360 degree assessment as a feedback instrument has become widely used and may provide valuable insights into how others perceive the performance of the person being rated and how this compares with their view of their own performance.
However, to be an effective instrument, its design, composition of raters, interpretation of results and feedback to the candidate and organisation culture need to be considered in each case.
The overall aim of using the 360 degree instrument should be to provide good quality, relevant information to inform a discussion and to create a dialogue and conversation on strengths and future growth.
The design of the 360 degree instrument in terms of scope and content should align with the role and the development goals of the person being rated.
The design needs to cover the specific work behaviours and ideally relate to the existing measurement systems within the organisations e.g. competencies.
Raters who know the work of those being rated are best placed to give considered feedback on the candidate. If some raters have frequent contact and a good understanding of a person and others have low level of contact or understanding, then the results are most likely to be very mixed.
While it takes courage to send an invitation to raters who know you and your role very well, the quality of the feedback is likely to be much better than including those who don’t know you well or understand your role.
Thus, raters who are credible to the recipient provide useful feedback which the recipient is likely to act upon.
There is some anecdotal evidence to indicate that where the candidate being rated is feared in the team, then the results of the rating are less honest and potentially more ‘glowing’ as, after all, the person rules by fear!
On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggest that really good managers, who are then open to genuine feedback, get ‘more’ feedback and sometimes it can be ‘direct’ as the raters know the manager is open to feedback i.e. where the person being rated is open to the process, then ratings tend to be more critical.
Thus, the manager who rules by fear, may seem to get a better outcome than the really top class manager! We should point out that there is just anecdotal evidence for this at present, rather than research data.
Those providing the rating may not believe that the results will be anonymous.
Ideally the organisation must have a culture geared towards professional development in which people are expected to be accountable for their performance and listen to their stakeholders.
360 degree feedback is unlikely to be successful where there is no history of providing systematic feedback on performance.
The analysis and interpretation of results and feedback to the candidate that is the subject of the 360 degree feedback should be from a person who the candidate respects, understands the culture and who provides an objective account based on the feedback obtained.
Properly used the 360 degree instrument can help identify strengths, gaps relative to the desired state and forms a basis for proposing specific development steps to maximise performance.