Leading organisations are adopting real-time feedback in place of periodic 360 degree feedback exercises
The highly respected CEB (Corporate Executive Board) released a research report in 2014 entitled Performance Management Can Be Fixed. The research concludes that modern performance management processes have typically become ‘over-engineered’ and have turned into a ‘check-the-box exercise’. I believe that 360 degree feedback in its classic form (i.e. multiple people rating individuals once a year on a set of behaviour indicators) has become just that. In fact, it’s hard to think of a better example of a ‘check-the-box exercise’!
Does 360 degree feedback work?
There’s no denying the appeal of 360 degree feedback. In modern day organisations, managers do not always work closely with their team members on a day-to-day basis, so it makes sense that feedback should be gleaned from the people who work most closely with the individual. And the resulting reports with their colourful charts showing where the employee excels and where they need to improve appear on the surface to be a valuable tool.
But here’s the issue — there is little evidence to suggest that 360 degree feedback actually leads to improved performance, especially when used as part of a performance management or performance appraisal process. For example, research conducted by Silverman, Kerrin and Carter found that:
The 360-degree feedback process had not been effective in changing behaviour or performance and there was some concern that it may even have caused more harm than good.’
Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.
The problem with 360 degree feedback
The main problem with the traditional form of 360 degree feedback is that it tends to happen once a year, at a time determined by the organisation. And as the CEB points out, for performance management to be effective, feedback needs to ‘real-time and meaningful’, rather than being given ‘infrequently on a schedule’. For feedback to be meaningful and accurate, it should be given soon after a relevant event occurs, rather than potentially many months later, by which point the person giving the feedback will struggle to remember specific examples of the behaviours they are being asked to rate.
Furthermore, the feedback ratings given are likely to be influenced by the reviewer’s most recent interactions with the individual being rated, as they will be most prominent in their memory. Therefore, the resulting 360 feedback report is rarely a balanced summary of the individual’s performance over the past year, as it is normally assumed to be.
A second problem with the classic ‘multi-rater’ type of 360 degree feedback, is that the questionnaire is normally fairly time consuming to complete. Those completing the questionnaire often do not have the time to put sufficient thought into it, particularly if they are being asked to complete them for more than one person. So it can end up becoming a tick-box exercise and the results may not be particularly accurate or insightful.
The alternative: frequent feedback
Research tells us that frequent, in the moment feedback is most effective in changing behaviours and can boost performance by up to 12%. It’s no surprise then that leading organisations such as IBM and General Electric have put frequent feedback at the centre of their performance management process. A study reported by Mind Gym’s Reinventing Performance Management report found that getting feedback every two weeks is the optimum frequency for achieving improved performance. So how can we go about making this happen in practice? Here are three things you can do:
1. Encourage a feedback culture
Feedback won’t simply happen by itself, it needs to be encouraged. As with any performance management process, this should start with obtaining buy-in from top management and getting them to lead by example. Help to develop a feedback culture by providing training and engaging videos for staff on the benefits of giving and receiving regular feedback and how to give constructive feedback.
2. Build feedback processes
JustGiving, the online fundraising website, have developed a successful process for encouraging regular feedback. At the start of each review period, each employee chooses three or four people who will be most able to give them feedback on their contribution over that period. They then share their goals for the period with them and ask them to give them regular, in-the-moment feedback, related to their progress against these goals. Since introducing this approach, JustGiving have seen a significant rise in their employee engagement measures.
3. Use technology to make it easy to give feedback
People will be more likely to give and seek feedback regularly if it is made easy for them. Whilst this could be as simple as sending someone an email with some feedback, technology can make the feedback process even more effective by providing people with a secure place where they can quickly and easily give or request feedback via their smartphone or computer. A system can also compile the feedback given over a particular period for discussion at review meetings, as well as periodically reminding employees to give feedback if they have not done so for a while.