360-Degree Feedback: One size does not fit all

Organisations have a vested interest in the performance of their leaders, and it can often be difficult to identify exactly how well your leaders are performing and in which areas there is room for improvement. 360-degree feedback tools can assist in answering important questions about leaders’ specific workplace behaviours and style, degree of alignment to organisational goals, values and direction, and their impact on your organisation’s overall performance.
Research shows that 360-degree feedback tools can improve performance and lead to positive behaviour change over time.

360-Degree Feedback Tools – The Market

Research consistently demonstrates that 360-degree feedback can promote awareness and improvement in leadership skills and behaviours. This in turn has been associated with improved employee attitudes, job satisfaction, reduced turnover, and higher employee engagement. With organisations striving for a competitive edge, it is not surprising that the use of 360-degree feedback tools for leadership development has increased exponentially in the past decade.

Most agree that a 360-degree feedback tool is an excellent addition to any organisation’s performance development framework. Such tools are commonly used for a diverse range of purposes including interventions, performance evaluation, talent management, executive coaching, and succession planning.

In response to the increasing demand for 360-degree feedback in the workplace, a vast selection of tools are currently available on the market. Such leadership assessment and development tools may be either purchasable off-the-shelf or customisable to your organisation. With numerous tools available, the critical question is: how do you identify the most appropriate 360-degree feedback tool to apply?

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Finding the right tool to adequately fit an organisation’s needs and at the same time ensure a high standard of assessment is a difficult and time-consuming process. When faced with a myriad of options, organisations often turn to assessment providers to assist in the selection of an appropriate 360-degree feedback tool. However, assessment providers usually find one tool that they feel comfortable delivering and consequently suggest the use of that tool to all of their customers. This poses the question “Can one 360-degree feedback tool effectively service every organisation?” Clearly, the answer is “no”, as there are a multitude of complex factors which drive organisational differences.

Avoiding the cookie-cutter approach

To service the varied needs of a diverse client base, assessment providers must have the ability to select the right tool dependent on the individual and distinct needs of the situation.
Furthermore, it is argued that adopting a rigorous and systematic approach for the evaluation and selection of 360-degree feedback tools is best practice. A case study of how to select a 360-degree feedback tool utilising a step-wise approach is outlined below.

Ultimately, any tool that is recommended for use at your organisation should be supported by research and incorporate a science-based model of leadership.

The foundation for success: A case study

In order to build the capabilities of your leaders through 360-degree feedback, first you must choose the right foundation. That is, select an appropriate assessment tool. Steople has conducted a systematic review of 360-degree assessment tools suitable for executive-level leaders. Given the myriad of available tools on the market, an initial list of tools deemed suitable for executive-level leaders was selected. A list of 13 tools was chosen to appraise in more detail following a broad search and consultation with colleagues, academics, and industry peers.

In order to conduct a systematic evaluation, first the criteria must be determined to ensure a fair appraisal of all tools. It was determined there was considerable variability across the tools in terms of items, visual output, language, lead times and psychometric properties. Ultimately, the tool that was to be selected needed to be supported by research and incorporate a leadership model that adequately covered the competencies required for an executive-level leader.

Key criteria included:

  • Questionnaire Format: the tool must meet the general requirements for a 360-degree tool. That is, anonymous information is gathered from a number of sources (rater groups), such as managers, subordinates, peers, and stakeholders. Additionally, the individual should have an opportunity for self-rating to build self-awareness and provide a comparison base. The assessment must be available for administration as an online questionnaire for ease of use and reporting as well as to protect the anonymity of each rater.
  • Competencies: the leadership competencies measured by the tool must incorporate high-order executive-level competencies required to perform in the workplace. That is, the skills and behaviours measured reflect those required by an executive-level leader, such as people management – being an inspiring and visionary manager, task management – driving continuous improvement, information management – innovative thinking and the ability to define and align organizational strategy, relationship management – engaging stakeholders and valuing diversity and self-management – emotional intelligence and authenticity.
  • Report output: The output of the assessment report must be clear, concise, and free of jargon. Graphs and images should promote additional understanding and report language should be relevant to the competencies and level of those being assessed. Additionally, the report should provide separate scores for each rater group, and include qualitative comments for deeper explanation of the thoughts and feelings of each rater group.
    Psychometric Properties: The assessment tool must have acceptable psychometric properties. That is, the tool provider should offer information about the reliability of items selected and the validity of the tool with a thoroughly researched background.
  • Process: The process of undertaking the assessment must be ethical and user-friendly. Confidentiality and anonymity must be ensured at all times and assessment results should be available in a timely manner.

Under the right conditions and with appropriate application, researchers have found the 360-degree feedback tool can facilitate successful behavioural change. Careful consideration must be given to the right conditions and appropriate application of this kind of assessment at your organisation. Additionally, care must be taken when administrating a 360-degree feedback tool. Poor administration of this type of tool has been found to lead to both disengagement and a decline in performance.

Utilising the right 360-degree tool, complimented with the correct interpretation and support, significantly reduces the risks for organisations. It is recommended to consider partnering with experienced organisational psychologists and executive leadership consultants, who are qualified and highly skilled in interpreting 360-degree feedback results to initiate and sustain positive behaviour.

Contact a Steople 360-degree assessment specialist to discuss the best tool for your needs.