Should you use 360 degree feedback in the appraisal process?

360 degree feedback is often referred to as 360 degree appraisal. In this post we explore whether or not you should use 360 degree feedback in the appraisal process.

What are the advantages of using 360 degree feedback in the appraisal process?

1. 360 degree feedback provides additional perspectives

The major advantage of using 360 degree feedback as part of the appraisal process is the inherent benefit of using 360 degree feedback in the first place.

360 degree feedback is highly effective when it comes to providing someone with feedback on how others see them. It is a great way to ‘hold up the mirror’ and it is this that raises self-awareness and results in people being more likely to take the feedback on board and actually do something with it.

As such, using 360 degree feedback as part of the appraisal process can be an effective way to communicate messages such as “see, it’s not just my (the manager) view, others are seeing the same things”.

2. 360 degree feedback is good for identifying development needs

360 degree feedback can be useful where the appraisal contains an element of development planning.

Many managers (and employees) struggle when it comes to the development planning part of the discussion. There is often an awkward silence followed by the managers asking “so, are there any courses you would like to go on?”.

The conclusion is often to get a list of courses ‘from HR’ and choose one that looks interesting.

360 degree feedback data can be used to identify what specific developmental actions someone needs to take.

3. 360 degree feedback is measurable

The nature of 360 degree feedback means that those actions are also measurable – repeating the 360 process will provide an indication of how much change the individual has demonstrated over time – and this can be useful for subsequent appraisal reviews.

What are the disadvantages of using 360 degree feedback in the appraisal process?

By definition, the performance appraisal process is designed to provide an evaluation around an individual’s job performance. There are a number of issues with this when it comes to using 360 degree feedback to do this.

1. Job performance may not always be directly related to someone’s behaviour

An individual’s performance in their job could actually be impacted by things outside of their control.

It is possible to have someone who hasn’t delivered their objectives even though they consistently demonstrate all of the behaviours being measured in the 360 part of the process. This could be to do with external market forces, changes in technology etc.

More worryingly, people can deliver on all of their performance objectives whilst not demonstrating any of the important behaviours.

It’s easy to imagine a manager who rules like a dictator in order to deliver short term performance for their team, but operates in a way that is undesirable from a cultural perspective.

2. 360 raters are not always best placed to evaluate job performance

360 degree feedback relies on input from other people in addition to the individual’s manager. We would argue that the only person best placed to comment on an individual’s performance is their manager.

An individual’s direct reports are not always best placed to say how ‘good’ their manager is when it comes to their job performance.

Similarly, where feedback is sought from colleagues, they often don’t see enough of the individual to rate their ability.

3. Asking other people to influence appraisal ratings can introduce bias

Using 360 degree feedback as part of the appraisal process can lead to some critical biases:

  • The first one is obvious. Just imagine you work for someone and you have a particular dislike of them. It would be easy to provide overly negative ratings when completing the 360 feedback questionnaire about them. This could then lead to further issues as, when the appraisee sees the results, they may be inclined to go on a witch hunt to find out who rated them that way. It does happen, we have seen it!
  • Conversely, where staff have a negative relationship with their manager they can often feel intimidated completing the 360 questionnaire as openly as they would like. They can feel that the safest thing to do is provide ratings that are more positive.
  • Appraisees themselves might be tempted to influence the outcome of the process. We see appraisees do this in two ways.
    • Firstly, they can try to manipulate the output by only choosing raters they feel will give them positive ratings. This is why rater choice is important when planning how to implement your 360 degree feedback process.
    • Secondly, they can try to influence their individual raters by either coercing or threatening them.
  • Similarly we have seen the appraiser influence the process in two similar ways:
    • Some may provide more positive ratings than is realistic. This is driven by managers simply wanting to avoid the potential for conflict during the appraisal discussion.
    • Others provide more negative ratings. This is so they can use the process to make a point or justify giving a poor appraisal ratings.

The consequence of these biases is that they undermine the whole process as the feedback becomes useless.

4. 360 degree feedback requires administrative effort

Appraisal time is usually very busy for managers and most will complain at the time it takes to ‘fill in the forms’ and then have the individual discussions.

Adding 360 degree feedback into the appraisal process will increase the demands placed on everyone going through the process and is likely to result in an even less effective feedback discussion.

Designing an effective 360 degree feedback process takes a lot of thought and effort to get right. If it is not done right it will have a detrimental effect.

5. Delivering 360 degree feedback requires skill

Finally, delivering good 360 degree feedback requires skill. Arguably, the same skills required to deliver performance feedback, yet most will agree that managers are pretty poor at delivering feedback at the best of times.

So, should 360 degree feedback in the appraisal process?

Our view is the downsides far outweigh the benefits. We would strongly advise that 360 degree feedback be positioned as a developmental process which is separate to the performance appraisal.

By all means use 360 to complement or inform the development planning part of the appraisal process, but we would advise against using the 360 data itself to inform the performance evaluation part of the process.