The Weaknesses And Risks Of 360 Degree Feedback

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Weaknesses Of 360 Degree Feedback and MultiRater

(For a description of the 360 feedback approach, and it's strength see the previous article here)

The first question we need to ask of any review method is whether it’s likely to improve performance. There are two very important weaknesses with the 360-degree feedback approach in that respect.

The first is the insistence by most “360 experts” that feedback be anonymous. The idea, of course, is that protecting the identity of feedback providers will make them more comfortable conveying their opinions, since they need not fear reprisal from the recipient. There’s some merit in that. Let’s assume that it’s true, although it’s by no means a proven conclusion. How does anonymity affect the value of the feedback and the chances that performance can be improved by that feedback?

Before we answer that question, let’s review a fundamental weakness of any rating-based system, since 360 feedback is almost always rating-based. The information contained in a rating, whether it’s a number or a verbal descriptor, is exceedingly limited. How does a rating of “two on a scale of five” or “four out of seven” help an employee do his or her job better? By itself it doesn’t.

Assessing Readiness
How do you know whether 360 feedback will work in your workplace? A manager’s perceptions of trust in the workplace are often dead wrong.Whether you are thinking of implementing 360 feedback or you use it currently,it’ s very important that you elicit information from your employees about their feelings and reactions to it. Don’t discount those feelings in your decision making.

When the recipient can discuss the rating and the reasons behind it, then there’s a possibility of improving performance. In fact, whatever value there is to rating systems comes from the discussions between rater and recipient. When the person giving the rating or the feedback is anonymous, the recipient can’t ask for additional clarification or information. In an anonymous system, the mechanism for performance improvement is lost.

There’s a second problem with anonymity. People almost always take into account the source of the feedback when deciding on its validity and value. As an example, when you receive feedback from your children, your spouse, your boss, and a total stranger, there’s no doubt that you treat the four comments differently, depending on the source. When feedback is anonymous, it creates psychological ambiguity: the recipient needs to know the source so he or she can evaluate the context and decide whether the feedback is credible. Otherwise, it’s confusing, even annoying.

(For tips and advice on how to make 360 feedback and multi-rater systems work, and to minimize the risk, click here.)


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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