360 pitfalls - The 10 big ones (and how to avoid them)
360 Degree Feedback can be a very powerful tool for talent development. What can go wrong, and how can you avoid the pitfalls? Jo Ayoubi gives us the essentials.
Lack of clarity on objectives
360 is a complex process involving lot of different stakeholders; without clear objectives, and a strong reason for using 360, people will not fully engage with the strategy, its benefits, or how it helps them. It’s therefore a very important first step to ensure that the objectives of the 360 are clear and measurable. This will also help in the design of the content, communications and follow up activities.
360 that’s not relevant
Research* suggests that, to maximise acceptance and value of 360 Degree feedback, the content of the 360, i.e. the capabilities and items in the questionnaire, must be relevant. Relevance can broadly be defined as connected to people’s roles, or to the organisation’s stated objectives, values or culture. This has the benefit of increasing the level of engagement in the 360, reinforcing organisational messages and clearly linking the 360 content with the organisation’s aspirations.
Starting too quickly
Many organisations spend a lot of time selling in the concept of 360 Degree Feedback to their stakeholders, but then want to start the process quickly and without much preparation – unfortunately, lack of detailed planning can really scupper an otherwise well-designed 360 programme.
Ensure you have a strong, clear message for each stakeholder group, covering their specific questions and concerns. Stakeholder groups include the ratees (receiving feedback), raters (giving feedback), line managers and senior management.
Lack of sponsorship
Unless the senior leaders in the organisation actively promote and encourage the 360 process, there will be a lack of engagement from everyone else. Linking the 360 to the organisation’s strategy is a powerful motivator to get involved, and seeing the senior leaders themselves using 360 feedback, means that it it’s not just another management ‘fad’ or task that’s been thought up by HR.
There may be negativity and suspicion about the 360, albeit from a small number of people in the organisation. This may be due to previous negative experiences with 360, lack of information, mixed messages, or personal concerns. Again, providing clear messages about the objectives of the 360, how the process will work, confidentiality and anonymity, and what happens next are critical to creating a positive expectation about the 360.
Low response rates
Low response rates in 360 Degree Feedback projects can be due to a lack of clear communication. In addition, overly long 360 questionnaires, poor 360 design, questionnaires that are complex, badly worded, or ambiguous, and a complicated or clunky process can all reduce engagement from both ratees and raters. Even a slow response to a request for help can put the ratee or rater off the process.
Poor quality feedback
As well as not enough feedback, ratees can be frustrated by ratings that can tend towards the middle of the rating scale, or few free text comments or examples to qualify the ratings given. The key again is thorough briefing for raters in giving constructive ratings and supporting examples.
From the ratees’ point of view, it’s important for them to understand that it’s OK if there are a number of areas that are falling in the middle of the scale. Their focus should be on the top points for continuing to build (strengths) and for development.
Lack of line manager engagement
Even if they are not directly involved in the debriefing of the 360 feedback for ratees, line managers have a large part to play in the success of a 360 Degree Feedback programme. As well as supporting and encouraging the exchange of feedback, the line managers will also be critical to supporting the rate to put their development plan into action.
No one-to-one follow up
The one-to-one session is important to allow the ratee to understand the key messages, to deal with any difficult messages, to challenge any of the feedback, and then hopefully to start building a plan for action coming out of the feedback. Cutting out this crucial step, or leaving it in the hands of untrained or inexperienced line managers is a false economy.
Without at least one opportunity for the ratee to discuss their 360 feedback report with an experienced debriefer or coach, it will be difficult for many ratees to follow up and action their feedback, hence reducing the benefit of the 360 process.
No integration into talent and performance
As a standalone process to support coaching or a specific development programme, 360 has a significant but short-term value. To get sustained value from the 360 Degree Feedback on an ongoing basis, the process needs to become embedded in the organisation’s people activities: talent and workforce management, workforce planning, performance management, learning and development, leadership development, and succession and career management.
* Journal of Business Psychology (David W Bracken and Dale S Rose. (2011) 26:183-192)