Any development as a leader begins with an open and honest assessment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. As a result, 360-degree feedback has been a cornerstone of CCL programs for several decades.

“But there are perils,” according to CCL’s Craig Chappelow.

For 15 years, Chappelow has managed CCL’s 360-degree assessment business and worked with organizations to implement 360 initiatives. “When 360 goes wrong, it can have a lasting impact on the people involved and on the organization,” he says.

Craig Chappelow“All too frequently, our work starts with the heavy lifting of undoing the damage from a previous 360 initiative that somehow went wrong,” says Chappelow. Here are eight common mistakes that cause feedback programs to fail:

  1. Unclear Purpose. The use of 360s has become so pervasive, says Chappelow, that “if your company is not currently using one, it might feel as if you are missing out. But 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 needs clear answers to three questions:
    • Why? What business problem are you trying to solve and how will the 360 help you?
    • Why now? What has made this a priority?
    • Why you? Who will be receiving the 360 feedback? Why is it critical that this targeted population be included to best solve your business problem?
  2. Dumbing It Down. Invest your dollars in a way that makes the biggest difference. 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 problem employee who might be resistant.
  3. Project Bloat. Implementing a 360 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. Start small, run a pilot, and then address the larger numbers. Make sure that the first person and the last person going through the process will have the same high-quality experience.
  4. No Support from Senior Executives. Top execs need to buy in from the beginning. In fact, starting with a pilot group of senior executives is one of the best ways to ensure they are committed, clear and supportive of the larger effort. “Going first” also sends a strong signal that they respect the process and that 360 isn’t something they are going to do to other people.
  5. Misreading the Organization’s Readiness. Sometimes it’s just not the right time for a 360-degree assessment. If bad memories of past, mishandled 360s are still fresh, hold off and invest in other approaches to feedback and development. Other signs the time isn’t right: you have unclear or competing management/leadership models; confidentiality poses a concern; a culture of feedback avoidance.
  6. Growing Your Own. There are so many 360 vendors available that it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Put your time, energy and resources toward choosing a vendor and an assessment. Ask about research-based content, assessment philosophy and the level of support that will be provided through the implementation.
  7. Poor Communication. The best assessments will go nowhere without a thorough communication plan. Participants, managers and other raters need to understand the purpose and what they are expected to do. It is also important to be clear about confidentiality of data and anonymity of rater responses.
  8. Confusing Assessment with Development. Receiving, evaluating and discussing a 360-degree feedback report are all part of assessment. Development is what happens afterward. What is the participant motivated to change? What does the manager or organization see as the important things to be working on? For the organization and the individual to get the most out of 360, a process for creating a development plan, support and follow-through must be in place.


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