360-Degree Feedback: Is it more trouble than it’s worth?

A recent conversation with a client got me thinking about precisely this question and in particular when and how do organisations use it. Surprisingly, some clients express a lack of interest or readiness for 360-degree feedback, which prompts me to question the underlying reasons for their reluctance.

Typically, organisations may instigate a 360-degree feedback process as part of a development programme. But not always. Using it as part of the diagnostic or needs identification process can be very helpful, though not every organisations wants the data it produces.

As an example, I think it’s really interesting that when I’ve suggested some form of 360 feedback in advance of designing a development programme, I’ve met resistance. The intention is both for the individual and the programme; individuals have data to work with and the programme is designed specifically around performance needs rather than general leadership concepts. Very often, the suggestion is balked at because they either ‘already know’ what the development needs are or they perceive a lack of readiness. As my colleague, Graham Da Costa and I discussed in my recent podcast, as far as the latter is concerned we can test that out using a simple questionnaire to assess their readiness.

There must be something else going on.

Multi-generational perspectives:

One significant factor that may influence the reception of 360-degree feedback is the presence of multiple generations in today’s workforce. With four or five generations working together, there can be a disparity in perspectives and expectations. Millennial’s and Gen-Z’s in particular, often exhibit scepticism towards formal feedback processes like 360-degree assessments. This scepticism may arise due to differences in work experiences, managerial expectations, and views on loyalty and contribution to a company.  Its clear that Baby-boomers, Gens-X, Y, Millennial’s and Gen-Z will all have slightly different assumptions, expectation, needs and feelings about the world of work. The evolving nature of work and the emphasis on purpose and meaningful contribution may contribute to the distinct expectations of younger generations. It will be interesting how Gen Alpha, the first to be born entirely in the 21st century and who will fully immersed in the digital age, respond to socio-economic trends and relate to the concept of ‘work’.

Changing managerial approaches:

From the opposite perspective, another factor at play is that Baby-boomer’s and Gen-X managers are grappling with how to effectively manage and engage with Millennial’s and Gen-Z’s. Traditional approaches that relied on hierarchical structures and unquestioning compliance no longer resonate with these generations. A clear point of difference is that Millennial’s and Gen-Z’s will tend to question why certain tasks are necessary and seek a clearer understanding of their work contribution. This inclination to question everything stems from their upbringing and education, rather than being purely selfish. Their expectations of work, including the desire for purpose beyond mere output and remuneration, may also impact their perception of feedback processes like 360-degree assessments.

Shift in work-life balance:

Another factor that affects the receptiveness of 360-degree feedback is the evolving notion of work-life balance. Previous generations, such as the Baby-boomers, often prioritised career advancement over personal time and work-life balance.  In my conversation with Graham, I was struck a bit dumb when he revealed that when he used to work in banking some 28 years ago he was actually told by senior managers that “without work you do not have a life.”   The assumption being that if you wanted to progress your career and get ahead, you could forget work-life balance. Younger generations have different priorities. They strive for a healthier work-life balance and are less willing to compromise on personal time for the sake of career progression. This shift in mindset may contribute to their hesitation or resistance towards feedback processes that demand significant time and effort and the results of which they are not clear about.

Apprehension about giving and receiving the feedback itself:

Regardless of generational differences, concern about feedback has been a common theme for some people throughout the years. Way before the emergence of Millennial’s and Generation Z, individuals are often apprehensive about receiving feedback. Often this apprehension could stem from a lack of previous experience with feedback that was constructive and valuable, or a worry that negative aspects of their performance will be highlighted. Many feel uncertain about the more formal 360-degree process itself in which the feedback is coming from a wider range of respondents than just their line manager. They have questions about the process, perhaps the legitimacy of respondents to provide feedback and indeed discomfort with the feedback results. For respondents themselves, many have concerns about the consequences of their feedback, especially when provided for their line manager and if they think their responses could be identified. Overcoming this apprehension and fostering a culture of trust and growth is crucial for organisations to successfully implement 360-degree feedback.

What can be done?

Whether 360-degree feedback is more trouble than it’s worth depends on various factors. Any 360-degree intervention has to be carefully planned and communicated. Understanding the perspectives and expectations of different generations, adapting managerial approaches to engage younger employees, considering the changing dynamics of work-life balance, and addressing any apprehensions about the feedback process, the results and how the data will be used are all essential aspects to be considered. 

Communication and set up is key before launching any 360-degree feedback. Workshops or briefing sessions for all involved, answering any questions that might be on their minds helps enormously. What is the intended purpose of the intervention? Who gets to select the respondents? How will issues of confidentiality be treated? What behavioural criteria will be measured? How will the feedback be collected and reported on? Who gets to see the results? How will the individual be debriefed about their reports? What can be expected to happen after the feedback has been received? How will individual concerns be taken care of?

By tailoring feedback processes to meet the specific needs and expectations of individuals, creating a supportive environment and following best practice, organisations can unlock the benefits of 360-degree feedback while minimizing the potential challenges associated with its implementation.

For more information about our solutions in organisational development, leadership, teams and employee engagement contact us.  We’d love to have the conversation.

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