Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

360-Degree Sociometric Feedback for Individual and Organizational Change

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

360-Degree Sociometric Feedback for Individual and Organizational Change

Article excerpt


Because organizations are a core element of society, organization theory is at the heart of the social sciences (Perrow, 1986). Similarly, because individuals are a core element of organizations, personal development should be at the heart of organizational change (Follett, 1987, 1992). Logically, then, when we aim at organizational development or societal advancement, we should focus on the personal and professional growth of the individuals comprising our organization or society.

This article sets forth how one public agency is seeking organizational development through the personal and professional growth of its people. "A new order" describes the total quality environment of this public agency. "A promising approach" delineates the sociometric approach to performance feedback. "Expanded uses in the future" discusses future potential benefits from this approach.


It is difficult these days to find articles that do not at least refer to "total quality management," "continuous improvement," "reengineering," or some related topic. The "quality movement" has overtaken both the public and private sectors. The attention on Total Quality Management (TQM) has fostered queries into TQM's relationship to other administrative theories (Ehrenberg and Stupak, 1994). TQM and related topics have established a new order that focuses on the "customer" or "clientele." Indications of this call initially entered the management literature in the early 1980s (Peters and Waterman, 1982). By the early 1990s, customers had become central to the continuous improvement processes mandated by the new order (Lareau, 1992).

Another call of the new order is performance measurement. "Metrics"--the measurement used to evaluate progress--are the sine qua non of continuous improvement. Baselines and benchmarks are the order of the day. These metrics are to be established in concert with customer expectations (Crosby, 1979) and natural process limits (Juran, 1979). One current complication is that organizational (Bouckaert, 1993) and individual performance measurement (Cohen, 1993) are in need of meaningful metrics. As entities have analyzed their processes, they have found many of their key customers to be "internal"--subunits of their own organization. Entities have also recognized the importance of suppliers to improving the organization's processes and products. These discoveries have expanded simple interest in customer and supplier input into the notion of "360-degree" review. Today the new order calls for complete review of products, processes, and performance by all internal and eternal customers and suppliers. Simultaneously, the new order calls for creation of meaningful metrics for this review.

The new order drives public and private sector entities to sense the need to implement 360-degree performance feedback systems. Public sector agencies tend to focus on 360-degree review systems to get feedback from employees and the public they serve (Hyde, 1992). Most public sector agencies involved in the TQM movement are exploring some type of 360-degree review system (Ibid.). Several public sector associations, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, have established quality committees which are examining improved public feedback processes as a means of collecting "customer" input. This type of active search for public input may well be the beginning of 360-degree review in the public sector.

Private sector firms tend to focus on 360-degree review systems to overcome the negative consequences of increased spans of control due to "flattening" and "downsizing" (Rigg, 1992). The December 27, 1993 edition of Fortune reported that 20 of its "Most Admired" companies were using some form of 360-degree performance review. AT&T, Amoco, W.L. Gore, Quaker Oats, and 3M are a few of the major U.S. companies with 360-degree review processes. In Europe, companies like Fiat and British Petroleum are championing upward feedback as key to 360-degree reviews. …

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