360 Appraisals

By Wilson, Jane L. | Training & Development, June 1997 | Go to article overview
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360 Appraisals


Wilson, Jane L., Training & Development


O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!

Robert Burns, Scottish Poet, 1759-1796

Feedback is a part of our lives, and we receive it frequently from friends, family, co-workers, strangers on elevators, or drivers passing us on the highway. Feedback can be positive or negative, helpful or hurtful, critique or criticism. Good, honest, well-expressed and specific feedback is critical for our development, and in the workplace it is essential.

Two traditional areas where feedback is used in the work world are for development and performance appraisals. To know how others perceive us and experience our behavior is the core of self-awareness and growth. Often our self-perception is aligned with the perception of others. Other times managers will evaluate their skills at a higher level than their co-workers, and equally often managers will rate their skills at a level lower than those who work with them daily.

The important thing is to see where the gaps in perception are, and what needs to be done to bring them into alignment with the expected performance goals and the perception of others. Managers who rate their skills higher than others do are in danger of derailing from the career track at some point. Being unaware of the need to change, those managers continue the self-destructive behavior to the point of failure. On the other hand, the managers who rate themselves lower than the feedback from direct reports will likely grow in their career path at a steady rate. Their striving to improve themselves ensures their success.

In both cases, the feedback is critical to knowing the current level of skill mastery the employee has, and what is needed to take the employee to the next step.

In both management and career development, and the performance appraisal process, gathering feedback is key. But the processes are different. As in many other parts of our life, one size does not fit all, and feedback is context specific. Finding the appropriate mechanism for gathering the data and delivering it is important.

What is currently called 360 assessment - or multirater, multilevel, full-circle feedback - is a widely used and effective process for giving and receiving feedback. The process involves gathering and listening to the observations and perceptions of those around you who are in a position to observe your behavior and skills. That process can be formal, in the form of a well-crafted, psychometrically sound measurement survey, or informal, as in a few open-ended questions that gather anecdotal information. There are also varying degrees of the process in between.

Three-sixty assessment has been used successfully for decades in management development. There are many suppliers that provide instruments in either customized or off-the-shelf formats, and many companies are creating their own feedback instruments in-house. The important question to ask before selecting an instrument for use is what is the purpose of the feedback? Is the instrument I am using appropriate for the setting? For what purpose was the instrument designed? Is it for developmental feedback or performance appraisal? Will it give me the feedback I need?

The feedback instrument used for development purposes is different from the instrument used for performance appraisals. Just as you don't use a hammer for every repair needed in your house, you would not want to use one feedback instrument for every feedback program in the workplace. The questions crafted in a good 360 survey used for development purposes rate observable behaviors and skills. The intent is to gather sound and reliable data for a feedback and coaching discussion with the aim of building a independent development plan. Detailed and specific data is gathered through questions that have been tested and analyzed through strict psychometric processes and meet the criteria for reliability and validity.

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