Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Assessment, Prediction and Decision Making in 360’s: Yea or Nay?

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Here is another suggestion for a purpose/goal statement for 360 processes, submitted in response to my Linked/In inquiry:

To accurately ascertain current performance (and gaps thereof) and to predict future performance in timely, cost effective fashion to help make relevant personnel and organizational decisions.

There is a lot to like in this statement (though its readability score is through the roof); thank you to the person who submitted it!  I would like to dissect it in order to make some observations.

Let’s start with, “To accurately ascertain current performance…”  In prior musings of mine, I have proposed that a 360 is best suited to address behavior, something that is more is part of “performance” but definitely a subset.  Here are some reasons why I see performance as being beyond the capabilities of 360’s:

  • Performance is a very broad, multifaceted concept. In one basic model (that some attribute to Jack Welch), performance is composed of both “what” and “how.” The “what” is typically assessed through traditional goal setting with SMART goals and measurable outcomes. The “how” part says that all means are not justified in achieving those ends, and we should hold employees accountable for adhering to organizational values.
  • 360 processes are not the best way to measure the “what” part of performance.  We don’t need “others” (i.e., raters of all types) to tell us whether a ratee has achieved performance targets; there are almost always better ways of measuring that. And I have seen items on 360’s about achieving goals that I don’t understand.

Therefore, “accurately ascertain” (or measure?) is dependent on what we are measuring. My contention is that it is MUCH harder to “accurately ascertain” performance using 360’s and easier (though not easy) to do so when we are asking raters to report on behaviors that they have had a sufficient opportunity to observe.

How about “and gaps thereof”?  There are a lot of different gaps that can be measured and targeted for improvement, so we should be clear with users by what “gaps” should be focused on, which in turn will guide the creation of the report, for example.  A starter list of possible “gaps” might include gaps between:

  • Self-Other scores (positive and negative blind spots)
  • Various rater groups
  • Average rating and internal norm
  • Average rating and external norm
  • Average rating and ideal score (e.g., 5’s on a 5 pt scale)
  • Average rating and target scores (e.g., developmental plan)

“… and to predict future performance” is where I totally disagree. In a few of my past blogs, I have tried to make the case that 360 is not a “test,” nor is it designed to predict anything. It is more like a performance appraisal than an assessment center, for example. Part of that is due to the rating context. In assessment centers, we can design simulations to approximate the situations that might be encountered in a future assignment. 360’s, on the other hand, are designed to assess past performance (usually within the last year).  It might be fun to see if 360’s predict anything, like it might be fun to see if performance appraisals predict anything. But prediction is not their purpose.

Then “in a timely, cost effective fashion” is a nice phrase to stick in to include some measurable objectives and to remind us of organization needs. That said, “cost effective” is certainly in the eye of the beholder, and can include both hard (e.g., dollars) and soft (e.g., rater time) costs.

I really like this last part, “…to help make relevant personnel and organizational decisions.” I can hear the hue and cry from the “development only” crowd that decision making taints the 360 process.  I believe (and maybe this contributor does as well) that even supposedly “development only” processes involve decisions that affect individuals and the organizations.  Even when talking in terms of leadership development, we usually are making decisions about access (or lack thereof) to development activities, training, coaching, mentoring, etc., all of which have implications for how organizational resources are spent and, more importantly, for the individual’s career. Of course, I also believe that a good 360 process will improve decision making for other important HR processes, such as staffing, performance management, succession planning, and high potential development.

Please weigh in!

©2010 David W. Bracken

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One Response

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  1. In my opinion, 360 is THE emerging tool for rating /evaluating behaviors on a continuous basis in various dimensions of world of work. It holds solid promise and as number of organizations embracing it grows across the globe, it will prove to be an indispensable tool/process. A good 360 is more fair than any other one-sided tools (A-B-C Forced Performance Rating Scales on normal distribution curves etc) that may be currently in practice, thus 360 will enjoy solid legal defensibility. There is no doubt that a 360 in absence of Strategic Job Analysis, adequate documentation, training of stakeholders would affect / skew the outcome.

    Eric Patki

    November 26, 2010 at 11:31 am


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