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8 Reasons 360-Degree Feedback Fails

A Hand writing 360° Feedback with white chalk on a black board.

Not all man­age­ment trends stand the test of time — how does 360-degree feed­back fall short?

When it comes to mon­i­tor­ing and pro­mot­ing effec­tive per­for­mance, there are a num­ber of per­for­mance man­age­ment tools and tech­niques employed by com­pa­nies around the world. Some of these are new, while some have exist­ed for many years and con­tin­ue to be pop­u­lar today, despite stud­ies demon­strat­ing their innate draw­backs. In this blog, we’ll explore the con­cept of 360-degree feed­back and why we at Clear Review believe it is a man­age­ment trend that will con­tin­ue to fall in pop­u­lar­i­ty as the years go by. We’ll also dis­cuss why con­tin­u­ous feed­back results in a health­i­er feed­back culture.

What Is 360-Degree Feedback?

360-degree feed­back (also known as mul­ti-source feed­back and mul­ti-rater feed­back) dates back to the 1950s and quick­ly became pop­u­lar. By the 1990s, most organ­i­sa­tions were mak­ing use of the tool, although, over the years issues have come to light that call into ques­tion its effi­ca­cy. 360-degree feed­back seeks to pro­vide all employ­ees with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to receive feed­back from every­one they work with, includ­ing their peers, cus­tomers and super­vi­sors. In the­o­ry, this results in a more well-round­ed and infor­ma­tive per­for­mance review. In order to con­duct 360-degree feed­back, mod­ern com­pa­nies utilise soft­ware and lengthy forms.

1. You’re Pit­ting Employ­ees against Each Other

In order to cre­ate and main­tain a healthy com­pa­ny morale, employ­ees need to expe­ri­ence an atmos­phere of team­work and col­lab­o­ra­tion. 360-degree feed­back often flies in the face of this and has been described as com­ing from the same Godzil­la world as Forced Rank­ing and Bell Curve Per­for­mance Reviews and all that garbage.”

Accord­ing to a New York Times arti­cle, 360-degree feed­back has result­ed in hurt­ful and unpro­duc­tive com­ments such as stop using your looks and per­son­al­i­ty to get things done” and I nev­er real­ly liked you.” The same arti­cle points out that employ­ees being con­sid­ered for pro­mo­tion might invite envi­ous and dam­ag­ing com­ments in order to serve an agen­da. On top of this, peo­ple with an axe to grind might view 360-degree feed­back as an excuse to exer­cise revenge, while it also pro­vides man­agers with an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exer­cise their supe­ri­or­i­ty. None of this is help­ful when it comes to form­ing an accu­rate pic­ture of an employee’s performance.

2. They Take Far Too Long to Complete

Time is mon­ey in any organ­i­sa­tion and, for this very rea­son, annu­al appraisals are falling out of favour. For sim­i­lar rea­sons, 360-degree feed­back is sim­ply not a good use of com­pa­ny time. 

When we con­sid­er the timescale, the aver­age man­ag­er needs to be aware of the fact that it takes 1 – 3 weeks to com­mu­ni­cate the pur­pose of the 360, while explain­ing the process and how the feed­back will be gath­ered and used. It then takes a fur­ther 1 – 2 weeks to select raters. Dis­trib­ut­ing sur­veys takes up to one week, and com­plet­ing 360-degree ques­tion­naires takes rough­ly 2 – 4 weeks. After this, reports need to be pro­duced, which typ­i­cal­ly take 1 – 2 days and feed­back meet­ings need to be con­duct­ed, which take 1 – 2 hours per par­tic­i­pant. Final­ly, a devel­op­ment plan needs to be cre­at­ed, which takes a fur­ther 1 – 2 weeks. In all, the whole process can take between 6 – 12 weeks. This rep­re­sents a lot of man-hours for a process that also needs to be repeat­ed every year.

3. The Issue of Confidentiality

A core ele­ment of 360-degree feed­back is con­fi­den­tial­i­ty. Review­ers need to be able to deliv­er open, hon­est feed­back with­out the con­cern that a close col­league or friend might be hurt or angered by the feedback.

How­ev­er, this anonymi­ty presents some prob­lems. For exam­ple, if the 360-degree process is indeed com­plete­ly anony­mous, employ­ees might be more inclined to leave unhelp­ful com­ments or tar­get cowork­ers they have issues with.

On top of this, anonymi­ty means that employ­ees are com­plete­ly unable to respond to feed­back they find unfair or unhelp­ful. They are also unable to ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on com­ments, which means they are unable to make any mean­ing­ful improvements.

