CAUTION: When You Should NEVER Use 360-Degree Feedback

June 30, 2011 by Sandra Mashihi

“Inappropriate development would be a tragedy.” – John Opie

360-Degree Feedback can be very counterproductive if its not implemented appropriately. I have come across organizations that are hesitant to utilize a 360-degree feedback program because they have experienced its negative consequences in the past. I don’t blame them!

There are certain organizational circumstances that are just not suitable for 360-degree feedback program. Here are some of the most dangerous situations:

1) When a 360-degree feedback participant is very new to the organization. To put it simply, it takes time to really know people. So, how can someone that is new to the organization accurately make decisions about someone’s behaviors? In order to accurately assess someone, there needs to be a period of time so that the raters can see patterns in behaviors.

2) If there are not enough appropriate respondents. Interpreting 360-degree feedback is challenging enough regardless of the number of raters. When a participant has very few raters who truly understand the full scope of the individual’s responsibilities you are setting the program up for failure. For the 360-degree feedback assessment to be reliable, there should be a sufficient number of raters that can observe participants behaviors.

3) During a time of major organization change or transition, such as just before or after a merger or acquisition. Often times, during a major organizational change or a period of uncertainty, individuals participating in the program may not be very receptive to the process, or there may be uncertainty about roles and job functions. This could increase the risk of unreliable feedback. 360- degree feedback systems should be piloted with a willing stakeholder or group that is open to giving and receiving feedback (Nowack, 2009)1.

4) When the company seeks to use 360-degree feedback for termination or appraisal purposes. 360-degree feedback is not a performance appraisal or a tool to determine termination. Other people’s perceptions about behaviors should not be the determinant of an employee’s job standing.

5) In an organizational culture, climate or environment where there is a high degree of mistrust. These organizations should be careful to implement 360-degree feedback systems because they run the risk of increasing mistrust within the organization.

Coach’s Critique:

In my experience, where suspicions about upper management were a part of employees core belief systems, nothing was going to build their trust of the process and ensure honest feedback. The firm I worked was somewhat traditional, hierarchical, “cliquey” and carried a significant number of members that did not trust the intent of management.

I learned of many of these perceptions of “mistrust” after the 360-degree feedback process had already been implemented. Some managers revealed their concerns around the intent of management and what the tool was REALLY going to be used for. Other concerns were revealed through the common “he said, she said” chat that took place between members of management.

Consequently, participants were inappropriately evaluated and this eventually indirectly contributed to the inappropriate promotion and/or demotion of leadership. Also, a great deal of resentment grew on the part of the participants and raters.

The good news was that we learned about the perceptions of “mistrust”. The bad news was that the process had done too much damage, and was not completely fixable.

The lesson was that we should have spent more time learning the organizational circumstances before implementing the 360-degree feedback system.

What have your experiences been with implementing 360-degree feedback programs under inappropriate organizational conditions?

  1. Nowack, K. (2009). Leveraging Multirater Feedback to Facilitate Successful Behavioral Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 61, 280-297. []

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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  1. David Cooper says:

    Hi Sandra

    As a provider of 360 Degree Feedback i found this article very useful and thought provoking – to add a 6th occasion would be … Whenever the motive for doing 360 is anything other than developmental

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