A recent Business Week article advocated that the 360 degree assessment should be a thing of the past. Typically, the 360 evaluation includes peers, direct reports and others giving feedback anonymously, all using the same assessment tool. Scores for each group are averaged, so that the person being assessed only knows the collective perspectives,  and any written comments are anonymous.

The author’s premise is that the anonymous evaluation tool is a cop-out, and that people ought to feel comfortable giving open feedback on an ongoing basis. Yes, in a perfect world, they should. In our less-than-perfect reality, however, people don’t always tell each other the unvarnished truth. For individuals who fear conflict, frank feedback is difficult to give. This is just one good reason to keep 360 assessments in your arsenal.

Why do a 360 assessment?

360 evaluations provide a snapshot. If you’re ready to take your leadership to the next level, you need to understand how others perceive you now, what strengths you have and the opportunities for growth. It’s hard to get this much well-rounded information without polling a number of people with very different perspectives.

You probably don’t hear all the feedback you need to hear. Even if you’re a nice person, some people just won’t give you negative feedback. This is particularly true if you are in a position of power. An anonymous feedback mechanism may be the only way to make sure you hear everything you need to know about your performance.

What else should you consider when doing a 360?

Choose the right raters. Include people who know your work well; don’t eliminate people who you suspect may not be fans. A diverse group will give you better insight into your performance and how it’s perceived. Typically, in  a 360, you will group raters together, and their responses will be averaged; carefully consider how to group people to achieve a better understanding of varying perspectives.

Ask raters appropriately. Ask raters to give you feedback – in person if you can. Never assume that someone will be willing to take the time – 360 feedback requires an investment of at least 30 minutes and probably more if they are doing a thorough job. When you ask for feedback, review confidentiality and encourage people to be fully honest.

Get a coach before your 360. You may be self-aware and motivated to use the feedback wisely. Even so, an unbiased, supportive and challenging coach will help you understand the feedback more thoroughly and process your reaction to it. Your coach will also ensure that you focus your efforts on the right actions that bring the best results and impact – a bigger payoff for your time invested.

Is a 360 a developmental tool or a means of performance appraisal? 360 evaluations have been used for both, but proceed with caution if you’re using a 360 as part of performance appraisal. The dynamics change when the feedback will impact a person’s raise or promotion. We find that using 360 evaluations in the context of development is the best use of the tool and allows raters to contribute meaningfully to a person’s continued growth.

What if your company can’t afford a 360? Do what you can to encourage open feedback. Ask for it regularly and  seek out a number of perspectives. Above all, don’t try to mask your feelings about feedback with a terse “thanks.” If you’re struggling to accept criticism, say so calmly and let the person know that you are still processing. As you put together your improvement plan, keep people informed about your goals, actions and how they can help.

If you’re resistant to feedback or don’t want to change, skip the 360. Do some rigorous self-assessing about your readiness before you engage in the process. It’s true that the only person you can really change is you, but that only works when you’re prepared to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!