Why only some 360 degree feedback programmes are impactful?

Posted on February 27, 2012 at 08:31 AM

What makes for an impactful 360 programme?

In an issue of  Assessment & Development Matters (Volume 2, Number 3, Autumn 2010) from the British Psychological Society, Phil Morison presents his qualitative research (conducted in collaboration with Brighton University Business School) into participants’ perceptions of the 360 degree feedback experience. He set out to develop a predictive model in order to help organisations gain a better understanding of the factors that lead to successful and worthwhile 360 programmes.

This is a theme with which we at Head Light are familiar and Morison’s study supports many of our views in this area. He used 11 organisations as case studies and interviewed 84 participants, exploring individual experiences of receiving 360 degree feedback in different environments. From his interview data, he identified the factors which determined a difference in the perceptions regarding the 360 degree process, finding many of these to be cultural. However, some pertained to the attitudes and personality of the feedback recipient, and Morison used the work of London and Smither (Human Resource Management review, 2001) to provide a framework for exploring reactions to 360. London and Smither cited two key factors:

  • The ‘feedback culture’ of the organisation
  • The ‘feedback orientation’ of the individual

In repeated exercises, within a range of organisations, we have found that the culture of the organisation plays a significant part in the degree to which 360 feedback is accepted and acted upon by recipients. Undoubtedly, personal characteristics play a part but Morison found instances of people who had been initially resistant but who had nevertheless kept to their development plans. Culture and individual differences, then, perhaps do not cover the range of factors that influence the effectiveness of a 360 process. We have also found that management skills are critical – to what degree does the individual get support, an in-depth feedback discussion and meaningful ongoing reviews? And whilst it may not be the largest determining factor, the design of the process itself is important – if you get this wrong, but have all the other things in place, it could undermine the process from the beginning.

Morison’s study supports our view that it is the interaction between a number of these factors that determine ‘success or failure’ of a 360 programme. The main factors emerging from his research as being the critical determinants of success were:

  1. The design and management of the feedback process; Morison, like us, sees this as a ‘hygiene factor’. It’s important to get it right, since it will be cited as a derailer if things go wrong. This would include ensuring that the questions are clear and easy to understand, that the process was intuitive and easy to use, that the feedback is relevant to the individual’s job and that the questionnaire is psychometrically sound. However, it’s not enough, on its own, to ensure that a 360 programme is successful.
  2. Organisational Justice Perception; individuals need to believe in and accept the organisation’s motives for using 360 degree feedback. If there are doubts as to how the data will be used, people are less likely to engage positively in the process.
  3. Perceived Organisational Support; the follow-up to 360 is critical. Follow-up support activities would include integrating the data into coaching, having an in-depth one-to-one feedback discussion with an experienced feedback facilitator (our work with our clients would also strongly support this as being a key enabling factor) and reviewing progress against focused personal development plans.
  4.  Leader-Member Exchange; this looks at the interaction between manager and subordinate. If the manager is responsible for following-up a 360 with feedback and action planning, then it is important that they have a positive and constructive relationship with the individual.
  5.  Feedback Intervention Theory; Morison says that 360 feedback needs to focus on specific behaviours and raise the motivation to change by identifying performance gaps. In our work on 360, we ensure that these gaps are made clear in our reports, but we also see the identification of clear strengths as being important – it’s too easy to focus on the critical feedback and overlook the more positive aspects. Our PAPU-NANU feedback model helps people to understand both their strengths and their performance gaps.

Morison concludes by saying that, if you have all these things in place and working together, the single most influential factor is the availability and quality of dialogue between the employee and the person facilitating the feedback. He presents a model showing the interaction between these factors and a simple checklist – questions to ask yourself and the organisation when introducing and communicating a 360 degree programme:

  • Is the 360 tool easy and clear?
  • How significant is the feedback programme (“so what??”)
  • Is it fair? Do participants get a say in it at any point?
  • What help will they get?
  • Is it easy for recipients to talk to their managers about their feedback?
  • Does it fit with what people would expect to be asked about in their roles?
  • What will the feedback actually tell people? Will they be able to act on it?

It’s a useful list.......

If you'd like to learn more about our thinking about what makes for an impactful 360 programme, please get in touch.

Get in touch

You may also like to take a look at our Good Practice Guide to using 360 degree feedback.


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