Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Archive for the ‘Sustained change’ Category

When “Feedback” Is Not Feedback

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A couple of my colleagues and I are working on a definition of “360 Degree Feedback,” and have been discussing about whether a 360, or feedback in general for that matter, is indeed “feedback” if not used (i.e., creates behavior change).

I found this definition of feedback in a business dictionary:

Feedback is the information sent to an entity (individual or a group) about its prior behavior so that the entity may adjust its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result.

I REALLY like that it focuses on “behavior” that is defined by its relevance (i.e., “desired result,” assuming the desired result is what is important to the organization and not some whim.) But there are certain aspects of this definition that don’t quite fit my idea of what “feedback” is in practice. I believe it is not what is sent but what is received (i.e., what is heard AND interpreted correctly) and that the “may” part is ambiguous, especially if it implies that adjustment is optional.  So I propose this version:

Feedback is the information received by an entity (individual or a group) about its prior behavior so that the entity adjusts (or continues) its current and future behavior to achieve the desired result. 

Returning to the discussion with my colleagues, we have come to an agreement that feedback must be used in order to be called “feedback.”  If it is not used, then it is just information or information that is judged to be irrelevant and not worth using.  At that point it is no longer “feedback” and the sender should be made aware of that (if the sender is human).


Sometimes the problem is that the message is not received, as in our cartoon.  Whose fault it that? I had an ex-girlfriend in college who was one of 3 passengers on a long car trip we took. At our destination, she said to me, “You know a lot of words to songs!”  It wasn’t until sometime (too much) later that I realized it was feedback about me singing to the radio.  Maybe that is also part of the “ex” part of our relationship?

But the part that we are debating more vociferously is about the “use part” (the “adjusts or continues” phrase).  This has direct implications for supposed “feedback” processes (such as 360’s in particular that are clearly labeled as “feedback”).  We assert that even if the target receives the information as intended, if he/she does not consciously act (adjust or purposively continue), then the information remains only information and is not “feedback.”

Some of you would assert that “feedback” must only create awareness.  But why send feedback if we feel that that is sufficient?  Why provide feedback if there is no change (or use) expected? Of course, awareness alone is not sufficient, and it must be followed by acceptance.  But still that is insufficient. (If not used, which is information and potential feedback to the sender, the sender may adjust his/her behavior as well, including just giving up.)

Some 360 processes hold that Awareness is sufficient and the leader need not actually use the feedback. We propose that such processes should not be called “360 Feedback” because there is no real feedback, just information. Feedback requires using the information.

Is a chair a “chair” if it is never sat in? I would say no, it is something else. Maybe it is a closet and has ceased being a “chair.”  (And for some of us, a perfectly fine closet.)


Is your process providing “feedback” or is it a closet?  If it’s not producing behavior change, you can call it anything you want  except “feedback.”

This Picture is Worth…?

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This is the logo I have designed for my business, and it is a something of an ambiguous figure (but not too ambiguous hopefully). Please take a few seconds and think about what you see in the context of our work.

Hopefully the main message is something around conflicting forces. In the business of change, whether it be individual, team or organizational, as we attempt to create sustainable change we are always faced with opposing forces. So there are many opportunities to identify which forces are working in our favor and which are working against us, and so on.

The secondary design message I hoped to create is around the multiple triangles, or “Deltas,” that the arrows create. (How many do you see?) And we use Delta as a not only a symbol of change but also as a measurement of the amount of change. A major part of my business is not only to create sustainable change but to be able to reliably measure it, which will allow for comparisons of improvements as well as comparisons between individuals and organizations.

Or maybe you see a duck.

But what I want people to remember most are the Deltas and the message that change needs to be measurable and measured. Measures need numbers. Sometimes numbers are ratings. Ratings can be both reliable and valid. We can use ratings to compare scores if the scores are reliable.  Yes, it can be done.

So what do you think the picture is worth?



Holes in the Wall: A SIOP Preview

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I will be leading a Conversation Hour at the upcoming SIOP Annual Conference, surprisingly titled, “Strategic 360 Feedback.” I would love to hear from any of you as to what you would like to talk about in your use of 360’s for more than “just” leadership development, whether you are going to be there or just wish you were.

One topic I do want to address is the use of 360’s in creating large scale change in organizations (climate change??), harkening back to the tagline at the beginning of The Handbook of Multisource Feedback: “Large scale change occurs when a lot of people change just a little.”

I am thinking about using a metaphor building off the observation (criticism?) of “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” here applied to 360’s. Of course, I look at things a little differently, as in missed opportunities. To extend the metaphor, I see many (most) organizations frustrated with the inability to sustain processes such as performance management systems or other culture change initiatives. So let’s say the “initiative” is like a picture we are trying to hang on the wall. So we have to get a hook nailed into the wall. I believe they are trying to push in nails with just their thumbs, and, of course, the picture might hang on the wall for minutes or a few hours, but then crashes with a large thump and lots of broken glass. And leaves a hole in the wall, maybe adding to all the holes already there from other unsuccessful attempts to hang that picture or other pictures.

To wrap up the metaphor, let’s survey the scene (so to speak). A broken picture with lots of accompanying noise that everyone can see and refer to, including the cost of repair if they are going to try to hang it again. And of course the holes in the wall everyone will point at as evidence of all the failed attempts to hang pictures in the past. So where is the hammer (i.e., 360 feedback processes)?

Well, let’s see. We had a hammer but lost it. And someone hit their thumb with the last one. The last time we used it, it was too small (or big, take your pick). A new hammer is expensive. The person who had the hammer left the company and took it with them (and we really didn’t like that hammer anyways). The last time we used it, we used the wrong end (must have been a manager). Maybe a shoe would work next time?

Like any tool, a hammer (aka 360) can be misused and even dangerous. Allan Church and I produced an article that tries to demonstrate how the 360 “hammer” can be used to improve performance management in the right hands. OV.pdf

And maybe hang on the wall for a long time.

Please let me know if you have any observations about how your “hammer” hasn’t worked and/or how this metaphor works or doesn’t work for you.

See you in Hawaii??

P.S.  The 3rd meeting of the Strategic 360 Forum will convene in Chicago on September 16.  Let me know if you have an interest.

©2014 David W. Bracken