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Hidden Messages Behind 360 Degree Feedback

The Hidden Messages Behind 360-Degree Feedback

Many of our clients see 360-degree feedback as simply being a useful tool to understand the behaviours of managers and their impact on a number of groups including colleagues, reports and others.

But it is also a self-rating questionnaire which measures a person’s self-perception of their performance.

Are Self- rating Questionnaires Reliable?

Research from Mabey & West (1982) and others show that self-rating questionnaires such as performance appraisals and self-ratings on 360-degree feedback questionnaires lack reliability as people often over rate or under rate themselves when compared with peers/colleagues and reports. The latter two groups tend to be in much higher agreement with each other.

Why Self-rate?

The answer is not always in the 360-degree feedback rating. It is about looking at the differences between the ratings of the manager or focus as they are called and that of the other raters.

Often more than a scale point exists between the self rater (focus) and the rest. This is because of two phenomena:

  • Blind spots – rating one’s self higher than others
  • Hidden strengths – under rating in comparison to others

Blind Spots

Research has assumed that overrating or ‘blind spots’ occur because self-raters think that they are stronger in a given competency than they are. They have a strong self-image and think more highly of themselves. Sometimes, this amounts to self-delusion. However, more recent research including; Atwater et. Al. (2007) found that over self-raters had a higher motivation to change than participants who gave themselves lower ratings.

Fleenor. et al. (1996) concluded that overraters are under performing when compared against comparison groups and that self-rating is not a good way to measure attainment or performance. Indeed, over rating one’s self is more related to poor leadership. Typically, it is this group who react poorly to 360-degree survey feedback.

Hidden Strengths

This is where someone under rates themselves compared with others. It is often perceived as being less of a problem than ‘blind spots’ but could be indicative of a lack of self-confidence, a very high level of self-awareness or just plain modesty. The issue here is where there is room for improvement but the rater dismisses the competence as being a strength during feedback. However, it can also mean that the person has a very high level of self-awareness and is self-critical. People in this group have high standards and often are seen to be high performing.

What Does This Mean?

  • Self raters who have ‘blind spots’ often have an overly inflated view of their abilities leaving the feedback provider to skilfully manage the situation as we can see below
  • ‘Hidden strengths’ are less of an issue unless the need to develop or improve is still there
  • Poorer performers overestimate their performance whilst star performers rarely will
  • Promoted leaders and managers tend to under rate themselves in the people arena but those who get fired over rate themselves
  • The most accurate raters are managers but just behind are colleagues and reports. Self-rating is not a reliable guide to ability, performance or potential
  • Understanding 360-degree feedback is more complex than merely looking at the data in the report. It is about the hidden messages around an individual’s self-perception and the ratings of the line manager, colleagues, reports and others
  • Using well designed 360-degree feedback questionnaires which have been subjected to validity studies is important if the maximum return on investment is to be realised. The output needs to allow the facilitator to see the ‘blind spots’ and ‘hidden strengths’ using the ratings and ideally be able to read open ended question responses to help contextualise the output.

How Should These Issues Be Addressed Within The Focus?

Recently we witnessed some very poor practice around 360-degree feedback, where completed questionnaires were given to line managers without professional feedback. We observed a lack of appreciation for the hidden meanings and data that good 360-degree feedback can provide.

Best Practice

  • Always administer and feedback 360-degree feedback by trained feedback providers who understand the significance of the hidden data and have experience of helping the focus to understand and contextualise their feedback.
  • Our approach is to address the hidden data messages in the feedback discussion which we treat as a coaching session. Luthan & Peterson (2003) found that this approach improved job satisfaction, commitment and the performance of direct reports. The resource investment is invaluable.
  • Sending completed questionnaires to foci without face to face feedback is inappropriate and even counter productive if the messages are difficult. Especially as some foci may be resistant to the data or concerned about the possible implications of the output.
  • Use the feedback for leadership development and embrace the powerful messages. 360-degree feedback contains a rich source of data if a properly developed and validated survey is deployed.
  • Trained executive coaches and consultants are well placed to agree development plans with the focus post feedback. This action plan means that the survey has a legacy. Moreover, team reports and gap analysis can help to identify team and enterprise leadership issues as well.
  • Re-assessment after 12 to 18 months is often advisable so development can be tracked.

Matthew Davis is a director of Ramsey Hall & The OPG. He advises organisations on all aspects of leadership, organisational psychology and development. He is a part time Doctorial Researcher in Organisational Psychology at Sheffield University and is an acknowledged expert in assessment, development and organisational development.

Want to know more?

If you’d like to have a call with Matthew he can be contacted on 02380 236944. Alternatively via email medavis@ramseyhall.com

Our work ranges from online psychometric assessment solutions and complex organisational development projects to leadership consulting and 360 feedback.

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