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Our 360-degree Assessments Are Failing Us. What's The Solution?

If 360-degree reviews aren't working, which other methods could we use to get honest feedback on how our leaders perform? <i>&#8212;360-Degree Turn, recruitment adviser, healthcare, Salem, Oregon</i>

April 3, 2013

Dear 360-Degree Turn:

In the digital age, anonymity empowers some people to type things they'd never actually sign. On the other hand, if participants don't believe that their feedback is truly anonymous, they will hold back. I suspect that one or both of these problems may be the reason why your 360 reviews aren't working. While these are fixable, they can take time.

Any feedback can be useful, keeping in mind that unless it is tied to one of your company's key performance indicators, or KPIs, it's probably not going to be helpful for leadership development purposes. Measurement against preset goals in any number of KPI's is the kind of pure feedback that many argue matters above all else. But if you're looking for feedback on the more subjective, less measurable leadership skills, then I'm afraid you'll need human input.

I might suggest that you take another look at why your 360 reviews aren't working. The well-worn adage, "garbage in, garbage out" certainly applies here. If you can correct any issues with the data that you do collect, you're well on your way to realizing the benefits of reliable, well-rounded feedback exercise.

In any event, you'll want to cast a wide net and capture feedback from as many other sources as you can. From the sources you do use, resist the temptation to place undue weight on outliers/one-off comments. One of the biggest challenges with 360 feedback vehicles is interpreting the results accurately and objectively. Using an outside third party to conduct your 360 survey might be the way to go.

As you interpret survey results and self-reviews, stay away from vague conclusions and use statistics to maintain the integrity of your conclusions. Obviously it can be quite difficult to maintain objectivity when you know the parties involved, so consider outside assistance.

If you're willing to give 360's another try but want to handle the administration yourself, I suggest you use a tool like Survey Monkey. It features ready-made "Expert Survey Templates," including a 360 survey that you can utilize immediately. The questions have been written by qualified industrial psychologists, helping you to increase the changes of highly reliable data. Survey Monkey will even run the survey for you, adding a layer of confidentiality that you might need, based on your question above.

If you'd rather have some help with feedback interpretation, I suggest one of the time-tested DiSC assessments (dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness) called, "Everything DiSC363 for Leaders."

When you remove 360 feedback surveys from your toolbox, you sacrifice the benefit of unique perspectives on critical skills that are hard to measure. But you can still gather feedback from multiple sources, and as with any feedback, you should be looking for patterns. Each bit of feedback you gather must be drawn together in some sort of discernible pattern if it is to be useful and reliable.

SOURCE: Preston HR, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, February 8, 2013

LEARN MORE: Please read When Should Organizations Use 360-Degree Feedback

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.