360 Feedback – Helpful or Evil?


I did a webinar last night for an Executive Coaching program at Royal Roads University and this was the premise of my presentation – is 360 feedback helpful or evil? The question, of course, is more complicated than it seems. What we do know from a meta-analysis of about 3000 studies of performance feedback is that about 1/3 of the time, feedback has the potential to do harm and it actually DECREASES performance, which is rarely the objective that organizations set out to achieve!

I am passionate about making 360 feedback a safe and effective experience that enhances performance – I’ve helped too many organizations over the past 20 years recover from badly implemented 360 programs.  Here is a link to the presentation –  360 Feedback – Helpful or Evil.

In addition, here are some of the answers to questions that came up as a result of the presentation:

1. If an organization is using competencies, do you use these as part of the 360 feedback process?

  • Yes. It is usually best to ask questions based on the competencies that the organization feels are most important and this then guides development to align with the capabilities identified as most valuable to the organization.

2. Any suggestions for organizations that do use surveys for 360s? (i.e. how to ensure safety in providing feedback using this method)

  • For organizations that use written surveys  instead of interviews for their 360 process, ensure that you help your client to follow the before and after steps in the 360 process. The 360 survey report is such a small part of the process and the weakest link in ensuring success, oddly enough. What creates greater success and encourages a feedback rich environment is ensuring that the 360 receiver personally invites his/her 360 feedback providers to participate and explains why the feedback is important and how it will be used. What is also important is that the feedback receiver follows up after receiving and integrating the 360 feedback report to thank the feedback providers and let them know what his/her key goals are, which sets expectations of the feedback providers re: what they will see different and gives the feedback receiver an opportunity to invite the feedback providers to continue to give ongoing feedback.

3. Do you follow up with clients at various points post-360 to help ensure they are meeting the objectives in their learning and development plan?

  • Yes – I believe that the power of the 360 is in the development goals and actions it inspires. Coaching follow-up helps to get the return on the investment of time and energy and money that the feedback receiver, feedback providers, and the organization has put into the 360. Follow-up coaching sessions help to ensure that action is taken.

Reference: Kluger, A. & DeNisi (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, meta-analysis and preliminary feedback theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 254-285