ASSESSMENT CORNER
What Is a 360-Degree Feedback Assessment?
by Roberta Hill

The concept of 360 degrees makes me crazy. Let me get this off my chest ... there is no such thing as
"720 degrees." A circle has 360 degrees. That's it. That's all.

"A degree (in full, a degree of arc, arc degree, or arcdegree), usually symbolized ° is a measurement of plane angle, representing 1/360 of a full rotation. When that angle is with respect to a reference meridian, it indicates a location along a great circle of a sphere (such as Earth, Mars, or the celestial sphere).  The number 360 was probably adopted because of the number of days in a year." (Wikipedia)

Now that that issue is settled, let me take you through some of the basics of what a multi-rater means.

1.  What is 360-degree feedback?

The term has become synonymous with feedback from multiple sources. Other names are multi-rater, multi-source, full-circle, group performance review, 180 degrees and, finally, the infamous 720 degrees. Someone coined the term "360 degrees" to represent a full circle of feedback from all angles, and we have been stuck with the misnomer ever since. Over the years, many consultants and organizations have tinkered with the 360 approach, creating 180-degree versions that collect feedback from limited levels, or a 720-degree approach which provides for two rounds of feedback (a pre- and post-test).

"The (360-degree) feedback process ... involves collecting perceptions about a person's behavior and the impact of that behavior from the person's boss or bosses, direct reports, colleagues, fellow members of project teams, internal and external customers, and suppliers." (Lepsinger 1997.)

2.  Where do 360's come from?

The Booth Company suggests that in 1973, Clark Wilson, PhD developed the first 360 feedback survey instruments for management development. The first instrument was the "Survey of Management PracticesTM," and it has been used and studied since 1973. The origins of multi-rating can be traced back to the employee attitude surveys of the 1950s and 1960s.

3.  Why use 360's?

The 360 combines input from supervisors, peers, and direct reports to provide a broad perspective on an employee's strengths and developmental needs. It has also been used extensively as part of an organization's performance appraisal system. 

In addition, the aggregate data (cumulative results for a group) provide an organization with crucial information for effective strategic planning, overall training needs, improved team building and effective customer service.

4.   Who uses 360's?

These days, the question should be, "Who isn't using 360's?"  Not that they are being used necessarily well, but that is a separate issue. Most Fortune 500 companies have been using some form of multi-rater system for over 15 years. It is found less commonly in smaller organizations, and it is just beginning to migrate beyond North America. 

5. When are 360's used?

On an individual basis, a multi-rater process—either from an online assessment or through the more involved structured interview process—can be invaluable for someone embarking on a coaching program. It is useful to conduct a second round (that "720 degrees") nine to twelve months later.

A number of factors need to be considered before pursuing any organizational 360-degree feedback program. The data collected MUST be based in clear and concise behaviors, criteria and competencies. The design elements and communications are as important as the implementation. Some other questions to be answered are:

    • Is the organization ready?
    • Is there trust?
    • Is the purpose clear?
    • How will the data be used?

6.  How can a multi-rater assessment leverage the coaching experience for your clients?

  • It allows your client to gain perspectives from others in an objective, non-threatening, confidential manner.
  • It provides the individual with qualitative and quantitative data for self-reflection and enhanced awareness.
  • It assists in identifying the individual development needs and action items the organization deems important.
  • It can help to expose patterns of behavior, both positive and negative, especially when used in conjunction with other assessment tools.
  • It creates a platform and "language" for dialogue between coach and client.
  • It ensures that the coach has separate objective data, thus avoiding acceptance of the client's interpretations at "face value."
  • When initiated and implemented properly, it engages the support of others in the process.

If you are interested in pursuing this subject in greater detail, I strongly recommend David Lassiter's A User's Guide to 360° Feedback. Some additional information sources are:

  • The Thin Book of 360 Feedback: A Manager's Guide by Michelle Leduff Collins
  • Getting 360-Degree Feedback Right by Maury A. Peiperl
  • Maximizing the Value of 360-Degree Feedback: A Process for Successful Individual and Organizational Development (Center for Creative Leadership) by Walter W. Tornow and Manuel London
  • Power of 360 Degrees Feedback: How to Leverage Performance Evaluations for Top Productivity (Improving Human Performance) by David A. Waldman, PhD and Leanne E. Atwater, PhD
  • 13 Common Mistakes Using 360-Degree Feedback by Scott Wimer and  Kenneth M. Nowack


Sources
:

"Degree." Wikipedia. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degree_%28angle%29.

Goldsmith, Marshall and Howard Morgan, 2004. Leadership Is a Contact Sport: The "Follow-up Factor" in Management Development. strategy+business 36:79.

Lassiter, David. A User's Guide to 360° Feedback. Available at http://www.leadershipadvantage.com/usersGuide.shtml.

Lepsinger, Richard and Anntoinette D. Lucia, 1997. The Art and Science of 360 Degree Feedback. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
 

Roberta Hill, MBA, is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), as well as a Professional Mentor Coach (PMC) and Certified Teleclass Leader with Corporate Coach U International. Roberta owns www.AssessmentsNow.com, an online assessment provider with a network of more than 40 qualified coaches worldwide. Read more about Roberta in the WABC Coach Directory. Roberta may be reached by email at roberta@wghill.com.

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