The Power of 360 Assessments In the Evolving Workplace

By Patty Crabtree, Sr. Consultant

Back in math class, you learned 360 degrees meant to go full circle, a whole circuit, the complete cycle, or a literal round trip. In other words, to circle around to get a full view. In today’s evolving workplace, leaders are taking a complete new full look at the 360 assessments.

by Gerd Altmann

Beginning in the 1990s, the natural desire to improve the performance of leaders through feedback gave rise to the popularity of 360 assessments. The objective was using these assessments is to create high-performing organizations by tapping into the collective feedback of many colleagues, rather than just a top-down approach.

In today’s evolving hybrid work environment, 360 assessments can be an important tool. The fundamentals of remote interactions are different than having everyone in the office. Attaining meaningful feedback regarding interpersonal interactions can help guide a company leadership and overall team training. Meaningful dialogues can lead to individual and company development plans that support the desired growth and success.

That is the power; however, there is a danger. The amount and level of training of those providing 360 assessment feedback can impact the level of accuracy of the feedback. There can also be a lack of follow through with the feedback. Without guidance from a trained professional, bias may distort the value of the feedback.

But there is a way to avoid this feedback peril.

Why The Waning Effectiveness?

Naturally to some degree people are resistant to feedback. We all have defenses against feedback, so the process needs to be mediated by someone who is trained to do this.

Before using 360 assessment assessments, some people are curious about the origins of the approach. It all began around 1930 when military psychologist Johann Baptist Rieffert developed a methodology to select officer candidates for the German army.

by Dorothe

The jump to the business world occurred in the 1950s when the Esso Research and Engineering Company gathered information on employees, which arguably is the first recorded business use of the technique.

Also called multi-rater assessments, 360 assessment feedback is a process through which feedback is gathered from an employee’s supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues, as well as a self-evaluation by the employee themselves. The 360 assessments can be contrasted with downward feedback from the boss or upward feedback delivered to managers by staff.

Over the years, 360 assessments have lost some of its effectiveness. This is due to many factors. Automation has taken away from the meaningful aspect of the feedback. A lack of creating development plans and holding others accountable to their growth commitments has lessen the impact. Follow through on growth commitments wane as other priorities take over. These assessments have become routine and just part of the process.

A worst-case scenario is to just grab some 360 assessment tool from the Internet and let the recipients interpret the feedback from the various people on their own. Looking for the cheap option does not make it the best approach.

360 assessments, done in an effective and meaningful way, can be a powerful tool for development. Being curious about the feedback as opposed to just gathering the data can elicit more opportunities for growth.

An automated approach limits the opportunity for this curiosity. Many automated systems will have options to rate multiple factors on a scale of 1-5, which is typically done anonymously. People can be skeptical of the anonymity and will give high ratings or incomplete feedback fearing potential backlash or just wanting to check this process off their list. They don’t see change from the effort of providing worthwhile feedback so there can be ambivalence to the process.

The Return of the 360 Assessment Gift

Feedback is a powerful growth tool. Understanding how others view your performance and your impact on those around you can make your stronger. Feedback is truly a gift.

Recently, one growing company decided to perform a 360 assessment on their senior leadership. They had weathered the pandemic, implementing some hybrid positions and were seeing a post-pandemic rebound. Their first reaction was to take operations back to the way it was done prior to 2020. This is what they knew, what was comfortable and a quick response to meet the client needs. It caused some conflict as staff were looking to continue the new ways. On top of this, they also faced a change in senior leadership as a retirement occurred.

by Headway

They wanted to take embrace the evolution, but leadership had some blind spots. They needed to know if they were ready for everything coming their way and decided to get a better understanding of how leadership was being viewed.

Using the 360 assessments, a picture was painted showing the strengths of the team along with opportunities to grow their leadership skills. There was an opportunity to embrace the changes the pandemic brought and enhance communication. The leaders listened to the feedback and heard the messages shared.

They created a developmental plan to strengthen the areas where staff felt some growth needed. Leaders saw how they were holding back the company’s momentum by not embracing the lessons learned over the past few years. They also understood how they needed to step up communication to ensure everyone felt included and were clear on the company’s vision. The lessons of a hybrid work environment became a larger part of their culture.

We also worked with them to keep the conversation alive and provide tools for the leaders to meet their goals. By using a professional coach, leaders had a safe environment to share their successes and struggles and discuss new ways to embrace the opportunities.

Avoid the Misuse of the 360 Assessment

Any tool can be used for good or for harm.

Some people see 360 assessment feedback as punitive and unproductive. This comes from how companies use this tool. It is not a process to check off the list but an opportunity to have thoughtful feedback that can support growth and change.

by Jason Goodman

Lighthouse Consulting uses an interview style and collaborative approach to the assessment. We partner with the organization to help ensure the feedback is effective and inspires change. We have conversations with the participants to elicit meaningful feedback and cultivate a deeper understanding of the individual’s strengths and opportunities. Follow up questions happen in the moment that supports a more effective discussion of their observations.

Debriefing with each client helps manage the potential emotional response to the feedback. This partnering method puts the focus on the opportunities and empowers the leaders toward growth. This partnership continues through coaching to achieve the desired goals.

When successfully implemented, 360 assessment feedback can be a game-changer for a business. This process can initiate positive changes and provide more accurate performance evaluations leading to accelerated professional growth.

When professionally conducted, interpreted and coached, the results can be significant. Without a trained professional, the value of their results can be diluted and meaningful change lost in the process.”

If you are open to a conversation about the 360 assessment process or how our in-depth work style and personality assessment could help your team, including pricing and the science behind the tests, please contact us at 310-453-6556, extension 403.

Patty Crabtree is a Senior Consultant at Lighthouse Consulting Services with 25 years of operations and finance leadership experience.

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