The Value of 360 degree Feedback in Leadership

Highly-competitive industry environments have created the necessity for organisational leaders to use performance management (PM) as a driver of employee productivity and motivation. The 360-degree feedback is one of the frameworks that have featured in this PM wave. The 360-degree feedback is a multi source performance evaluation framework in which the organisational or team leader solicits frank comments and performance ratings on the focal employee’s conduct or job performance from a large pool of anonymous sources who have worked with or interacted with the employee (Campion, Campion, & Campion, 2015). In most instances, the organisational leaders draw employee productivity data from anonymous sources like customers, managers, subordinates, peers, and supervisors. An extensive body of literature has been published on the value of this PM approach to organisational leaders. An analysis of these studies shows that the 360-degree feedback framework is invaluable to organisational leaders.

The 360-degree framework’s knowledge-sharing capabilities augments is crucial to the organisational leader’s effectiveness. The effectiveness of 360-degree framework stems from its reliance on performance data solicited from a wide range of sources. By drawing on data from the target employee’s customers, peers, subordinates, and supervisors, the leader delineates the types of values, skills, and competencies employees must inculcate to record high-performance levels (Campion, et al., 2015). In this way, the framework acts as an information transference system that boosts employee performances by helping them identify and define new traits, abilities, behaviours, skills, and knowledge that are critical to employees as individuals or a collective (Campion, et al., 2015). A retrospective study (Hageman, et al., 2015) on physicians’ responses to 360-degree feedback revealed that most used them to identify and develop new KSAs. Further, the results of the study showed that hospitals reported a marked improvement in the targeted physicians’ communication skills, interpersonal skills, and professionalism (Hageman, et al., 2015). Consequently, progress generates a corresponding improvement in customer satisfaction. These findings highlight the usefulness of 360-degree feedback as an information-exchange tool. The framework improves employee-performance by helping employees to identify and foster the KSAs and behaviours that will generate positive individual and group outcomes.

However, organisations have expressed serious doubt about the usefulness of 360-degree framework as an information-sharing medium. In a survey of performance management practices in 101 American companies, Gorman et al. (2017) discovered that only 23% had implemented the 360-degree framework. The findings suggested that most companies were reluctant to implement the framework due to their fears about its usefulness as a knowledge-sharing medium (Gorman, et al., 2017). Nonetheless, an in-depth analysis of the survey’s findings reveals that most of the surveyed organisations used the 360-degree feedback data to generate numerical ratings (Gorman, et al., 2017). These numerical ratings may have undermined the framework’s effectiveness as a knowledge-transfer tool by severely curtailing employees’ ability to identify and define the specific values, skills, behaviours, abilities, and traits that require fine-tuning. Therefore, the findings in that survey are insufficient to discount the claim that information-sharing is critical to the effectiveness of the 360-degree framework. By soliciting performance data from a network of sources closely connected to the focal employee, the framework highlights the behaviours, values, and skills the employee ought to develop to become exceptional. Through this insight, employees foster the skills, competencies, values, and traits that generate far-reaching improvements in their productivity and the organisation's productivity.

In addition to information-sharing, the 360-degree framework equips organisational leaders with a concrete PM implementation plan. Although the steps for implementing the framework may differ from one corporation to another, it gives managers and other leaders a structured approach for the implementation of PM within organisations. Indeed, peer-review databases are replete with studies recommending various models of implementing the 360-degree framework. Lepsinger and Lucia (as cited in Kanaslan & Iyem, 2016, at p. 175) recommend a seven-step multi-rater 360-degree feedback model. The steps in the process include planning, process introduction, rater selection, questionnaire formulation, questionnaire distribution, questionnaire processing, and communication of performance ratings. Ward (as cited in Kanaslan & Iyem, 2016, at p. 175), in contrast, suggests an eight-step 360-degree feedback implementation model. The steps in the model include observation, preliminary conference, questionnaire administration, feedback report formulation, feedback delivery, employee reflection, action plan implementation, and behaviour change. Rao, Mahapatra, and Chawla (as cited in Kanaslan & Iyem, 2016, at p. 175), recommend a 10-step implementation plan that focuses primarily on the creation of a framework that generates the appropriate feedback and performance objectives. In this respect, their framework asks for repeated pilot testing to ensure that its findings are valid and reliable. As these models show, organisational leaders can implement the framework in various ways. Organisational leaders can also develop customised implementation models that suit their unique reporting structures, organisational cultures, and employee profiles. Irrespective of the chosen approach, the 360-degree framework gives leaders an effective implementation platform.

