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360 Degree Feedback Tools: Then, now and the future

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27th Feb 2012
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Lumus's David Cooper carries on his analysis of 360 feedback tools by looking at their evolution, and how to get the most out of them in future.
 

Back then

360 degree feedback (or 360 assessments/ reviews) have their early roots in the evaluation of US Soldiers in the First World War and have been around in their current form since the 1970s.
Early iterations consisted of internally-driven, generic paper-based questionnaires, the outputs of which where manually processed into summative word documents or Excel workbooks and thus the whole process was prone to error, took a considerable amount of processing time and oozed potential confidentiality breaches. Whilst the use of the internet some 10 years ago simplified the feedback collection process, early online 360 applications still required a considerable amount of manual input and the use of Excel-based feedback reports.

Today

360 degree feedback has grown in popularity tremendously in the last 10 years with claims that up to 90% of all Fortune 500 companies use some sort of 360 degree feedback as part of their manager development or appraisal process.
Today, the best 360 degree feedback tools:
  • Are fully automated - They use a rigorously tested, secure, online platform that guarantees the accuracy, quality and confidentiality of the whole process
  • Are fully flexible - Enabling all aspects of branding, process implementation, questionnaire design etc, to be customised with ease (and at minimal cost)
  • Produce user-friendly reports - Today's feedback reports should be clear, concise, understandable and easy to interpret. No longer is it acceptable to provide reports containing cryptic data that appear confusing, overwhelming and require an analyst to decipher
  • 360 Plus – Today’s best survey providers also offer multi language questionnaires, comparative and aggregated reporting, feedback guides, supporting materials etc
360 degree feedback surveys are currently viewed as key components in a wide range of management development interventions. Below are some of the most common applications where 360s are used to add real value:
  • Performance Coaching - Used at the beginning of a coaching relationship, a 360 degree feedback report can be a powerful 'accelerator' and 'alignment' tool. By clustering and prioritising any undesirable feedback results the subject and coach can quickly gain a clear picture of where their coaching sessions should focus, ensuring key development issues are recognised and addressed. This approach to performance coaching ensures a needs-driven focus based on valid, factual, accurate behavioural information.
  • Personal Development - Used as part of a life coaching programme or as an annual development tool, 360 feedback can be used to provide genuine insight into an individual's working style across a spectrum of leadership and management behaviours and into how their 'personal brand' is perceived.  The feedback report can be used to provide clarity of direction for future personal development and career planning.  We are also starting to see a trend for using 360s to supplement and provide qualitative evidence in CVs.
  • Performance Management - A common trend is to use 360 feedback to provide an all-round view of performance as part of the appraisal process. The feedback is used by line managers to inform appraisal ratings and contribute to the development discussion. Used in this way, the tool can also act as a management strength benchmark, as well as highlighting individual personal strengths and problem areas.
  • Development Programmes - Used at the beginning of a leadership or management development programme, 360 degree feedback tools can be used to: 
  • Inform (or determine) programme content - The feedback data from a group of people can be combined into a Group Summary Report that provides an aggregated view of the group's strengths and key development areas. Using 360s in this way enables programme designers to effectively tailor their programme content to meet specific identified needs
  • Individual alignment - Providing programme participants with feedback against what is expected of them in their role and then supporting them to convert their lower ratings into a meaningful personal development plan for the programme is a great way of making the programme 'real' for them and ensuring that they start their development journey with a clear picture of what success from the programme will look like for them.
  • Talent Management - Whilst 360 degree feedback provides insight into a manager's past and current behaviour, when the framework of questions used includes those attributes and qualities needed to work at more senior levels they can also act as an indicator of future performance and growth potential. 360 feedback can be a powerful component within a talent management programme and is often used to:
  • Benchmark/identify the talent strength within an organisation
  • Identify those individuals who have the potential to operate at the next level
  • Highlight how ability and potential can be developed
  • Act as a progress measure
  • Provide evidence based data for any prospective 'chessboard' talent management process
  • 360 Team Surveys - Just as individual 360 degree feedback surveys are valuable development components in supporting participants to capitalise on their strengths and identify opportunities for continuing development. 360 team development surveys are effective tools for providing teams with the insight needed to support their continuing growth and performance improvement.
Used to help build a new team, develop an existing team or support an established, capable team to raise their game even further, these surveys are commonly available:
 
  • Team Effectiveness Surveys (feedback from us to us) - Designed to provide teams with a clear picture of how they work/function together against the dimensions of high performing teams. Typically used to support teams maximise their strengths and identify those internal issues that are hindering or blocking them from reaching their full potential.
  • External Team Survey (feedback from them to us)  - These team performance surveys provide feedback from external customers and key stakeholders, enabling the team to gain a clear understanding of their expectations, how they currently match up to them, and how they can provide an even better service in the future.

The future

We would expect to see the following new uses and advances being made over the next couple of years:
  • New uses – Possible use within the recruitment industry as a recruitment tool/ component
  • Drag and drop PDPs – The development of a simple (online) way of turning feedback into a development plan – By simply dragging any development ratings into a blank PDP that automatically populates the empty columns with development ideas
  • In-house administration – The continuing need to reduce costs will inevitably see the reduction of providers who offer 'fully managed services' and the increase of those offering 'managed in-house' packages
  • Continuing embrace of technology – Better use of advanced feedback analytics and the survey applications for mobile phones
To read David's previous article about 360 feedback tools click here
David Cooper is a director of Lumus™  and has had the privilege of supporting hundreds of organisations throughout the U.K. and mainland Europe to develop and implement 360 degree feedback tools 
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