Who’s Feedback Should Count (or NOT) in 360-Degree Feedback?

October 19, 2016 by Sandra Mashihi

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

–Albert Einstein

Upon receiving the 360-degree feedback results, individuals often feel challenged about how to interpret their results in a meaningful way, particularly when there are differences between views of rater groups.

Should participants of the 360-degree feedback focus their development efforts on managing upward, downward and/or laterally when there are discrepancies between the results of raters?

Self-ratings are typically weakly to moderately correlated with other rater perspectives with greater convergence between peer and supervisor ratings (Nowack, 1992).  It seems intuitive to expect that some differences in perspectives will occur across rater groups. According to Ken Nowack, Ph.D. in his 2002 and 2009 publications, the following patterns of perceptions exist between raters:

  • Direct reports tend to emphasize and filter interpersonal and relationship behaviors
  • Superiors tend to focus more on performance-oriented behaviors
  • Peers tend to be most accurate at predicting future leadership potential

These rater group differences cause confusion in the interpretation of 360-degree feedback for clients trying to use the results to determine specific behaviors to modify and which stakeholder to target. The ambiguity of understanding and interpreting multi-rater feedback often leads participants to feel perplexed and distressed. In fact, recent research suggests that people who are even mildly neurotic report more distress by uncertainty within oral and written feedback than receiving direct negative feedback1

With all that said, it is important for coaches to be cognizant of the differences between rater groups and help their clients to fully understand and interpret the meaning of such differences.

Coach’s Critique:

Whose feedback do I plan my development around?” This is a common statement I hear from my clients as is seems to be one of their bigger challenges they encounter after having reviewed their 360-degree results.

As an example, one of my clients was seeking coaching because she was perceived to lack sound interpersonal skills. I conducted a 360-degree feedback assessment on her, and all four of her direct reports indicated that she had very high interpersonal skills. However, her superiors and bosses had completely opposing views. My client was convinced that her direct reports knew more about her and could make a more accurate judgment.

However, those differences can have some useful take away insights. Some of questions that arose for me were, what is my client doing that leads her bosses to view her interpersonal skills so differently than her direct reports? I was curious to understand these reasons. Through coaching and analysis of her results, it was revealed that she was in fact nervous around her bosses and did not have the ability to demonstrate strong social skills when she was around them. She felt that whatever she did would be a failure in their eyes so consequently her actions demonstrated a lack of interpersonal connection and self- composure. These fears and behaviors were not present for her when she interacted with her direct reports. Her composure and connectedness was clearly visible to them!

Discussing the differences between rater group perceptions led to the revelation of an underlying issue. My client and I were now working on overcoming her feelings of inadequacy in front of her bosses.

So, as a lesson, all variations of feedback results can provide meaningful insights and lessons. In fact, a core learning message may be revealed regardless of whether there are differences or similarities between perceptions of different raters.

  1. Hirsh, J.B., & Inzlicht, M. (2008). The devil you know: Neuroticism predicts neural response to uncertainty. Psychological Science, 19, 962-967. []

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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