Friday, 21 August 2009

360-degree appraisal: is honesty the best policy?

The use of 360-degree reviews (where an employee is given feedback by not only his or her boss, but also by peers, colleagues and subordinates) continues to grow in many organisations. In some companies, the annual salary review may be linked to scores on the annual 360-degree feedback. Although anonimity is sometimes available, generally those providing feedback are aware that any comments will be linked to the person providing them.
  • How seriously do you believe the scores on such 360-degree reviews should be taken?
  • Will a subordinate always be tempted to be rather generous in reviewing his or her boss?
  • Consider ths scenario: as the HR Manager it has been drawn to your attention that a group of employees have jointly agreed that they will all review each other, and give each other the highest marks available. How would you respond?
  • Consider ths scenario: as the HR Manager for a particularly demanding client in the business, last year you received disappointingly low scores from this individual. How might this affect your performance, behaviour and also the likelihood of you asking this client to review you again this year?
  • What other methods can individuals use to obtain performance feedback from colleagues, peers and subordinates?


  1. Hi Graham
    These are great questions, and ones our clients often ask us.

    As a starting point, your questions assume that
    360 Degree Feedback is:
    - given face to face
    - consists of unstructured comments
    made by colleages
    - shows who has made what comments
    - and that there is no guidance or control over the process.

    Key attributes of successful and properly run 360 Degree Feedback are:

    - It is completed in confidence,securely and online by the person giving the feedback. The individual also self assesses and gets to compare this with feedback received
    - The person receiving the feedback is scored
    on a set of consistent criteria - the scores
    are collated to give a picture of their areas of strength and weaknesses, not scores from individual colleagues
    - Comments can also be included, but
    these are anonymous (although they
    can be identified if they relate to a specific situtation)
    - Is carefully communicated
    and managed, not left up to people to use (or misuse) in an unstructured way.

    So in answer to your questions, and
    assuming that your 360 is set up and managed
    correctly, as I've outlined:

    1. The scores should be an honest reflection
    because they cannot be traced back to the feedback-giver.

    2. The subordinate will not be the only
    person giving their boss feedback, and the
    feedback will be grouped with that
    of other people, so their generosity (or lack of it)will not be identified!

    3. By obtaining feedback from all levels
    (not just friends, but also
    senior colleagues, team workers
    and the people who report to you - hence
    360 Degrees), the manipulation of the
    system in the way you have described
    cannot work.
    And if it does get past
    the monitoring system, a feedback
    report that only includes friends' feedback
    would be instantly recognisable as invalid and couldn not be used for any purpose. (In any event 360 should never be used as the sole contributor to the annual salary review).

    4. As an HR manager you should be in the forefront of using feedback to improve your performance and get better at your job. Again,
    if you only receive low scores from one client, and the rest are high, there may be a relatoinship issue with that client (rather
    than a performance issue) which you need to address. Thus the 360 can pick up other issues that need to be dealt with.

    5. Other methods include:
    face to face feedback on a day to day basis
    ('how am I doing?' 'what can I do better?'), clear, goals and targets, scorecards,
    team meetings...

    For documents on giving great feedback, things
    to avoid when giving feedback, and helping
    people through difficult feedback, go to
    and download.

  2. Hi Graham ~

    Good questions. In an uncontrolled 360 process they're exactly right. Perhaps I could offer one more:

    * How much effort is involved in carrying out the 360 Process?

    In a manual process this can be a big concern. We've done real world studies with organizations of various sizes to quantify the effort involved, and a manual 360 process can consume huge amounts of effort (and trees as paper!). By automating the process with appropriate software we found the total effort can be cut by half, and as important the non-value-add administrative overhead can be almost eliminated. Automation can make a 360 process feasible for a broad employee population. At the same time, the elapsed time on the process can be greatly reduced.

    As Jo Ayoubi commented, properly designed software with granular permissions to control 'who can see what' can mitigate the legitimacy, privacy and bias concerns - I won't go over those points again. But perhaps just offer a couple of additional ones:

    In some situations weighting responses can be helpful, for example to apply extra weighting to the Supervisor's feedback. This approach can support a blend of a traditional one-on-one and a 360 EPM process, although weighting certainly needs to be used with caution.

    Second, statistical analysis can be used to analyze results, to flag (and even reject if necessary) outliers, and to provide clear guidance to HR on what is significant and what isn't.

    There's a short set of slides from a panel discussion I participated in here that relates to questions around using a 360 process:

    Finally in your Dilbert vein you might like this one (which we licensed and use to lighten up manager EPM training!):

  3. Jo/Christina

    Thanks very much for your informed and insightful comments - it's good to be able to read the views of the experts in the field. I'm sure that this will be an area that is returned to on the HR Case Studies site.

  4. Hi Graham,

    Thought provoking questions.

    We have has the experience in the past of being asked by new clients to help them manage the process of rebuilding trust in the process. This is inevitably because a previous use of 360 feedback has been handled badly. This is usually just the result of an inexperienced HR manager handling the job on their own (but sadly, that's not always been the reason).

    My view on many of these points is that it all comes down to planning. If you manage the communication round the 360 process properly, and it's made clear that the tool is for the individual's development, then mutual high score arrangements won't happen.

    As has been said before, confidentiality ensures that everyone feels safe to say what they think. We offer a support desk service so that anyone who has this concern can speak to one of us directly for reasurance of their anonymity. That always makes a big difference.

    A number of 360 experts will be writing about this sort of thing here: over the next couple of months

  5. I would find it useful to hear an 360 expert comment in more depth on how information gathered from 360 evaluations should NOT be used. For instance, does the feedback "belong" to the subject of the 360, or is it okay for the findings and comments from the 360 to be seen by executives and used punatively against the subject at their next annual review? Similarly, if a anonymous comment is made during a 360 about another staff member who isn't a subject of the 360, is it okay for that comment to be used punatively against that staff member?

    Are there any accepted best practices than govern how and when anonymous information gathered during 360's can and cannot (or should and should not) be used?

  6. It greatly reduces the problems of central tendency, positive skewness, and “halo effects” in ratings that plague the boss-subordinate approach. 360-Degree appraisal reduces defensiveness on the part of the appraisee because there are a variety of assessors, feedback is presented as more balanced, and it is said to have greater face validity

  7. I would say being honest to others, and to yourself obviously is one of the most important factors of success. You can never succeed when you're not being truthful - it always backfires. Everything else you can do with a little support from your software, like dynamics 365 for operations for example.