Harris, M.M. (2000), "360‐degree Feedback", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 274-275. https://doi.org/10.1108/lodj.2000.21.5.274.1
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This is a compact, practitioner‐oriented book about 360‐degree feedback aimed at “anyone who has an interest in the 360‐degree feedback field”. I must admit that when I glanced at the author’s brief bio and read that he was a graduate in modern languages and was currently a partner in a human resource consulting firm, I was a little concerned that the book would be a 200+ page marketing pitch. Fortunately, I was completely wrong. The author begins his introduction with excerpts from three, presumably hypothetical, but nevertheless attention grabbing, conversations occurring in three different decades (1980s, 1990s and 2000). The purpose of these three excerpts is to get one to think about how 360‐degree feedback is changing the way in which performance information is gathered and shared. I found that they caught my attention and provided me with hope that the rest of the book would be equally interesting to read. I wasn’t disappointed. The author continues the introduction with a single sentence as to where he began to use 360‐degree feedback (as a training director in 1987) and then ends this section with a one‐page overview of the book. At this point, it was mid‐evening, I was rather tired, and I would have put away most books. But I wasn’t ready to quit reading this book yet. On to Chapter 1, where the author offers a definition of 360‐degree feedback. Nothing particularly novel about the definition, but I did like how the author carefully explores various terms he uses in this definition (e.g. stakeholders) as well as terms he deliberately chooses not to include (e.g. confidential). To me, a well‐thought out definition is a signal that the author has really worked on the subject. The chapter continues with a description of what 360‐degree feedback can be used for. There wasn’t much that I found to be particularly new here but I liked that the author starts this section by quoting a potential client who stated that “360‐degree feedback is a solution looking for a problem” and proceeds to respond to this criticism in an effective way.
I was least impressed with Chapter 2 of the book, which provides a comparison between 360‐degree feedback and other “measurement tools”, including cognitive ability tests, personality inventories, assessment centers (which are referred to as development centres – remember this book is published in the UK), and employee surveys. While I do believe there is some value in describing the strengths and weaknesses of 360‐degree feedback compared to other potential tools, the information provided by the author is sometimes simply too sketchy. For example, there is no explanation regarding the strengths and weaknesses of personality testing compared to 360‐degree feedback. I therefore remained puzzled as to why personality testing might not be a viable alternative. Similarly, I felt that some other considerations should have been offered, such as credibility of different methods (i.e. perhaps personality tests are less persuasive than 360‐degree feedback ratings). One other pet peeve of mine – the expression “there are no ‘right or wrong answers”’. The author notes that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to 360‐degree feedback questionnaires. But surely some ratings are “better” in some sense than others and, therefore, aren’t there certain right and wrong answers?
By way of contrast, I genuinely liked Chapter 3, which addresses the uses and applications of 360‐degree feedback. What the author does here is review the primary uses of 360‐degree feedback and offer both the pitfalls and the opportunities inherent in using this technique. For instance, in describing the potential pitfalls in applying 360‐degree feedback to strategic and organization development, the author makes this pointed observation: “[t]he risk for the organization itself is disillusionment resulting from failed promises of a better tomorrow”. The presentation of both the advantages and the problems that may accrue is valuable. Another highlight of the chapter is the author’s soliloquy on using 360‐degree feedback for pay increase decisions. Using a rather witty format, the author is able to present several novel insights into what is a rather controversial question.
Chapter 4 addresses questionnaire design. A major issue addressed here is whether one should design a questionnaire to fit the specific needs of the organization or whether one should purchase an existing questionnaire. The author provides some factors that one should consider in making that decision and then offers some strategies for designing one’s own survey. There is surprisingly little information on existing surveys that are available for purchase. On the other hand, with the wide access to the Internet, interested parties should be able to find information about and examples of 360‐degree feedback instruments with little trouble. I thought that the best part of the chapter was the section on item construction, where the author offers a variety of tips, accompanied with good examples. The author also provides some scales to use for the ratings as well as some formatting examples. This chapter is particularly useful for readers interested in developing some of their own items.
I thought Chapter 7, which addresses facilitation and action‐planning, was the most useful chapter in the book. I/O writing and research regarding performance management in general, and I include multisource feedback as well, are far too focused on measurement questions to the detriment of feedback and coaching issues. This chapter goes a long way towards addressing this shortcoming. The author begins the chapter by explaining how the role of the facilitator, or feedback provider, differs here from other situations. The author then provides a framework and set of specific steps for presenting the ratings and working with the recipients of the feedback. In my opinion, even the most seasoned facilitator will learn something from this chapter. Chapter 8, which addresses the planning and implementation of 360‐degree feedback, was also excellent. The major strength of that chapter is the description of various objections that may be raised to such a program (e.g. “I don’t think we’re ready for this yet”) and potential ways to address them.
The final chapter in this book provides several case examples of organizations that have implemented 360‐degree feedback programs. I think this offers a nice, applied touch and offers some interesting issues to consider. On the negative side, it would have been useful to have some examples where 360‐degree feedback programs failed to work well or at least met with resistance initially, because we tend to learn more from mistakes than we do from successes!
To wrap this review up, I heartily recommend this book to individuals who are debating whether to have a 360‐degree feedback program or are faced with the task of implementing such a program, regardless of whether they are HR managers, I/O psychologists, or line managers. I believe the book would also be useful for an instructor who needs a relatively brief and highly practical text covering 360‐degree feedback. Thus, I think that the book does an excellent job of meeting its intended purpose.