Without Coaching and Goal-setting, Your 360 Degree Feedback Process is a Waste of Time and Money

Feedback is a vital part of performance, growth, and development. Understanding ourselves and how we interact with others helps us to understand the impact we have on those around us. The perceptions of others within our circle of influence, whether those perceptions are accurate or inaccurate, determine our level of success. Regardless of the accuracy of these perceptions, our interaction with others both influences and is influenced by the perceptions of others. This is where 360 degree feedback enters into the picture.

Based on the philosophy that individuals should receive a full 360‐degree picture of performance by gaining multiple perspectives, multi‐rater feedback gathers input about an individual’s performance and behaviors by soliciting feedback from those stakeholders impacted by that individual. Similar to the 360 degrees of a circle, an individual is figuratively at the center of that circle, and feedback is gathered by way of a survey from those in positions to observe that person in action: supervisors, direct reports, peers, customers, etc.

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The use of 360 degree feedback, has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Some estimates suggest that as many as 90% of all Fortune 500 firms use some type of multi‐rater feedback with their managers. However, the success of 360 degree feedback programs varies greatly. The question that rises to the surface is, “what makes a 360 degree feedback program successful, versus one that fails miserably?”

In studies conducted by DecisionWise researchers over the past decade, we have found some interesting facts about making the 360-degree feedback process more effective. Two areas stand out more than any others: Coaching and Goal Setting.

RESEARCH STUDY #1

The first DecisionWise study regarding the effectiveness of 360-degree feedback was conducted in a two-year study with a group of 345 managers from a large multi-national technology consulting firm. Each of these managers had participated in a 360-degree feedback assessment earlier that year. A total of four different 360 feedback surveys were used for this group, meaning not all completed the same 360 feedback instrument. However, on each of the assessments, these managers received feedback from supervisors, direct reports, and peers.
Six months after completing the 360-degree feedback survey, DecisionWise asked these managers via an online survey to self-evaluate their perceptions of the survey effectiveness. They were asked to rate the degree to which they agreed with two overall statements:

  1. Overall, I feel that the 360-degree feedback process is effective.
  2. I have made meaningful positive change as a result of the 360-degree feedback I received.

They were also asked to rate various elements of the process, such as whether the administration of the survey was simple, whether they received coaching, and if they had set goals based on the survey. The results of this research were very telling:

92% of those that received coaching reported that the overall 360-degree feedback process was effective. In contrast, only 34% of those who did not receive coaching felt the process was effective.

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For purposes of this study, the concept of “coaching” was left to the interpretation of the manager being rated. For some, this meant a simple debrief in which he or she sat down and reviewed the results with his or her supervisor, peers, mentors, or and outside coach. For others, the idea of coaching was deeper, and included more extended coaching sessions. This was intentionally left to their interpretation, as the desire was to allow the participant to determine the level of coaching needed in order to get the maximum benefit from the assessment.

RESEARCH STUDY #2

A follow-up to this study was conducted two years later and nearly identical results were found. This study went one step further, and asked a number of raters (those providing the initial feedback on these managers) whether they had noticed changes in the managers’ behavior and performance after the 360 assessment. An analysis of the results of the raters’ responses showed a clear correlation between the self-reported effectiveness (the managers’ ratings of the process and their subsequent improvement) and the change noted by these managers’ raters. These correlations provide further support to the theory that coaching and goal setting dramatically improve the outcome of a 360-degree feedback process.
Further analysis also showed that when participants had set specific goals to address areas of their 360 feedback, it was far more likely that their 360 feedback showed significant improvement the following year than when goals were not set. This finding added additional weight to the theory that goal-setting is key to improvement.

Findings summary

The research yielded some additional interesting insights:

92% of those who responded positively to “I received sufficient coaching” answered positively to “Overall, I feel the 360 process is effective.”

87% of those that set goals felt the 360 process was effective.

94% of those that received coaching and set goals felt the 360 process was effective.

Conversely, only 34% of those who did not receive sufficient coaching felt the 360 process was effective.

Less than 40% of those that did not receive coaching set goals based on their 360 feedback.

Just half of organizations provide 360 feedback coaching

One interesting note—despite what we clearly note in these studies, we find that less than half of the organizations using 360-degree feedback today emphasize coaching and goal setting as part of the process. These studies leave little doubt as to the importance of coaching and goal-setting in making a 360 process more effective, and appear to indicate that a large number of organizations conducting 360 assessments could dramatically improve the return on their investments.

So, do you want to ensure your feedback process is effective? Add goal setting and coaching. The research seems to clearly point out that these two factors make the difference between 34% feeling their multi-rater feedback was helpful, and 94% saying the process was effective.

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