Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

A Dangerous Place

with 2 comments

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The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

Albert Einstein
I hadn’t heard this quote before this weekend. It happened to be on a sign carried by a lone protester outside the entrance to the Penn State football game, standing by the Joe Paterno statue. Needless to say, his presence and message wasn’t appreciated by some of the PSU faithful, though he stated that he was once “one of them” but now had a different perspective as a family man in the wake of these recent events.

Another article in today’s (Nov 12) NY Times also caught my eye in what I felt had a related message, titled “For Disabled Care Complaints, Vow of Anonymity Was False.” (  A spokesman for the agency, Travis Proulx, said in an interview in August that “there is no confidentiality for any employee who is reporting abuse or neglect, even to the ombudsman.” Is it any wonder that people are afraid to step forward?

Organizations, including universities, are in many ways closed systems with their own methods for defining and living values (   See also the recent news story about the Texas judge who has been exposed via YouTube of his own brand of values inside his “organization,”, i.e., his family (  Without getting into legalities and regulation and the such, let us focus on the fact that organizations (of any kind) need some sort of internal processes, formal and/or informal, to define proper behavior and to rectify instances of wrongdoing.

Whatever the unit of analysis, the definition of “evil” is a very subjective process. In an earlier blog, I pointed to some research that suggested that some questionable practices are more acceptable in some industries than in others (  And I do believe that organizations have the right to define their values and to hold employees accountable for behaving in ways consistent with those values. Some actions are egregious that they are universally rejected (at least within certain cultures), including those exhibited by psychopaths as described in the book, Snakes in Suits.

One of the many benefits of doing a system-wide (e.g., company, department) 360 feedback process is the opportunity it creates for miscreants to be identified through anonymous input from coworkers. If system-wide, they hopefully also detect psychopaths and the such who are also very skilled at escaping detection. Unlike other “whistle blowing,” 360’s rely on a consensus from feedback providers that theoretically protects both the raters and the ratees. The data generated by 360’s is reported in aggregate form, usually requiring a minimum of three respondents to create a mean score. Assuming the organization has access to these scores, they can be analyzed to detect particularly low mean scores that indicate that the leader in question is being cited by multiple coworkers as being out of synch with the rest of the organization.

So what do we need to do to make our 360 processes useful for detecting misbehavior and protecting both the raters and the ratees alike? Some suggestions include:

  • Be clear as to the purpose of the process
  • Require participation by all organizational leaders
  • Give access to results to the organization (including HR and management)
  • Strictly adhere to minimum group size requirements for reporting results (e.g., minimum of 3)
  • Use a well designed behavioral model to form the basis for the content.
  • Include write in comments.
  • Train users (managers, HR) on the proper interpretation and use of results
  • Administer on a regular (annual) basis
  • Immediately address instances of leaders seeking retribution against raters (real or inferred)

Any other suggestions?

©2011 David W. Bracken

2 Responses

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  1. David:

    Interesting piece as usual.

    Wanted to comment on one of your bullet points. You suggested that data of the process be available to all of the organization.

    I couldn’t agree more with your assertion.that the data collected needs to be evaluated and leveraged by the organization as a whole. I have run across many organizations who strongly insist multirater assessment data be only for the eyes of the assessed individual.

    It seems that in our politically correct world, the desire to use 360s for development and not personnel decisions (I agree) has abetted the decision to deliver results only to the individual being assessed – not the individuals manager, nor the senior leadership of an organization. and in some cases not even HR or the arm of the organization responsible for employee training and development.

    As obvious as it seems to make individual results available to the development assets w/in an organization, it’s also a missed opportunity if population data is not made available to managers and senior leadership. I am sure I will get some push back here but a properly designed assessment that is aligned with organizational objectives can provide rich “directional” data on whether the assessed population is performing and raise some flags as to why not.

    360s vary in their ability to “roll up the data”, many do provide valuable data that illuminate population wide trends of both strengths and areas that may be affecting performance towards objectives.

    Scott Schulz

    November 16, 2011 at 8:38 am

  2. I could not agree more that training on rating is crtitical. One reason people may do nothing when confronted by poor behavior let alone evil behavior is becasue of built in bias’s that we all have. For instance, if you feel that the person you are observing is similar to yourself, you are less likely to be critical of that person, there are hundreds of these “bias’s” and the onoy way to overcome them is through education and training.

    Here is a question I would like to hear people’s thoughts upon. It is well known that another reason people tend not to take action when confronted with a situation (accident, crime etc.), is if they are in a crowd they assume that someone else better qualified or more knowledgeable will act and so it removes some of the drive to act themselves. So in a 360 if there are multiple peer ratings or multiple subordinate ratings could there be a positiveness bias? In other words due to their being multiple raters, each rating may not be delivering the “bad news” assuming others better suited and more qualified will deliver the tough message? Has anyone every looked at rater bias when someone thought they were the only rater vs. one of many? Again training would seem to be the only way around this.

    Jeffrey M. Saltzman

    November 18, 2011 at 7:15 am

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