistent feedback.
Finally, provide 360 Feedback platform software to provide raters with accountability and reminders to make sure they complete the entire survey. These platforms also provide real-time results to help you implement change as quickly as possible.
All of these things help eliminate ambiguity by increasing awareness and understanding in your raters.
Bias and Confidentiality
Trust is essential for the success of any feedback system. When it comes to 360 Feedback, gender bias can erode data, and confidentiality breaches can do large-scale damage to your organization.
First, let’s talk about bias. Unfortunately, there is no proven framework for using 360 Feedback in a way that eliminates gender bias, so it’s the job of leadership to regularly assess their programs for flaws that could lead to biased data.
One way bias sneaks in is through words that have underlying gendered associations. So if your survey contains attributes on which you’re looking for feedback, watch out for terms like “ambition” or “self-confidence,” which are typically associated with men. Likewise, look out for words like “sensitivity” and “gentleness,” which are often associated with women.
The problem is that women who display traditionally “male” attributes tend to be viewed more harshly or negatively. Additionally, traits like sensitivity and gentleness aren’t typically associated with leaders. So these terms set up a kind of trap that inevitably excludes women.
While changing rating criteria to eliminate unconscious bias is helpful, you may also need to include some additional training for your raters in terms of increasing awareness of gender bias and teaching them what “good” looks like in all genders.
As you see raters and ratees demonstrating inclusion, be sure to reward the behavior so everyone knows that inclusion is a desirable practice for your organization.
As mentioned before, there is no one practice that has been proven to eliminate bias. Instead, you just have to watch and continually improve your feedback process. And consider contributing any new findings on the subject to other leaders.
The second trust-building factor is confidentiality. When dealing with feedback, you’re managing a great deal of confidential information from the identity of the rater to the identity of the ratee to the personal information acquired in the process.
One way confidentiality can be breached is through a change in organizational ownership and transfer of information. New leadership may not understand the nature of the feedback data they are receiving.
Another threat to confidentiality is direct, verbatim quotes from the rater. While this qualitative data may be useful, it can also serve to reveal the identity of the rater.
And then you also have basic admin errors such as accidentally courtesy-copying the wrong people on an email or leaving a file open on a public desk.
While you certainly want to eliminate the possibility of confidentiality breaches as much as possible, it’s also important to know what to do if one happens.
First, mitigate damage by recalling any files that have mistakenly gone out. Contact all concerned parties and communicate quickly the nature of the situation. Assess any next steps that need to be taken to rectify the situation. In cases of extreme damage, outside consultants or professional liability insurance may be required.
One of the previously mentioned pitfalls of qualitative data like verbatim comments from the rater is that they could expose the rater’s identity. With modern Natural Language Processing, you can have quotes and comments analyzed in a way that allows you to get the value from the qualitative data while retaining your rater’s anonymity.
Another new tool is linkage analytics. This framework makes use of 360 Feedback data to link employee sentiments with actual results to predict things like employee turnover and internal conflicts so you can prevent those things from occurring.
A third tool is Network Analysis, which tracks competencies in a leader as well as their impact throughout the organization.
Analysis tools like these can help you get the most out of your 360 Feedback data and improve the overall health of your organization.
If your organization is growth-minded and has a culture of cooperation over competition, 360 Feedback can be a useful tool to integrate throughout your systems. It can help you manage talent and teams, develop leadership, and grow your organization. Be sure to watch for pitfalls like ambiguity, bias, and confidentiality problems. And make use of tools like natural language processing to help you get the most value out of your feedback data.
About the author
Allan H. Church is Senior Vice President of Global Talent Assessment and Development at PepsiCo. During his 18 years with PepsiCo he has worked in a variety of roles related to talent management and organizational development. Prior to joining PepsiCo, he spent nine years as an external consultant with Warner Burke Associates and several years at IBM. He is past Chair of the Mayflower Group, and currently sits on the SIOP Executive Board and Board of Directors for SHRM’s Executive Network, HR People & Strategy. He is an Adjunct Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Associate Editor of Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. He received his PhD from Columbia University and is a SIOP, APA and APS Fellow.
David W. Bracken is a Professor of Graduate Studies at Keiser University and Principal at DWBracken & Associates in Atlanta, GA. His contributions focus on the use of feedback to improve individual, team and organizational performance by informing talent management decisions. He is senior editor of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback (Jossey-Bass, 2001). Dr. Bracken received his BA from Dartmouth College and MS and PhD degrees from Georgia Tech in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. He is a Fellow of SIOP and APS, and a Certified Professional Coach.
John W. Fleenor is a Senior Researcher in Commercialization and Innovation at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. Dr. Fleenor received his PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from North Carolina State University. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University and a Fellow of SIOP. He is a member of the editorial boards of Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Business and Psychology, and Human Resource Management.
Dale S. Rose is founder and President of 3D Group, a consulting firm dedicated to delivering high impact, strategically aligned 360 Feedback programs for over two decades. He has written numerous journal articles on assessing and developing talent, and is lead author of the book Hire Better Teachers Now. In addition to being the chief architect of 3D Group’s proprietary 360 Feedback software, Dr. Rose has written more than a dozen commercial assessments for identifying and developing talent. Dr. Rose most enjoys talking with leaders about how to leverage their personal feedback or how use system-level employee feedback to grow organizations. He received his Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from DePaul University.
