How To Make Your 360-degree Feedback Process More Effective

November 15, 2011 - 7 minute read - Posted by

Feedback, everyone agrees it’s important. But timely and effective feedback is still missing in most companies. Over the past fifty years, the 360-degree feedback process has become popular as it provides the recipient with feedback from everyone that she is in contact with (i.e. subordinates, peers, superiors, and customers).  360s were first used in World War I when the German military first began collecting feedback from multiple sources in order to evaluate performance during War. Nowadays, there are many tools available to efficiently conduct 360 feedback inside a company, but most of these solutions continue to have a command-and-control military mindset. In this blog post, I’m going to explain the drawbacks of traditional 360-degree feedback and how can modify the process to make it more effective inside your company.

So what’s wrong with traditional 360-degree feedbacks?

It is now well-known that employees are not a big fan of being micromanaged and that autonomy is an important motivation factor. Furthermore, teamwork, employee empowerment, and company culture are becoming more and more vital, particularly among the fast growing Generation Y workers. Traditional 360s are a forced process that is initiated by a supervisor with little say or control from the employee. Here is why this doesn’t work:

  • The process dis-empowers employees since the feedback is mandated (forced)
  • The employee has no control in choosing the questions or selecting feedback providers
  • The communication is one-way and the feedback receiver can’t follow-up
  • The process is done at pre-set intervals and therefore is not timely
  • Most of these methods use rating schemes which are often demotivating
  • The feedback results are directly used to determine pay and promotion that prompts an employee’s defensiveness and can block her willingness to accept criticism.

To re-design an effective 360-degree feedback process, we need to understand the conditions for an effective feedback process. According to Mary Jenkins, author of Abolishing Performance Appraisals, the conditions for effective and empowering feedback are:

  1. The feedback provider is credible in the eyes of the feedback recipient
  2. The feedback provider is trusted by the feedback recipient
  3. The feedback is conveyed with good intentions
  4. The timing and circumstances of giving the feedback are appropriate
  5. The feedback is given in an interactive manner, i.e. the receiver can ask for clarifications
  6. Feedback message is clear
  7. Feedback is helpful to recipient

Therefore before implementing an effective feedback process, we must invest time to create a work culture where employees ask for feedback when they need it, rather than the supervisors giving them feedback at pre-set intervals, such as during performance review period. When employees are responsible for initiating and gathering their own feedback, they request it from credible people (condition 1 from above list) they trust (condition 2) that have good intentions (condition 3). Also, it’s more likely that the feedback will be timely (condition 4) and helpful (condition 7). Furthermore, since the employee is asking for feedback, they are likely to be more open to discussing the feedback received (condition 5) and making sure the feedback is clear (condition 6).

When someone asks for feedback, it’s much easier to accept criticism compared to when the feedback is dropped on the person involuntarily. Also, research shows that feedback (even positive ones) can be demotivating if employees feel that they are being controlled and it ruins the feeling of autonomy. When employees are responsible for gathering their own feedback, the controlling problem associated with 360-feedback no longer exists. This also implies that they no longer have to wait six months or a year to receive the feedback they need to improve, which is way more effective.

Delay in feedback usually decreases the quality as we tend to forget details, it also allows the continuations of the deficiency, and increases the chance of employees feeling surprised or betrayed when they receive a negative feedback. Traditional 360 Feedback processes are focused more on finding weaknesses and suggesting areas of improvements. Organizational Development experts, such as Peter Block, believe that building on strengths is a far more fruitful strategy that trying to correct weaknesses.

Apart from giving the employee the power and tools to request feedback whenever they need, it’s also important to unlink feedback from pay, promotion, or demotion. When the employee knows that the feedback will be used for their employment decisions and stored in their employment file, they become defensive and shuts off their willingness to listen.

Turning 360-Degree Feedback around by 180-degrees

Now that we have discussed the conditions for effective feedback, improving your 360-degree feedback process is easy. It requires you to simply flip the process around by 180 degrees as explained below:

  • Let the employee initiate the feedback process whenever they need to.
  • Let the employee chose the people they trust to receive feedback from.
  • Allow the employee to keep the feedback received private and use it for self-development purposes, and only share it with managers if s/he feels that it is needed.
  • Instead of having the feedback providers rate the employees skills and competencies, allow the feedback recipient to rate the effectiveness of the feedback received. This encourages everyone to give well-thought feedback.

The diagram below explains how we have implemented this new 360-degree feedback process in 7Geese. You can adopt a similar process that works for your company:

In summary, traditional 360-degree feedback processes have limitations, especially in today’s modern workplace where employee empowerment and a supportive company culture are essential. By giving the employees the power to initiate and control the 360 feedback process, we can make the process empowering and more effective. If the end goal of a feedback process is to give the recipient the information they need to improve, it makes more sense to give the recipient the control and power to initiate and collect their own feedback.

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