360º feedback is an increasingly popular tool for executive and team development. In the process, an individual executive or team is evaluated along some predetermined quantitative and qualitative dimensions, providing numerical ratings for the quantitative items and comments for the qualitative ones. These ratings are collected from the individual executive or team members themselves, as well as from a selection of other relevant stakeholders. This feedback can then provide valuable input into the individual's or team's strengths and areas for further development.
Human Resources professionals are often tasked with finding a vendor to administer 360º feedback, which is often collected online and tabulated automatically. In addition to questions about cost, data privacy, and ease of use, HR often gets asked by the executives or managers who are going to be participating in the 360º process whether the particular items being asked about the individuals or teams who are participating have been "validated".
While some executive and managers may be hesitant to receive feedback, there is no need for them to be concerned about the "validity" of 360º assessments. The reason is that the traditional criteria for validation:
1. Extrapolating from a sample to an entire population (e.g. if a political poll is taken before an election, do the responses from the sample provide a valid reflection of how the entire population of voters will vote?)
2. Making predictions about the future (e.g. does this personality or intelligence test predict which job candidate will be successful?)
Are not applicable in a developmental 360, since developmental feedback is not intended to extrapolate from a sample to a population, or to make predictions about the future.
It does, however, make sense for HR to inquire about the relevance and utility of the 360º, considering questions such as:
- Have people who have received this kind of feedback been able to improve their leadership skills?
- Have teams who have taken a team 360º been able to build on strengths, overcome obstacles and become more aligned in meeting their objectives?
Whether or not statistical analysis has been conducted on items is much less important than whether those items can catalyze thought and action. The highly popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for example, is also not traditionally valid, yet is still the most commonly used developmental assessment tool in the workplace. As long as it is used to catalyze constructive discussions, the validity of the MBTI is beside the point. Similarly, when receiving 360º feedback, most individuals and teams find the qualitative comments, particularly those that are detailed and specific, to be more useful for their development than any quantitative ratings.
In conclusion, 360º feedback should be a starting point for individuals and teams to reflect on their performance and consider ways to improve it. Whether or not a 360º has been used elsewhere in the past is much less important than whether the questions asked, and the way in which they are asked, are relevant to the user's needs. The only "valid" concern about a 360º is whether or not it can raise awareness and help individuals and teams gather the feedback and suggestions they need to improve their performance.
For sample 360º reports, which can be customized according to users' needs please click here:
Note: this article is adapted from a blog posting by Ben Dattner that originally appeared on psychologytoday.com
Ben Dattner, Ph.D., is a member of WJM Associates' executive coaching and assessment Faculty and is an adjunct professor at New York University