360-degree feedback has been facing a dilemma in the workplace for quite some time. Employers love it—over 90% of Fortune 500 companies are now using some form of 360-degree feedback for leader assessment and development. However, managers generally do not care for receiving feedback, especially when ratings from supervisors, peers and direct-reports can appear dramatically deviant from their own self-ratings. 360-degree feedback is designed to identify leaders’ blind spots – weaknesses that they may not notice but are apparent to those around them. Should we always treat others’ perspectives as the golden standard to gauge leaders’ lack of self-awareness? Under what conditions do observers’ judgments become curved and tainted? Here are three facts about 360-degree feedback I’d like to share with you. Keep these in mind when interpreting discrepancies between self-ratings and the ratings of others’.
1) Raters use different theories of leadership.
Were you asked to describe your ideal supervisor when you interviewed for a job? Indeed, every person has his or her own beliefs and expectations about what an ideal leader should look like. When it comes to evaluating leaders they work with, raters more or less compare the target against their implicit standards. Even to the same competency, decision-making for example, interpretations vary person to person. To one person, decisiveness and sensitivity to useful information make a good decision-maker. To another person, involving others and being open to different opinions is the key to making outstanding decisions. There is no right or wrong criteria about individuals’ implicit leadership models. However, if raters use dramatically distinct standards in 360° ratings, their ratings come with a substantial portion of idiosyncrasies and are therefore problematic when directly compared. Therefore, it is critical to use well-structured, behaviorally-anchored rating scales to create a shared, standard conceptualization of competencies to be rated.