Another Look in the Mirror: Does 360 Feedback Really Work?

February 9, 2015 by Ken Nowack

“Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.”

Franklin B. Jones


I think we need to do a “360” on 360 feedback ((Nowack, K. (2007). Why 360 Feedback Doesn’t Work. Talent Management, 4 (8), p 12)).

How would you like to be diagnosed with a new illness and have your doctor tell you that the latest wonder drug has shown in over 33% of the cases to actually worsen the condition ((Nowack, K. (2009).   Leveraging Multirater Feedback to Facilitate Successful Behavioral Change. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 61, 280-297)).? Well….

What would you think if I told you that earlier research (Taylor & Brown 1988) suggests a triad of “positive illusions” which include: 1) People inflate the perceptions of themselves and their skills; 2) People exaggerate their perceived control over life events; and 3) People express unrealistic optimism about their future. Interestingly, most individuals report being less prone to each of these positive illusions even after they are told about them (Pronin, Gilovich & Ross, 2004).

What would you think if I shared with you that a meta-analysis of over over 3,000 studies (607 effect sizes, 23,633 observations) on performance feedback found that although there was a significant effect for feedback interventions (d=.41), one third of all studies showed performance declines ((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)).

What would you think If I told you that although feedback does result in significant performance improvement based on a meta-analysis of 26 longitudinal studies, effect sizes are relatively small suggesting that “zebras don’t easily lose their stripes” Smither et al. (2005).

What would you think If I told you that based on twin studies 33% of the variance in holding leadership roles is due to genetic factors (Arvery, Zhang, Avolio & Kreuger, 2007) and findings from numerous studies of personality show that genetic effects account for approximately 50% of the variance in five factor domains (Bouchard & Loehlin, 2001).

What would you think if I shared with you that professor Leanne Atwater and colleagues at Arizona State University found that improvement following an upward feedback intervention only resulted for 50% of the supervisors who received it ((Atwater,L., Waldman, D., & Cartier. (2000). An upward feedback field experiment. Supervisor’s cynicism, follow-up and commitment to subordinates. Personnel Psychology, 53, 275-297)).

What would you think if I shared with you that a recent meta-analysis of 26 longitudinal studies indicate significant but small effect sizes suggesting that is unrealistic to expect large performance improvement after people receive 360-degree feedback ((Smither, J., London, M., & Reilly, R. (2005). Does performance improve following multisource feedback? A theoretical model, meta-analysis and review of empirical findings. Personnel Psychology, 58, 33-66)).

What would you think if I share with you that Watson Wyatt’s 2001 Human Capital Index, an ongoing study of the linkages between HR practices and shareholder value at 750 publicly traded US companies found that 360-degree feedback programs were associated with a 10.6 percent decrease in shareholder value ((Pfau, B. & Kay I. (2002). Does 360 degree feedback negatively affect company performance? HR Magazine, Volume 47 (6), June 2002)).

What would you think if I shared with you that Self-ratings are weakly correlated with other rater perspectives ((Nowack, K. (1992). Self-assessment and rater-assessment as a dimension of management development. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 3, 141-153)).

What would you think if I shared with you that bosses, direct reports and peers overlap only modestly on how they view an individual ((Harris, M. & Schaubroeck, J. (1988). A meta-analysis of self-supervisor, self-peer and peer-supervisor ratings. Personnel Psychology, 41, 43-62)).

Finally, what would you think if I told you that a recent survey by Rasmussen Reports (2006) found that “92% of those surveyed in a national poll of 1,854 U.S. workers reported they are an “excellent” or “good” boss.” Unfortunately, only 67% rated their managers favorably and 10% said their boss performed poorly.

As Bill Cosby said, “A word to the wise isn’t necessary. It’s the stupid ones who need all the advice”…..Be well….

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development, Selection

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  1. Wally Bock says:

    Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    I commented: Dr. Ken Nowack writes another “research finder” blog. In this post he points you to research on the effectiveness of 360 degree feedback.

    Wally Bock

  2. Rich Grenhart says:

    This synopsis does not mention, but cries out for comment about, the value of the proper DELIVERY of 360 feedback. If delivered by a trained coach in a developmentally-oriented feedback session ONLY, I suspect the percentages would change dramatically. In the direction of improved performance.

  3. working girl says:

    A friend of mine called 360 a ‘vendetta tool’. But he was talking about being reviewed by colleagues rather than directs. I can see that feedback itself won’t change a zebra’s stripes – esp. if the manager is now feeling defensive – but what if a company takes the feedback seriously and works with the managers who receive consistent negative feedback?

  4. David Bracken says:

    This motivated me to write in my blog:

  5. Elsbeth von der Burg says:

    Hmmm – are we talking about constructive confirming or corrective feedback (as in: meant to help someone learn), or criticism (which is not feedback, but judgment)? And, are we talking about using a 360 feedback tool as a development opportunity, used within an ongoing coaching process? And, is the 360 tool introduced as such to feedback recipient/coachee and to respondents? – This might change research results and interpretation…

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