Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

“Development Only” Reprised: What is accountability?

with 2 comments

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Author note: I have been getting feedback that my blogs are too lengthy. I am going to strive to respond to that feedback and make them more concise.

The debate/discussion of the use of 360 results will be a recurring theme in this blog. In my earlier offering, “There is no such thing as ‘development only’,” I questioned what “development only” means and what organizations are implying when they use that label.  I also proposed that many organizations that use that label are disingenuous, either accidentally (blinders on) or intentionally.

I was looking more closely at the 3D Group ( 2009 benchmark study of 51 organizations that I referenced in that blog (being the best benchmark data that I am aware of).  One question in the survey asked: “Is feedback used for administrative purposes only, development only, or administrative and development purposes?” The results were:

Administrative Only                                        0%

Development Only                                          68%

Administrative and Development             32%

For starters, these data confirm that it is extremely unusual (if ever) for organizations to use 360 and not have a developmental focus. In fact, 81% also noted that the focus is primarily development even if used for other purposes.

But let’s consider some other insights that the data offer:

59% say that participants are held accountable for behavior change

57% report that results are required to be shared with managers (bosses)

So answer me this: How do we hold employees “accountable” in a “development only” process? To me, accountability means rewards for compliance and consequences for nonperformance.  If those consequences are not “administrative” (e.g., reflected in performance reviews and/or access to development), then what are they? Making them feel bad?

I also have consistently maintained that the manager (boss) is a representative of the organization, and once the feedback is shared with the manager, the organization is then a co-owner. And to suggest that the manager will not be influenced by the feedback in future decisions is to deny the reality of human nature. Suggesting that managers should not use the feedback only creates inconsistency and unfairness (and legal exposure). In following up with the 3D Group, they believe that “sharing” ranged from giving the report to providing a summary generated either by the organization or the participant. Saying that the manager should only receive a summary report or (even worse) a summary generated by the participant only compounds the façade.

So, to be clear, sharing the report with the manager is a best practice in my view, with explicit directions (and training ideally) on how it should be used.  The manager is (or should be) in the best position to fully understand the context of the feedback and to help the participant get the resources he/she needs to act on the feedback.

It is best practice to hold 360 participants accountable and to involve their managers in the process. Just don’t call it “development only” when you do.

©2010 David W. Bracken

Written by David Bracken

September 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

2 Responses

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  1. To build on these points, I offer a distinction between types of accountability:
    – Accountability for the 360 PROCESS as defined by the organization (including participating, holding feedback meeting, sharing results with boss).
    – Accountability for the 360 CONTENT/RESULTS (feedback results in key areas defined by the organization/boss — current results or improvement results; acting on the feedback to improve performance).
    Does a Development Plan fall into the Process category or the Content category? I think it could be either. And, we have always maintained that as soon as a Dev Plan is part of the process, there is implicitly a use beyond “development only”, unless the Plan focuses only on personal areas irrelevant to the organization.

    Carol Timmreck

    September 10, 2010 at 11:11 am

  2. I feel most accountable for changing when I am in a situation or enviornment where I can see that a change in knowledge, skills, abilities is needed to succeed and/or survive. Does the tool provide me with information which will help point to areas where a change is likely going to lead to success? The label “Development Only” is serving a different agenda as it is intended for those individuals in the broader system of an organization with an accountability to change something. A manager is vital part of that system. You are correct in that the distinction is too narrow to capture the complexity of our relationship to the system we work with in. In the end, it is best to say the tool is but one aspect of the system in which we work. It is for our development but will not be meaninful unless we feel the motivation to change for the sake of our success. Further, there will be many factors which can impact success beyond our individual gaps.

    Brett Rodgers

    September 22, 2010 at 11:08 am

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