At that time, multi-rater feedback was a somewhat radical idea which was being promoted at GE under Jack Welch. Welch struggled with implementing positive leadership competencies across his vast empire and used 360-degree data as a way to evaluate a leader’s effectiveness on more than just their business results.
In subsequent years, I’ve seen interest wax and wane for 360-feedback systems. Some organizations use 360-degree feedback in partnership with their performance appraisal systems on an annual basis. Others steer clear of it, feeling that multi-raters systems are cumbersome to implement and produce mixed value. In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in between these two views.
Implementing a successful 360-degree feedback program is a complex project that needs careful planning and communication. When poorly planned, or implemented for the wrong reasons, these feedback systems can do more harm than good. When carefully planned and executed, they can be powerful tools to reinforce core values and culture change.
Over the years, I have discovered one of the biggest roadblocks to successful multi-rater system implementation is the presence of myths and misunderstandings about these feedback tools. To help navigate through these murky waters of misinformation, I describe below my top 5 Myths and Misunderstandings about 360-degree feedback systems.
MYTHS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT 360-DEGREE FEEDBACK
By Alice Waagen
Myth #1: Multi-rater feedback is the perfect tool to use to identify underperformers and remove them from the company.
Fact: Multi-rater feedback should never be used to resolve performance problems. It is the boss’ job to provide performance coaching and correction. The boss can use input from others, but ultimately the corrective feedback needs to come from him or her. When the boss decides to have the negative feedback come from others, I call this the “chicken’s way out” of dealing with a performance problem. In this scenario, a manager does not provide the failing staff person with constructive feedback but instead solicits the negative feedback from others and has them convey the bad news. Using multiple raters to give negative feedback can result in nasty surprises for the recipient and will not fix the performance problem but can result in resentment and damaged relationships.
Myth #2: Everyone is great at giving feedback. It is a natural human trait. There is no need to train someone on how to give feedback.
Fact: Most folks do not communicate feedback in clear, actionable terms. Rather than cite behaviors (“You are consistently late for meetings”) they will share beliefs and assumptions (“you are disrespectful and rude”). When a person hears a negatively worded assumption, they do not know what behavior to change and thus get frustrated and defensive. They will then assume that the feedback giver is trying to undermine them and a barrier will be put in place of any further collaboration or support. Provide training, whether it is in the form of a briefing or documentation on how feedback providers are to share their feedback.
Myth #3: Multi-rater feedback is a great tool for a new manager to use to acclimate to their new team.
Fact: The validity of the feedback is in direct proportion to the length of the relationship. If an employee has worked for a boss for fewer than 30 days, he/she will base their feedback on a few interactions which may or may not be typical behaviors. If a direct report has worked for a boss for more than 6 months, they have a wealth of interactions on which to base their feedback. As a rule of thumb, I recommend that the relationship be a minimum of 6 months for a person to provide valid feedback.
Myth #4: You can implement a good multi-rater feedback program in as little as 30 days. All you have to do is to send out a survey, get people to respond, print a report and send it to the manager. The manager can easily read the report and know what to change or develop.
Fact: Very, very few people can independently read their feedback report and interpret the information to determine their development issues. Most folks need a coach to help guide them through what will look like mountains of data and random comments. A coach need not be an external resource. He or she can be a trained internal trainer, an HR rep, a mentor or anyone who the manager trusts to help them sift through the feedback. Multi-rater feedback coaches need to be observant listeners and people who can ask good questions and help guide the manager through the feedback to determine the best course of action.
Myth #5: Multi-rater feedback can be used to evaluate performance if the performance appraisal system is not working. Multi-rater feedback systems can be used to gather information on performance effectiveness if your existing performance appraisal system is not being used well by your managers.
When I ask why a business leader wants to implement a multi-rater feedback system I sometimes hear: “I need better data on how well my management team is doing. We have a performance appraisal system but I don’t trust it. Nobody uses it and those who do just say that all their subordinates are star performers.”
Fact: If your management team does not know how or refuses to use your performance management system, they will do no better using 360-degree feedback. Fix your base system before you add to it. Also, these tools perform two completely different functions: performance appraisals look backward at the success a person has had in accomplishing their work goals and activities. Multi-rater feedback looks forward at how effectively a person is doing the work and looks to provide insight on developing skills and behaviors for future success. Performance appraisal and multi-rater feedback are complementary tools, not substitutes for each other.
Multi-rater feedback provides invaluable information that can be used to guide future growth for an individual. I am not speaking theoretically on this subject. I believe so strongly in the value of good, honest feedback that I completed a 360-degree feedback project for myself this year. You can read about my adventures in personal learning in my June newsletter at https://workforcelearning.com/wl-newsletter?q=2012-06.
I encourage all my clients to consider multi-rater feedback. But do so with caution, care, and thoughtful planning to avoid these myths and other misunderstandings along the way.