Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

Posts Tagged ‘anonymity

A Dangerous Place

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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