360 Degree Assessments

If you are a manager or a leader, perhaps you might like to think about the idea of 360 degree feedback. It is a simple idea really: you get people from all around you to provide you with feedback on your performance. Of course, within many organisations, we normally only receive feedback from those in positions above us in the organisational hierarchy, but using this technique also provides us with feedback from those who report to us.

The thing is that you might think that, as a manager, you are doing a perfectly good job because those above you seem to be happy with your performance. If you never receive feedback from those below you in the organisation hierarchy, then you are receiving a skewed picture. Maybe those below you think you are a jerk and, of course, if you never specifically seek their opinions, you probably won’t receive them unless you upset someone, of course.

Hopefully you can see why you would want to know the opinions of people all around you. It is, quite simply, so you can identify your own weaknesses (we all have them). You can then begin to work on those of which you were previously unaware. However there are a number of problems associated with what, in principle, sounds like a very good idea.

Firstly, even if you do seek the opinions of those below you, it does not mean to say that you will get them – do you remember the discussion we had about two conversations and the importance of developing trust? Unless you have cultivated the right atmosphere within your team, people will act from self-interest and may still not tell you the truth. It is far simpler and much less threatening, they will reason, to just tell you what they think you want to hear.

Even if you seek opinions anonymously (which you should) it does not guarantee you will get truly honest feedback. For example, if you print any unique identifier on a paper form, you will not receive the quality of feedback you should be after. Why? Human beings are not stupid. If there is any way at all, that the supposedly anonymous feedback collection system could be used to trace the originator of a comment, then you will have lost some of the effectiveness of the tool.

Secondly, you must ask yourself if you are really prepared to receive genuine, honest feedback. You may think that you are, but it takes real strength of character to listen to other people picking out your weaknesses. Again, for reasons we discussed when we spoke about the Johari window, you may simply be blind to these weaknesses but that does not mean that they are not present.

Thirdly, it has been shown in practice, via various studies, that the length of time that someone has known the person under scrutiny affects the quality of the feedback you collect. It seems that we have got to know someone well enough to make an assessment within one to three years and during that time, we are inclined to give reasonably accurate information when asked. After that, things can change considerably.

The longer we have known people it seems, the less accurate our feedback is likely to be. This should not really surprise us. After about five years, we have formed close friendships with some of our work colleagues and we are therefore inclined to be more forgiving of their weaknesses, whilst any enemies that have emerged during that time are likely to get short shrift in our assessment.

So where does that leave us: is 360 degree assessment a good idea or not? Personally, I think it is a good idea, but in order for the process to work well, you must bear in mind all of the things we have discussed above. First, you must be prepared. You must have developed the strength of character that can enable you to receive strong, negative opinions in a spirit of openness, recognising that whilst they may well be wrong, they may also contain important truth. You are not engaging in this activity to massage your ego; you want good quality feedback that enables you to identify your weaknesses so that you can work on them.

Of course, you could potentially be left wondering about whether some negative piece of information about yourself is something to which you are blind or whether it is simply inaccurate, the product of a relationship that has turned sour. Similarly, you may not know whether a positive comment is just a friend attempting to massage your ego or a valuable piece of information highlighting a genuine strength.

The answer to the above difficulty is in the process of introspection. You must be prepared to take each comment, both positive and negative, and really meditate on your own character. If you remove the natural tendency to want to defend yourself and allow yourself to open your mind to the possibility that these comments just might be accurate, eventually, I believe, you will come to recognise internally that you may need to change in some way. You will come to discern the truth and that is the reason you will have submitted yourself to the process in the first place.

When you are ready to change, see how to change for the next step.

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