360-degree assessments are powerful tools for learning and development. But 360’s can — and do — go wrong. The consequences can be significant and long-lasting.
“When a 360 initiative goes wrong, it can have a lasting impact on the people involved and on the organization,” says CCL’s Craig Chappelow, a leading expert on the development and use of 360-degree assessment products.
Chappelow explains that when 360 initiatives fail, they do so for predictable reasons, and all can be avoided if you know what to look for. Watch out for the following issues:
1. Problems with Clarity of Purpose
If you don’t make a strategic decision about what you want to accomplish with 360, you won’t know if your investment made any difference. Before proceeding, your organization will need to be clear about:
- Why do you need this? What business problem are you trying to solve and how will the 360 help you?
- Why right now? What has made this a priority?
- Who is it for? Who will be receiving the 360 feedback? Why is it critical that this targeted group be included to best solve your business problem?
- What outcomes do you expect?
Similarly, uncertainty about who “owns” the feedback data and gaps between assessment instruments and the organization’s competency model can create unnecessary obstacles.
2. Problems with Organizational Readiness
Sometimes it’s just not the right time for a 360-degree assessment. Maybe senior management isn’t on board, or bad memories of mishandled 360s are still fresh. Other signs the time isn’t right: you have unclear or competing management/leadership models; the target population isn’t well-defined; the organization has a culture of feedback avoidance.
3. Problems with Process Design/Logistics
In addition to working closely with an assessment vendor to choose the right tool, make sure the process isn’t “dumbed down.” Gear it to the people who will appreciate it and see it as an opportunity. Don’t set up unnecessary processes or rules for everyone just to safeguard against that single employee who might be resistant.
As you plan to roll out your 360, remember that implementing the initiative is inherently labor-intensive. Despite technological advances in data collection and reporting, a lot of human beings have to do what they are supposed to do for this to work well. Be sure administrative roles and processes are clear, create a realistic timetable, and communicate. The best assessments will go nowhere without a thorough communication plan.
4. Problems with Outcomes
This goes back to the importance of creating clarity at the beginning of the process. Often expected outcomes are not made clear, facilitation isn’t planned, and practices for confidentiality and anonymity are not solid — all problems that can undermine the whole program in a hurry.
Finally, be sure that everyone involved knows that assessment is not development. Receiving, evaluating and discussing a 360-degree feedback report is assessment. Development is what happens afterwards — and development is what matters most to organizations. For the organization and the individual to get the most out of this process, there needs to be a process for creating a development plan, support and follow-through.
Tips for 360 Success
It’s possible to avoid these 4 common pitfalls. You greatly improve the odds for a successful 360-degree initiative when you:
- Make the investment in the process,
- Align the 360 with business needs,
- Get senior management buy-in,
- Plan carefully, communicate widely,
- Select the right vendor,
- Measure the right things, and
- Use the assessment process to leverage developmental activities.
With careful, strategic planning and strategic clarity, your organization can leverage the full strength of this useful assessment tool. Learn more about our 360 and assessment offerings can also prevent these common shortcomings.