360 feedback- for appraisal or employee development?

Recommended Reads:
Garavan, T.N., Morley, M., and Flynn, M. (1997), ‘360 degree feedback: its role in employee development’, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 134-147, MCB University Press.

In terms of communication management and performance feedback in the workplace, the 360 degree feedback methodology is becoming an increasingly common way of developing employees, appraising their performance or in some companies; a combination of the two. Garavan, Morley & Flynn’s (1997) article essentially describes the concept behind 360 degree feedback, including its pros and cons; stating that it can be defined as a “contrived method of providing a flow of feedback to employees from all directions”.

However a key point standpoint in this article is the discussion of conflicting views on whether 360 degree feedback should be used primarily for employee development or performance appraisal. The purpose of 360 degree feedback arguably creates a huge impact on the overall effectiveness of the feedback to initiate positive change in employee performance as it has the potential to, for example, influence what motivates the employee and what they hope to gain from the feedback process itself.


For instance, provision of feedback for development purposes will ensure the employee is seeking accurate feedback from their manager and/or other raters in order to improve their performance. This means they will be more open and receptive to the dialogue about their performance (Silverman, Pogson, & Cober. 2005). However, when the feedback is evaluative in nature, provided for a performance appraisal for example, the employee desires to appear competent and attractive in order to be scored as highly as possible, particularly if this rating is linked to a financial reward or bonus. This then significantly reduces their willingness to be receptive to the feedback provided (Silverman et al. 2005) and make the necessary changes to improve performance.

Moreover, when 360-degree feedback is used for purposes other than development such as performance appraisal, the effectiveness (or perceived accuracy) of the feedback received, arguably diminishes. For instance O’Reilly (1994) asserts that when 360 degree performance feedback is provided by raters for the purposes of development, the feedback is “remarkably similar”. However when this feedback is gathered and used for more formal evaluative purposes, the scores and feedback are different as friends pump up each others scores and mark competitors as mediocre.

Similarly, London & Beatty (1993) report that 34 per cent of respondents in their study would rate their manager differently if the feedback was used for a performance appraisal as opposed to developmental purposes and Carlson (1998) affirms that both raters and those being rated are less fearful and more likely to be honest if they know results will be used for personal development purposes. In the same way Clampitt (2005), asserts that it may encourage gamesmanship and ‘behind-the-scenes’ deals.

I found this article really interesting- but at the same time- it all makes so much sense. It will really make good business sense to consider first WHY you are doing 360 degree feedback- is it for developmental or evaluative purposes- and what is the outcome you need.


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