4. The Innate Lack of Objectivity

Objec­tiv­i­ty is always an issue in terms of per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions. You might assume that this prob­lem would be resolved, or at least alle­vi­at­ed, by hav­ing mul­ti­ple opin­ions or view­points on an individual’s behav­iour. After all, what­ev­er objec­tiv­i­ty one per­son lacks, it must sure­ly be com­pen­sat­ed by the opin­ions of mul­ti­ple oth­ers. How­ev­er, this sim­ply isn’t the case. Each indi­vid­ual rater is human and, there­fore, as unre­li­able as the next. The result is a poor data yield, which isn’t help­ful to the employ­ee, to the man­ag­er or to the company.

5. Employ­ees Are Asked to Change Too Much at Once

One of the biggest prob­lems with 360-degree feed­back is that once the ques­tion­naires are col­lect­ed and infor­ma­tion dis­sem­i­nat­ed, the employ­ee is left with a huge (and over­whelm­ing) amount of data. This means they will have a large num­ber of sug­ges­tions on how they can improve their per­for­mance in the com­ing months. How­ev­er, chang­ing behav­iour is dif­fi­cult. Employ­ees can cer­tain­ly change ingrained habits, but attempt­ing to do too much at once is a recipe for dis­as­ter. It is bet­ter for employ­ees to con­struct sim­ple SMART objec­tives, which they can track and steadi­ly work towards.

6. Gen­er­al­ly, Data from 360-Degree Feed­back Is Unreliable

Giv­en how long the 360-degree feed­back process takes and how many peo­ple are involved, you would hope that the result is a col­lec­tion of reli­able and infor­ma­tive data. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is rarely the case. As a Har­vard Busi­ness Review arti­cle states, data gen­er­at­ed from a 360 sur­vey is bad. It’s always bad.” The same arti­cle even goes so far as to say 360-degree sur­veys are, at best, a waste of everyone’s time, and at worst active­ly dam­ag­ing to both the indi­vid­ual and the organization.”

In fact, the US mil­i­tary has even crit­i­cised its own use of 360-degree feed­back, as it had ongo­ing prob­lems with reli­a­bil­i­ty and valid­i­ty. One study showed that the length of time a rater has known the employ­ee being eval­u­at­ed had a sig­nif­i­cant effect on the accu­ra­cy of a 360 review. The study found that if indi­vid­u­als knew employ­ees for one to three years”, they gave fair­ly accu­rate reviews. They gave inac­cu­rate reviews of those they knew for less than a year and more long-term employ­ees, who they tend­ed to gen­er­alise, either favourably or unfavourably.

7. 360 Reviews Haven’t Been Shown to Improve Performance

Giv­en the issues with objec­tiv­i­ty and inac­cu­rate data, it will come as no sur­prise that there is no evi­dence to sug­gest that 360 reviews actu­al­ly improve com­pa­ny per­for­mance. In fact, one study found that such feed­back was asso­ci­at­ed with a 10.6% decrease in mar­ket val­ue, fur­ther stat­ing that there is no data show­ing that [360-degree feed­back] actu­al­ly improves pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, increas­es reten­tion, decreas­es griev­ances, or is supe­ri­or to forced rank­ing and stan­dard per­for­mance appraisal systems.”

8. There Is Too Much of a Focus on the Negative

At Clear Review, we advise that man­agers focus on the pos­i­tive dur­ing coach­ing con­ver­sa­tions. Pos­i­tive feed­back has been linked to more favourable per­for­mance and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty lev­els. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, 360-degree feed­back focus­es far too much on the neg­a­tive, with employ­ees gen­er­al­ly dis­re­gard­ing strengths. This is usu­al­ly done with good intent — employ­ees want to high­light weak­ness­es, so they can address them. How­ev­er, an onslaught of neg­a­tiv­i­ty is not the best way to moti­vate and encour­age employ­ees, par­tic­u­lar­ly when they are feel­ing vul­ner­a­ble and judged.

Instead of 360-Degree Feed­back, Choose Con­tin­u­ous Feedback

Con­tin­u­ous per­for­mance man­age­ment offers an alter­na­tive to 360 feed­back. Instead of deal­ing with a mul­ti­tude of opin­ions and sug­ges­tions, the employ­ee and man­ag­er can meet fre­quent­ly to dis­cuss a per­for­mance action plan going for­ward, with spe­cif­ic SMART goals and learn­ing objec­tives set. This builds a health­i­er feed­back cul­ture in the long term and results in more con­fi­dent, capa­ble and con­tent employees.

Clear Review are experts in per­for­mance man­age­ment and can help you revi­talise and update your per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem. To find out how our per­for­mance review soft­ware can help you, book a free demo today.