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Why 360 Feedback Systems Fail

28747453_sI am a believer that a good 360 feedback system and using it properly will add value to a leaders understanding of how he/she is doing. Of course, I bet that you are shaking your head, saying to yourself, “Steve, you are full of it.” Something like that.

To understand how a system should work, we need to focus on the past sins or failures in 360 feedback systems.

  • The Boss doesn’t get involved or discounts the program’s importance. 360 programs that get driven by HR without much attention from the boss are not effective. Whatever the boss gives importance to gets the attention of his/her reports. The boss has to be a believer that this stuff helps the team. Simple fact – the boss should be the one driving the system.
  • The 360 tool/questions are too vague. You can not fully understand performance if you are asking about how well the person is solving world hunger. You must have questions that will provide you with measurable results. Ask what you want to know (or maybe what you are afraid to now).

  • People offer comments that are personal in nature rather than constructive. Past bad experiences with providing feedback, makes this a true problem. Training should focus on providing meaningful professional constructive feedback. Either that or this is where you can insert your favorite Dilbert cartoon.

  • No plan is set following receiving the feedback. 360 data is only helpful to the extent that it gets acted upon and used. The majority of programs we see simply give the feedback and then it gets swiftly forgotten. No plan = no change in behavior. Once feedback is collected, a development plan should be one outcome of receiving the feedback. Next up – communicating and following up throughout the year. Do not just communicate the plan once and you’re done. This is a plan for the year – discuss it!

  • Lack of confidentiality. People who have never gone through the 360 process before are usually initially worried about how the data will be used and if it will remain confidential. You need to ensure you assure them up-front that it is a confidential process and won’t come back to haunt them at performance review time. I know it is somewhat easy to look at a comment and determine who wrote it. As a leader, you must focus on what needs to improve in you.

  • Forgetting the strengths and only focusing on weaknesses. This one was hard for me to finally get past. When folks are working on a development plan, it is normally focused on what they need to work on. Well, that is true, but we need to make sure that we as the group are taking advantage of strengths as well.

If you look at the pitfalls, you will see that they are fairly easy to overcome. It starts at the top! Just like setting the direction and plans for the organization. A strong 360 system is no different. If you want to include your team in assessing your skills and areas for improvement – you have to be willing to be open and lead by example.

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