avoid 360 death spiral

The use of 360 degree assessments has exploded in the past few decades. They’re now widely available in a bewildering variety of tools used for leadership development, executive coaching, performance management, personal growth, etc. Do a Google search on variations of 360 degree feedback, assessment, or tools and go shopping among millions of options. The specific phrase “360 degree feedback software” alone yields over 30,000 choices. More than one hundred 360 apps, including 29 free ones, are available. Amazon lists over 160 books on 360 feedback.

We’ve talked with some executives who have seen so much pain and suffering from 360s they’ve banned their use. A retired HR executive reflected on her role in the 360 carnage, “I brought 360-degree feedback systems into our company in a big way. It makes me queasy to write those words because 360-degree feedback is as evil and anti-human a mindset and methodology as you could find anywhere in the weenified, bureaucratic workplace.”

Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman have decades of experience researching, designing, training, and coaching on 360 degree assessments. They’ve published dozens of books, research papers, articles in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and numerous HR, training, and talent development publications on 360s. Zenger Folkman has facilitated over 1.5 million 360 assessments of over 100,000 leaders.

Recently they condensed all this research and experience into a webinar on How to Make 360 Feedback Reviews Successful. The webinar:

  1. Identifies critical factors for a successful 360-degree feedback experience
  2. Presents data correlating business outcomes and leadership effectiveness
  3. Shows how a successful 360-degree feedback experience improves a leader’s effectiveness
  4. Identifies major hurdles blocking improvement
  5. Provides a chance for participants to assess their current competence in asking for and acting on feedback

Jack and Joe also prepared a new white paper on The 12 Components of the Best 360-Degree Assessments. Here’s a very brief summary (click the link for a deeper description):

  1. Selects differentiating competencies empirically
    Differentiating competencies clearly define the behaviors of high and low performers
  1. Makes each question count
    Brief assessments with focused, researched, and weighted questions
  1. Avoids “false-positives”
    Standard “agree-disagree” rating scales often give inaccurate results
  1. Is easily understood by an intelligent layman
    Language, charts, and graphs should be simple and easy to interpret
  1. Measures the leader’s impact on employee engagement
    Leaders need to see the direct impact of their behavior on engagement
  1. Identifies the most important competencies for each leader
    The most critical and least relevant competencies differ widely for various roles and positions
  1. Focuses written comments on correcting significant flaws, not minor improvements
    Improvement suggestions on weaker areas that aren’t critical problems often detract from leveraging strengths
  1. Compares scores to a high, meaningful standard
    Relating assessment results to 75th and 90th global norms encourages higher development goals
  1. Leads to a personally relevant, strengths-based development plan for the leader
    A few profound strengths, not the absences of weaknesses, make leaders highly effective
  1. Ensures data security
    Confidentiality and data security supports greater honesty and assurance
  1. Builds participant confidence regarding the use of personal data
    Assessments focused on development yield better results than using 360s for evaluation and measurement
  1. Leverages data collected to gain important organizational insights
    Aggregated assessment data can help with personal, team, and organization development

We hear a range of stories about 360s in our executive coaching practice. As with any tool, for example a sharp knife, 360s can cut both ways. When badly designed and poorly used, 360s inflict deep wounds and even kill personal, team, and culture development.