The following article is taken from the Society for Human Resource Management – Performance Management Research Series and I hope it helps answer some of the questions employees have about the role of 360-degree feedback. It was written by Leslie A. Weatherly, SPHR, HR Content Expert.
What is 360-degree feedback?
The 360-degree feedback review involves collecting perceptions about an individual‘s job performance and the impact of that behavior in the workplace from a variety of constituencies: peers, supervisors, direct reports, internal and external customers, and suppliers. These sources are normally chosen based on their opportunity for firsthand interaction with the individual. By increasing the number of evaluations, a more balanced and comprehensive view of an individual‘s overall job performance is possible. As jobs have become increasingly complex, the additional insight this feedback can afford an employee in relation to career development is especially important, because it is unlikely an immediate supervisor will have the opportunity to observe an employee‘s work behavior in all relevant situations.
Other names for 360-degree feedback are multirater feedback, multisource feedback, full-circle appraisal and group performance review. The terms multirater, multisource and 360-degree feedback will be used interchangeably.
The 360-degree feedback model differs substantially from the traditional performance appraisal completed by an employee‘s immediate supervisor. The purpose of the supervisor-only appraisal is to provide effective, useful feedback to employees with the goal of improving job performance and providing management with the information it needs to make decisions related to pay and promotions. Because the supervisor-only performance model relies on a single perspective, there are several potential limitations: the performance appraisal may reflect individual biases, the supervisor may have had insufficient opportunity or motivation to observe the performance of the employee, the supervisor may be unwilling to confront poor or ineffective performance, and individual supervisors will approach the task with different degrees of insight and ability in relation to the performance appraisal process.
The Value of Multiple Rating Perspectives
The use of multiple rating sources or perspectives is clearly an important strength of 360-degree feedback, and contributions from different perspectives can be especially interesting and valuable in their own right. Traditionally, supervisors have been charged with assessing the effectiveness of their direct reports. In 360-degree feedback, other raters, such as peers and direct reports, bring different, and possibly inconsistent, information to the rating process. For example, it is possible that a feedback recipient may be seen as effective by one person but ineffective by someone else. According to contingency theories of leadership, leaders constantly adjust their behavior to the particular situation (Yukl and Van Fleet, 1992). It follows then that managers who behave differently toward their co-workers will be rated differently by these individuals. So each rating source may be valid from its own perspective. It can be helpful for individuals to be aware of these situational behavior pat-terns so that they can anticipate them.
Making the Best Use of Multiple Rating Perspectives
Different rating perspectives provide unique information about an individual‘s performance. Given the potential for differences among the rating perspectives, combining all raters together into one category is not desirable or beneficial. Usually, 360-degree feedback instruments have a common set of dimensions for which it is also useful to have different sets of rating perspectives by rater group. In other words, in addition to the common dimensions, each rater group would also rate a set of dimensions specifically designed for a given group. For example, direct reports could be given a set of dimensions specifically designed to evaluate elements of the supervisor-employee relationship related to leadership, communication and interpersonal skills.