Psychology, Communication Skills, Management, Leadership, Corporate Culture, Human Resources, Occupational and Organizational Popular Psychology, Personnel Management
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Introduction and Overview to the Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback
Allan H. Church, David W. Bracken, John W. Fleenor, and Dale S. Rose
Chapter 2. What Are “Strategic” 360 Feedback Systems?
David W. Bracken
Section I. 360 for Decision-Making
Chapter 3. Best Practices When Using 360 Degree Feedback for Performance Appraisal
E.D. Campion, M.C. Campion, and M.A. Campion
Chapter 4. Historical Challenges of Using 360 Feedback for Performance Evaluation
Manuel London and James W. Smither
Chapter 5. Technological Innovations in the Use of 360 Feedback for Performance Management
Steven Hunt, Joe Sherwood, and Lauren Pytel
Chapter 6. Strategic 360 Feedback for Talent Management
Allan H. Church
Chapter 7. Using Stakeholder Input to Support Strategic Talent Development at Board and Senior Executive Levels: A Practitioner’s Perspective
Section II. 360 for Development
Chapter 8. Application of 360 Feedback for Leadership Development
Cynthia McCauley and Stéphane Brutus
Chapter 9. Moving Beyond “The Great Debate”: Recasting Developmental 360 Feedback in Talent Management
Jason Dahling and Samantha Chau
Chapter 10. Team Development with Strategic 360 Feedback: Learning From Each Other
Allison Traylor and Eduardo Salas
Chapter 11. From Insight to Successful Behavior Change: The Real Impact of Development-Focused 360 Feedback
Kenneth M. Nowack
Chapter 12. Integrating Personality Assessment with 360 Feedback in Leadership Development and Coaching
Robert B. Kaiser and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Chapter 13. Strategic 360 Feedback for Organization Development
Allan H. Church and W. Warner Burke
Section III. 360 Methodology and Measurement
Chapter 14. Factors Affecting the Validity of Strategic 360 Feedback Processes
John W. Fleenor
Chapter 15. Can We Improve Rater Performance?
David W. Bracken and Christopher T. Rotolo
Chapter 16. Rater Congruency: Why Ratings of the Same Person Differ
Chapter 17. Is 360 Feedback a Predictor or Criterion Measure?
Elaine D. Pulakos and Dale S. Rose
Section IV. Organizational Applications
Chapter 18. The Journey From Development to Appraisal: 360 Degree Feedback at General Mills
Tracy M. Maylett
Chapter 19. Harnessing the Potential of 360 Feedback in Executive Education Programming
Jay A. Conger
Chapter 20. An Alternative Form of Feedback: Using Stakeholder Interviews to Assess Reputation at Walmart
Chapter 21. Mitigating Succession Risk in the C-Suite: A Case Study
Chapter 22. Integrating Strategic 360 Feedback at a Financial Services Organization
William J. Shepherd
Chapter 23. Leveraging Team 360 to Drive Business-Enhancing Change Across the Enterprise at Whirlpool Corporation
Stefanie Mockler, Rich McGourty, and Keith Goudy
Chapter 24. What Kind of Talent Do We Have Here? Using 360s to Establish a Baseline Assessment of Talent
Christine Corbet Boyce and Beth Linderbaum
Section V. Critical and Emerging Topics
Chapter 25. 360 Feedback versus Alternative Forms of Feedback: Which Feedback Methods are Best Suited to Enable Change?
Dale S. Rose
Chapter 26. Gender, Diversity, and 360 Feedback
Anna Marie Valerio and Katina Sawyer
Chapter 27. Using Analytics to Gain More Insights From 360 Feedback Data
Alexis A. Fink and Evan F. Sinar
Chapter 28. The Ethical Context of 360 Feedback
William H. Macey and Karen M. Barbera
Chapter 29. The Legal Environment for 360 Feedback
John C. Scott, Justin M. Scott, and Katey E. Foster
Chapter 30. Using 360 Feedback to Shape a Profession: Lessons Learned Over 30 Years from the Human Resource Competency Study (HRCS)
Chapter 31. The Handbook of 360 Feedback: Themes, Prognostications, and Sentiments
Allan H. Church, David W. Bracken, John W, Fleenor, and Dale S. Rose
This volume is the definitive work on strategic 360 feedback, an approach to performance management that is characterized by: (1) having content derived from the organization’s strategy and values; (2) creating data that is sufficiently reliable and valid to be used for decision making; (3) integration with talent management and development systems; and (4) being inclusive of all candidates for assessment.
Featuring 30 chapters from leading practitioners in the field, the volume is organized into four major sections: 360 for Decision Making; 360 for Development, Methodology, and Measurement; Organizational Applications; and Critical and Emerging Topics. It presents viewpoints from researchers, scientists, practitioners, and consultants on best practices in the design, implementation, and evaluation of many forms of multirater processes and technologies currently used to support talent management systems.