Breaking the News Gently? WHO and HOW to Provide 360-Degree Feedback?

July 27, 2016 by Sandra Mashihi

“Dare to risk public criticism.” -Mary Kay Ash

It is not at all uncommon for recipients to experience strong emotional reactions to both the quantitative and qualitative sections of multi-rater feedback reports generated by organizations and vendors selling these assessments1. For example, Smither and Walker (2004) analyzed the impact of upward feedback ratings as well as narrative comments over a one-year period for 176 managers.  They found that those who received a small number of unfavorable behaviorally based comments improved more than other managers but those who received a large number (relative to positive comments) significantly declined in performance more than other managers2. Other studies actually show that performance can decrease following 360-degree feedback interventions3.

Therefore, it is important that participants in a 360-degree feedback process be given a chance to interpret the final report in a manner that enhances the motivation to change behavior. Typically, feedback reports are returned to individuals during workshops or individual meetings, rather than simply mailed or e-mailed without facilitated discussion.

Research suggests that feedback should be facilitated by either internal or external facilitators, or the participant’s manager to ensure that the report is clearly understood and any potential negative reactions are managed. In a large, corporate 360-degree evaluation study conducted by Envisia Learning, Inc., observed behavioral change was greatest when feedback reports were facilitated by either an internal or external consultant (Nowack, 2005)4. The use of internal or external facilitators can help focus on specific developmental areas and highlight specific training and developmental activities that might be most useful for the participant, based on the results and findings of the 360-degree feedback process.

Coach’s Critique:

Imagine receiving feedback about what other people within your organization think of you. It is difficult enough receiving feedback from your boss or manager, but to receive it from your manager in addition to essentially all the people you work with; this definitely could be nerve-wracking! Now, imagine receiving this nerve-wracking feedback in a way that leaves you unclear, and perhaps empty handed.

Collecting 360-degree feedback is ONLY the first step in the process. What happens after the feedback is the core and essence of the what the tool is intended to accomplish. Therefore, it is absolutely vital for feedback to be relayed in a way that is clear, agreed upon by the participant, and is geared around development and behavioral change.

So, a question that commonly arises is, who and how should the feedback be provided? Having a manager do it may run the risk of triggering the participants defenses, or hindering the participant from openly sharing and discussing. Other potential internal facilitators (e.g. HR) would need to ensure that they respect the participant’s confidentiality and remain a “neutral source”. An external coach may be a helpful facilitator as confidentiality is likely to be ensured and client may feel at ease working with an external source, however this is not always within the means of all organizations. Whoever the feedback facilitator is, would need to collaborate with the participant, empathize with him or her by focusing on both strengths and weaknesses, and ensure that the participant is on board and in acceptance of the feedback.

What are your thoughts about the best process for facilitating 360-degree feedback?

  1. Illgen & Davis, 2000.  Bearing bad news: Reactions to negative performance feedback. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 49, 550-565. []
  2. Smither, J. & Walker, A.G. (2004). Are the characteristics of narrative comments related to improvement in multi-rater feedback ratings. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64, 40-61. []
  3. 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. []
  4. Nowack, K. (2005). Longitudinal evaluation of a 360 degree feedback program: Implications for best practices. Paper presented at the 20th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Los Angeles, March 2005. []

Dr. Sandra Mashihi is a senior consultant with Envisia Learning, Inc. She has extensive experience in sales training, behavioral assessments and executive coaching. Prior to working at Envisia Learning, Inc., She was an internal Organizational Development Consultant at Marcus & Millichap where she was responsible for initiatives within training & development and recruiting.. Sandra received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and received her Master of Science and Doctorate in Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.

Posted in 360 Degree Feedback

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