360° Feedback: A Powerful Resource for Professional and Career Development
by Claudette Nowell-Philipp
360° Feedback (sometimes referred to as multi-rater feedback) communicates others' perceptions and identifies employees' strengths and development areas. Feedback comes from the employees' manager, direct reports, co-workers/colleagues, and internal or external customers. For maximum benefit the feedback should describe specific behaviors (reflecting both technical skills and business competencies) and be relevant to the employee's position within the company.
Important Assumptions Regarding Organizational 360° Feedback Initiatives
Organizations that successfully implement 360° Feedback Initiatives work from key assumptions that mirror significant aspects of their corporate culture. Several key assumptions are:
- -Specific core skills are important and desirable. They reflect HOW the company wants its employees to do business and build business success. Examples of desired competencies may be leadership, achieving results, decision making, managing change, developing others, and conflict management.
- -When industry change is rampant, continuous learning can lead to competitive advantage in the marketplace. Employees are encouraged to become self-reliant learners and focus their learning on-the-job.
- -360 Feedback is provided as information for employee development. It is not a performance evaluation or a performance review "in disguise."
- -Benefits derived from a 360 Feedback Process are directly linked to the actions taken to create and implement meaningful and achievable development plans. The employee uses feedback to develop a plan that supports his or her professional growth.
- -Development plans should avoid a "repairs only" mentality. High impact development plans focus on and leverage strengths as well as remedy areas of apparent weakness.
How is a 360° Feedback Process Structured?
Entire organizations, select teams, or individuals can participate in a 360° Feedback process. Typically the organization will develop its own custom survey or purchase a 360° Feedback survey from a vendor. Personnel Decisions International (PDI) and the Gallup organization are two well known vendors of 360° Feedback surveys.
An employee will request feedback from a cross-section of 5 to 15 people with whom he or she works. The employee and the respondent group complete the feedback survey online. Paper-pencil surveys can be used with small groups. The 360° Feedback survey is completed within a proscribed time period and scored using on-line technology. Depending on the scope and complexity of the survey, there may be as many as 100+, behaviorally anchored questions that are answered on a 5 point rating scale (from not descriptive  to very descriptive  of the employee's behavior or skill level).
Data are compiled and formatted in a Feedback Report. The report data are frequently presented as numerical averages, graphs that show "range of scores" from each respondent group, high/low rankings, and narrative comments. The Feedback Report may be 10 to 20 pages in length and may contain thousands of data points. Careful review and analysis is essential in maximizing the value of this data for professional or career development planning.
Using 360° Feedback in Career Planning and Development
When using 360° Feedback data for career planning or professional development, identifying motivated strengths (e.g. skills that I'm good at and I enjoy) and building a strategy for maximizing these strengths is a primary point of focus. The employee may also focus on important skills that are needed to demonstrate his or her readiness for a new position.
Feedback analysis also targets improvement areas. This is especially true when the improvement areas, if unaddressed, might limit current job performance or operate as barriers to future career opportunity.
Analysis of the Feedback Report is made easier by the common practice of providing separate pages in which the 15 to 25 highest rated and lowest rated skills are listed in descending order of perceived competence (by the feedback raters).
A careful analysis of strengths may reveal a competency pattern that is especially important for success in a particular job of interest. Or the pattern of strengths may help the employee identify a new and previously unidentified area of career opportunity. Click here for helpful questions that enable the employee to understand his or her feedback and use it to maximize career opportunity.
Moving from Analysis to Action
A common challenge in optimizing organizational 360° Feedback Initiatives is in moving from data analysis to action planning. It is not enough for employees to simply review their 360 reports and then "resolve" to improve or fine tune their on-the-job skills. It is not enough to receive strong, affirming feedback yet be ineffective in leveraging it for career opportunity.
An organizational career consultant (or experienced HR practitioner), with expertise in developmental coaching and the implementation of individual career plans, can be a significant asset in maximizing the value of an organizational 360° Feedback Initiative. The consultant not only assists employees in fully understanding their feedback but also coaches the employee through the critical process of creating a meaningful and achievable development plan. The plan should clearly define the employee's goals, identify action steps for achieving them, and determine specific and concrete measures for success. The coach works with the employee to assure that the development plans are aligned with current business needs and the future direction of the company. By moving from analysis to action planning, both the organization and employees build a win-win outcome from the 360° Feedback Initiative.
Claudette Nowell-Philipp is managing principal of Human Resource Services, a consulting firm specializing in talent development, organizational effectiveness, and strategic career management services. For over 20 years, Claudette has partnered with senior management and HR leaders to build organizations of "self reliant learners" who are proactive, continuously learning, and motivated to deliver results in rapidly changing business environments. Claudette earned her M.A. in Counseling (with a concentration on change and transition issues) from DePaul University in Chicago and completed additional graduate course work in Organizational and Management Development at Aurora University. She is a Past President of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Career Professionals - International (ACPI). Claudette welcomes continued dialogue regarding 360° Feedback as a development tool and can be reached via email at CNPHRS@aol.com