The idea of a 360 Feedback exercise sounds logical at first. And, the intentions behind it sound good, at first. The results and outcomes, however, indicate there are much better ways to get to the information, communication and improvement that are the main reasons behind doing a 360 Feedback.
A “360” involves asking subordinates, peers and supervisors to evaluate an individual as to strengths and shortcomings. The “intention” is that this “insight” will result in a much improved, more sensitive, more engaged and successful leader or co worker. Unfortunately, the results are dismal. 2/3 of the 65% of companies that use them say the results were meaningless or, worse, disruptive. Only 1/3 report any noticeable benefit. Shareholder value has been found to decline with the use as well.
Why doesn’t this popular and established process work?
1). The process does not allow for the biases of the respondents. People who are asked to complete the survey are asked to identify traits and behaviors they like or dislike in the subject employee. Clearly, people who are uncomfortable with confidence in others, decisiveness, patience, gregariousness and on and on, will answer differently with different values. So, the bias of the respondent will tell us only what motivates the respondent and very little about the actual subject. Where one person sees a visionary, courageous leader, another will see an insensitive, demanding one.
2). The promise of privacy and confidentiality does not work. Whether these responses are signed or identified by name or not, almost everyone who is evaluated can tell by the answers who said what and why. If they have recently disciplined someone for cause, and they get comments about being insensitive, judgmental, unresponsive, they KNOW who said that. For the same reason, people who might have something to say of merit may not because they fear exposure and repercussions; others will use that promise to really “let loose” on someone they do not like regardless of the merits because they think they can get away with it. Either way, the information gained is meaningless in validating it, or in creating any meaningful change in either party.
3). Most questionnaires have little relationship between the questions and the work that actually needs to be done.
If an employee feels “disrespected,” do we know if it is because they do not do their job, do not fit their job, do not like their job, or if they really define respect differently than the supervisor or co worker does? Does respecting the employee relate directly to successful functioning? If the supervisor is wildly respectful, is that enough if the performance is lacking?
4). Most results do not translate into meaningful action steps that relate to the performance, productivity or profitability of the organization as a whole. There is little follow up that matters. While building consensus, being agreeable, supportive and lovely with employees, does that mean we can expect employees to be dedicated, talented and competent? Making people happy or feel good is the core of what many 360 responses seem to desire, but these desires have little to do with performance or morale. Morale goes up with competence, productivity and profitability. It goes down with a nebulous focus on happiness.
5). People do not change because of the results on a 360 survey. Quite the contrary, based on the profile traits of the subjects, some will disregard the results altogether, some will feel insulted and attacked, some will feel ambushed. Some will get so distracted trying to be all things to all people they lose sight of their real purpose. Those who made the comments will be aggravated and feel disrespected because no changes really took place.
I dislike the 360 Feedback process for one big reason regardless of how many tens of thousands of dollars it costs, or how much time is put in to analyzing, assessing and reporting the results. It doesn’t address the core issue. Do we have the right people doing the right jobs at the right time. If we do, they are not spending time trying to figure out how to change their co workers and supervisors. Human Resources ought to be looking at how they hire, whom they hire and why rather than collecting more and more studies and information that tells them what they already know. We have too many people not in the right job or place. No amount of study will change that. Trust is essential and 360 Feedbacks have a dismal record building trust, or anything else for that matter.