360 Degree Feedback – Art or Science?

There is no doubt that 360 Feedback or multi-rater feedback suffers a mixed press. How is it that some organisations champion its use and others are sceptical of any benefit at all from the process? The research over the years in general points to minor gains from the use of 360 Feedback, and yet it continues to grow in use and popularity. So where is the disconnect?

We can pinpoint that the issue is down to what is used (the science; validity and reliability of the instrument) and the way it is used (the art; integration into the company culture, organisation feedback fitness, communication strategy, time availability of respondents etc. etc.) The problem is that most research looks at ‘the what’ or just the step by step process. We believe that usually, the art trumps the science when looking at the negative impact it can have on the process.

Here at CR systems, we have a proven history of designing and implementing 360 feedback systems for nearly 20 years. We see how important it can be as a tool to support the development of teams and individuals in businesses. We get so frustrated when we see what a mixed reception the software receives as we know how great it can be. Therefore we thought we would create an overview of the pros and cons of using 360 Feedback and along the way highlight some of the areas that differentiate the best implementations. Check out our free 360 degree feedback survey to see for yourself.

Why 360° Feedback?

Your business and organisation will never undergo any real positive change without encouraging positive behaviours and behavioural change. This applies, particularly to management. The Walker Report of 2010 refers specifically to inappropriate boardroom behaviour being one of the biggest causes of corporate failure. Therefore to get any kind of qualitative and/or quantitative measurement of behaviour, it has to be done through feedback from those who are directly exposed to the behaviour. This is for both good and bad behaviour, the system definitely accounts for this.

What does it measure?

So what does it exactly measure? Put simply, it measures and examines the way in which we interact and communicate with the world around us. Those we have a working relationship will incorporate what we say and do in different ways. Not just in the content of what we communicate to them but how we convey our messages. This can have a direct bearing on the quality of the outcome that we want.

When utilised perfectly the system can measure the behaviours and underpin desired competencies, competencies set by the organisation. These are specific to the organisation and are critical to their strategy. This allows them to align and transform selective behaviour of the people and managers who align with the selected strategy. Not that the selected strategy is the correct one, but that is another point entirely.

How do we measure it?

In an ideal world where money and time were infinite, companies would run a rigorous series of tests to measure the appropriate data. Firstly, there would be an intensive research phase where the company can pinpoint the best behaviours of the people within the organisation, therefore defining what they should be encouraging. Then, for each person who is the subject of a 360 Feedback report, they would ask all the people who know the individual well enough, to score the individual against the behaviours. There would then be interviews conducted with each respondent so that a qualitative understanding created that would enable both the individual and a qualified coach to interpret and learn from the scoring.

As well all know, budgets and time restraints are a sad reality of life. Not only is this intensive resource-wise, but getting together 8-15 people to respond to a single person imposes a significant organisational load. This has led to short approaches being created, which are almost wholly quantitative rather than a mix of quantitative and qualitative. This leads to an emphasis on number ranking, cross-tabbing and other exclusively scientifically based models.

The academic validity and robustness of models are important, yet of the companies that use highly validated and extremely reliable generic leadership frameworks (as opposed to those creating custom frameworks), very few take the time to find out how valid and reliable it is in their own organisation.

Over the years we have created a simple process, which we call Behave!, that enables companies to take a step by step approach to the design and implementation of the 360 Feedback systems.

If you would like a detailed breakdown of the content of the Behave! process and a free 360 feedback survey behave@crsystems.co.uk and we will be delighted to send it to you.

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