Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

The Debate is Over

with 2 comments

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I have recently had the opportunity to read two large benchmarking reports that relate to talent management, leadership development and, specifically, how 360 Feedback is being used to support those disciplines.

The first is the U.S. Office of Personnel Management “Executive Development Best Practices Guide” (November, 2012), in which includes both a compilation of best practices across 17 major organizations and a survey of Federal Government members of the Senior Executive Services, which was in turn a follow up to a similar survey in 2008.

The second report was created by The 3D Group as the third benchmark study specifically related to practices in 360 Degree Feedback. This year’s study differed from the past versions by being conducted online, which had the immediate benefit of expanding the sample to over 200 organizations. This change in methodology, sample and content makes interpretation of trend scores a little dicey, but the results are compelling nonetheless. Thank you to Dale Rose and his team at 3D Group for sharing the report with me once again.

These studies have many interesting results that relate to the practice of 360 Feedback, and I want to grab the low hanging fruit for the purposes of this blog entry.

As the title teases, the debate is over, with the “debate” being whether 360 Feedback can and should be used for decision making purposes.  Let me once again acknowledge that 1) all 360 Feedback should be used for leadership development, 2) some 360 processes are solely for leadership development, often one leader at time, and 3) these development-only focused 360 processes should not be used for decision making.

But these studies demonstrate that 360 Feedback continues to be used for decision making, at a growing rate, and evidently successfully since their use is projected to increase (more on this later).  The 3D report goes to some length to try to pin down what “decision making” really means so that we can guide respondents in answering how their 360 data are used.  For example, is leadership development training a “decision?” I would say yes since some people get it and some don’t based on 360’s, and that affects both the individual’s career as well as how the organization uses its resources (e.g., people, time and dollars).

But let’s make it clearer and look at just a few of the reported uses for 360 results.  In the 3D Group report, one of the most striking numbers is the 47% of organizations that indicate they use 360’s for performance management (despite on 31% saying in another question that they use it for personnel decisions).  It may well be that “performance management” use means integrating 360 results into the development planning aspect of a PM process, which is a great way to create accountability without overdoing the measurement focus. This type of linkage of development to performance plans is also reinforced as a best practice in the highlights of the OPM study.

In the OPM study, we 56% of the surveyed leaders report participating in a 360 process (up from 41% in 2008), though the purpose is not specified.  360’s are positioned as one of several assessment tools available to these leaders, and an integrated assessment strategy is encouraged in the report.

Two other messages that come out of both of these studies are 1) use of coaches (and/or managers as coaches) for post assessment follow up continues to gain momentum as a key factor in success, and 2) the 360 processes must be linked to organizational objectives, strategies and values in order to have impact and sustainability.

Finally, in the 3D study, 73% of the organizations report that their use of 360’s in the next year will either continue at the same level or increase.

These studies are extremely helpful in gauging the trends within the area of leadership development and assessment, and, to this observer, it appears that some of the research that has promoted certain best practices, such as follow up and coaching, is being considered in the design and implementation of 360 feedback processes.  But it is most heartening to see some indications that organizations are also realizing the value that 360 data can bring to talent management and the decisions about leaders that are inherent in managing that critical resource.

It is no longer useful (if it ever was) to debate whether 360 feedback can be used successfully to inform and improve personnel decisions. It has and it does. It’s not necessarily easy to do right, but the investment is worth the benefits.

©2013 David W. Bracken

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2 Responses

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  1. Dave – thanks for another thoughtful reflection on “the debate.” It makes me think the answer to the question “should 360 be used for development or decision making?” is really “no, it should be used for both.” I’m going to have to find the OPM study; the result that 56% of managers participate in a 360 is the closest I’ve seen to research documenting the level of use for 360 feedback.

    Dale S. Rose

    February 22, 2013 at 4:49 pm


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