The results of 360 assessments often fall flat with employees receiving the feedback because they are too much like performance evaluations.  The most common problem: there is no structure to enable managers to rectify deficits and apply the learning consistently in their role without fearing for their job security. So instead of inspiring growth and improvement, the 360 experience is often an isolated moment in time in which labels are applied (e.g., “poor communicator” or “micromanager”) and left to fester.

360° tools get their name from providing feedback to an individual from “the full circle” of colleagues (and sometimes clients/customers) whom their daily work touches.  While not as fashionable as a decade ago, they are still hugely popular with leadership development gurus. That said, the subjects of the feedback–supervisors, managers, executives–are often blasé about the experience and many are outright hostile; it is a rare individual who both finds the feedback useful and can respond with concrete action.

So Why Are 360° Tools Still Popular?

  1. The Group Report. In addition to individual feedback, 360° tools generate aggregate reports on the management competencies across an entire senior team. This global perspective can surface gaps in the organization’s structure or emerging challenges in overall operations and staff engagement. Thus, there is value in the process and output even if the individual managers are not keen on the experience or engaged in applying the feedback.
  2. A Great Value for the Money. Compared to the 1990′s, 360° tools are now very cost-effective.  Thanks to online data collection and templatized, automated reporting, what was once a $2,400 investment per manager can now be undertaken for a few hundred dollars.
  3. Not a Performance Evaluation. Most workplace feedback, whether formal or informal, is aimed at evaluating performance. The business reasons for this are obvious, but business goals are not necessarily what motivate individuals. When done strategically, the 360 model differs in four important ways:
  • Its primary purpose is to jump start a development process.
  • It is built around competencies, not performance criteria.
  • It is confidential.
  • It is not repeated year after year. In fact, repeating 360 assessments has diminishing returns.
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