The concept of 360º feedback is deceptively simple: Obtain performance evaluations from a variety of different sources. One of the most common methodologies is to have all direct reports complete a questionnaire about a supervisor and the supervisor also completes one about each of them.
Almost everyone agrees that there is a direct correlation between the accuracy and reliability of the responses and the length of time the respondent has known the person whose performance is evaluated. However, there are sharp differences of opinion as to whether the respondents should be anonymous or identified. The trend now seems to favor the latter as organizations become more transparent. As in other debates, both positions have merit but I prefer that respondents be identified and so indicate that to clients who retain me to conduct a 360 feedback program. Ultimately, of course, it is the client’s call, not mine.
Whether or not respondents are identified, here are the essentials of a 360º feedback program:
1. All of its objectives must be positive and carefully explained in advance to everyone who participates.
2. Respondents should express honest opinions without fear of retribution and to offer constructive criticism that will be beneficial to those evaluated.
3. Responses should be processed by an independent third-party who is viewed as objective, fair, neutral, and trustworthy. That person should be well qualified to identify any consensus of opinion and suggest its possible significance.
4. Recipients of the feedback must be receptive to constructive criticism and both willing and able to take appropriate action, based on what the feedback suggests.
As indicated earlier, I think the concept of 360º feedback is deceptively simple. Effective design and execution are not. If done well, it can generate a wealth of information of incalculable value, both to the organization and to individual participants.
If those asked to participate do not trust each other, there are other, more serious problems that must immediately be addressed.