Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

The Missing Link

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My colleague, Jeff Saltzman, has a great blog that is much more diverse than mine ( ). His most recent entry begins with this little gem of a story that I want to plagiarize and take in my own direction:

”Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” A citizen of a small town not noted for its intellectual prowess asked. “Why the moon of course,” was the reply. “It shines at night when it is needed. The sun shines only during the day, when there is no need of it at all!” (Ausbel, N., A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, 1948)

I have touched on the topic of importance in some past blogs (, and the folly of asking raters what is “important”. This little story made me think of that issue once again from a slightly different angle. My stance has been, and still is, that raters are in a very poor position to judge the importance of a competency/behavior in the context of the need of the ratee and the organization.

There is really no way to know what is going through a rater’s mind if/when we ask him/her to give use importance ratings. There may be some research on this question (e.g., correlation between importance and effectiveness ratings), but I will hazard a guess that importance ratings are more a function of rater needs than the needs of the ratee or organization/team.

Jeff’s story also makes me wonder how qualified raters are to provide importance ratings when they are most likely not given any instruction as to what “importance” means (as rater training might attempt to do). And their rationale for importance ratings may well be as convoluted as the small town citizen’s is.

The question of importance is useful in helping prioritize actions. So, if it is not the raters who should indicate importance, who is it? The manager (“boss”), of course, partnering with the ratee. Hopefully the boss and ratee have a history of development discussions on a personal level, and about organization/team priorities to create alignment. If they have not been having those discussions, maybe a 360 process tied to performance management and development might create some mutual accountability for doing so.

The importance of the “boss” in the 360 process and employee development in general is so critical that it boggles the mind to think of 360’s that totally bypass (exclude) the manager. I will equally dismayed to read of a major 360 process describe on LinkedIn that makes boss input optional.  Really? I have always thought that manager input is the most useful feedback many ratees get out of 360’s, to the extent that a best practice is to require that the boss complete their input in order for a report to be generated.

I will go as far as to say the manager ratings are more important than participant self-ratings. Ideally both will happen but, as I mentioned in a recent blog, self- ratings are more an indication of commitment to the process than a true evaluation of self competence in many, many cases.  I will acknowledge that sometimes bosses use their ratings to send a message to the ratee, but even then the resulting discussion is often very enlightening for the ratee.

©2011 David W. Bracken


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