The 360-degree framework’s ability to identify leadership derailment factors (LDFs) is another source of value that is difficult to ignore. Through the 360-degree framework, organisational leaders can identify the LDFs that are severely curtailing their importance to their corporations. LDFs are variables or events that interrupt an organisational leader’s career to such an extent that the organisation no longer considers them as high-potential or exceptional (Markham, Markham, & Smith, 2015). Some of the prominent derailment variables are inability to adapt to new processes, inability to think critically, poor response to criticism, interpersonal conflicts, and lack of empathy (Gerth & Peppard, 2016). Other variables are inability to communicate clearly, exaggerated self-belief, excessive confidence, and disdain towards the views of critics (Claxton, Owen, & Sadler-Smith, 2015). While these variables do not often lead to the dismissal of the affected managers, they weaken the derailed managers’ prospects of promotion and high-performance bonuses (Markham, et al., 2015). Feedback drawn from the 360-degree framework can give organisational leaders insight into the factors that render their peers exceptional (Markham, et al., 2015). They can then compare this information against their data and the data drawn from other derailed managers. If the comparative analysis reveals that the successful leaders have spent more time in mending relationships and reaching out to their colleagues and subordinates, the sidetracked managers can improve their leadership potential by developing strong interpersonal relationships with peers and subordinates. In this case, the 360-degree framework becomes an invaluable tool for restoring a derailed leader’s performance levels. It highlights the LDFs that are weakening leaders’ effectiveness while providing recommending the steps they can take to turnaround their situations.

Apart from the analysed sources of value, the 360-degree framework’s worth stems from the important role it plays in explaining organisational leaders’ commitment to high-performance and change. 360-degree feedback is an important accountability system that enables managers and their subordinates become accountable for the performance commitment they have made at the start of the financial year. All too often, organisational leaders and subordinates pay lip services to intangible commitments like giving positive feedback, reaching out to coworkers, respecting customers, and communicating effectively (Gurdjian, Halbeisen, & Lane, 2014). However, they have no system for measuring the extent to which they have lived up to those commitments. 360-degree feedback have provided an effective avenue for organisations to critically evaluate the extent to which employees have lived up their commitments (Gurdjian, et al., 2014). The organisations conduct the feedback at the start of the change initiative and conduct a follow-up 360-degree feedback 6 to 12 months after the start of the change program (Gurdjian, et al., 2014). By implementing the 360-degree framework, leaders in these organisations demonstrate that they are committed to the change. In one organisation, the CEO commissioned 360-degree feedback on his commitment, published the results in the company’s intranet, and stated the steps he will take to improve his performance (Gurdjian, et al., 2014). The move had a profound effect on subordinates’ organisational commitment and productivity (Gurdjian, et al., 2014). Such outcomes underscore the importance of a 360-degree feedback framework in demonstrating the organisational leader’s commitment to change.

The 360-degree framework is invaluable to organisational leaders. The framework’s information-sharing capabilities improve leaders’ effectiveness by making it easier for the targeted employees to identify, define, and develop the KSAs, behaviours, and competencies that are crucial for them to become exceptional. Besides, the framework equips organisational leaders with concrete PM plans, helps them identify and eliminate LDFs, and underscores their commitment to high-performance and change.


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