Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Are You a Day Tripper?

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I have recently been soliciting input (via this blog and LinkedIn) to the question of what can/should be the purpose/goals of a 360 process. One of my friends implied that I was “baiting the trap,” which I interpreted as suggesting that I was going to pounce on respondents that I don’t agree with.  Maybe he is a little right in that I do have questions to ask about some of the input, but I hope it isn’t a “pounce.”

My main reason for asking the question of purpose is to create some fodder for discussion in our SIOP Pre-Conference Workshop in April.  I do believe that there is no wrong answer to the question. I also believe that this is a very important topic because the purpose/goal statement should be the basis for all the design and implementation decisions. As a goal, it should also be the basis for determining whether the process is successful or not, i.e., meets those objectives. When we hear of 360 processes that are unsuccessful (i.e., aren’t supported/funded by management, are discontinued, create negative perceptions among stakeholders), I wonder if the problem started at the very beginning, that is, in defining the purpose and holding true to that statement.

I offered up my own definition of success:

“(To create) sustained, observed improvement in behaviors valued by the organization.

I tried to make this a SMART goal, though I failed in terms of defining the time boundaries. Even so, I don’t recall anyone either agreeing or disagreeing with me. A number of people did submit their own purpose/goal statements, and I am VERY thankful for their input. By offering these alternatives, I have to assume that they disagree with mine. And that’s fine, of course.

A few of the proposals have similar themes, and include these offerings:

To provide people with feedback and information on development opportunities.

To gather information that can then be used to identify strengths that the individual can build on or weaknesses that they can address.

There were a number of other suggestions that I will discuss in future blogs, but I picked these two, in part, because they are quite common in my experience.

Some of you may know the Beatles song, Day Tripper (I am a huge Beatles fan) from 1965. Part of the lyrics include, “She’s a big teaser, she takes you half the way there.” (They don’t say what “there” is, probably just as well.) But that’s how I feel about these objective statements, i.e., they only take us half the way there. In this context, shouldn’t “there” be some indication of where the participants need to end up, such as behavior change, increased skills/capabilities, or something else that is observable and measurable?

These definitions seem to directly imply that our responsibility is to gather data and create awareness, and that is all. As noted earlier, this is a very common goal, either in statements or in observing how many 360 processes are run.  At the risk of overgeneralizing, I have often felt that the Center for Creative Leadership is a proponent of this purpose in their recommendations to participants and clients, i.e., that the feedback belongs solely to the participant and it should not be shared/discussed with others. Many “development only” 360 systems seem to adhere to these definitions of purpose.

This person seems to recognize the problem but stops short of saying what needs to be done (i.e., how to create follow up without accountability):

To increase self-awareness in their role at the organization. 360-feedback can provide feedback on behavior that the individual was not aware of. I worked for a large organization that decided to implement 360. The breakdown of the program was the lack of follow-up on the feedback given. Using 360 for administrative decisions should not be done – it changes the entire focus of the program

So here are my questions for you Day Trippers out there:

  • How do you measure success?  (Is it just participant satisfaction?)
  • How do you measure/state the return on investment (ROI)?
  • Do you rely solely on the internal motivation of the participant to follow through?
  • Should our responsibilities as practitioners stop at delivering feedback data? (e.g., provide a coach and wash our hands?)

I have been waiting 20 years for answers to these questions. I am sure they exist. Please enlighten me! Take me the rest of the way there.

©2010 David W. Bracken

One Response

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  1. Dave,

    My involvement with “the literature” has been weak for the past several years. Nonetheless, I feel the questions you are asking and the dialog you are provoking is essential if 360 methods are to be a sustained, value adding proposition in the field and for our clients. My sense is that they should outlive the typical business fad cycle given that, when done well, they are rooted in decent science.

    I agree with the general notion that multi-rater feedback should be a developmental matter, that individuals should be insulated from the great potential that highly personal data will be misused and abused. That said, there can and very well should be accountability built into follow-on. I like a form such as “state and create a plan for 3 things you will accomplish in the next 6-12 months that speak to what you learned in the 360 process we just paid for – be prepared to work with your boss/mentor/peers on this ongoing developmental project”.

    There is another Beatles lyric that strikes me as apropos – from the White Album: “the deeper you go, the higher you fly”. Is there a hierarchy of 360 interventions which range from “let’s get the whole crowd of us walking and talking the same Vision and Values stuff” to “let’s get this senior team running on all available cylinders”. The latter challenge clearly requires more depth in instrumentation and experienced consultation. It requires the practitioner to get her hands dirty and to keep digging in the muck until tangible goals are met and can be demonstrated against agreed upon criteria. For “lower-level”, more general interventions, goals must be scaled accordingly, e.g., “we’re going to send you an online test in 4 months to determine whether you are paying attention to the initiative and we’ll make further training recommendations based on your own personal score”.

    Good luck with this – I look forward to keeping tabs. “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” (Socrates)


    November 10, 2010 at 11:13 am

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