Can multi-rater feedback improve workplace performance? The answer from academic literature is mixed and could be summarised as “yes, provided that….”. Previous research has shown that multisource feedback can be an effective method of improving work performance in its own right (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Smither et al, 2003). Many researchers agree on the potential for 360 programmes to raise self-awareness and have a positive impact on performance, but mixed empirical findings can be attributed to the “high degree of variation in design features across 360 processes” (Bracken and Rose, 2011) and the fact that often the content of the feedback is provided to the individual without a coach or facilitator to help them understand it (Lawrence, 2015).
Research shows that for 360 feedback to have a positive impact on performance it must:
- be accepted by the individual (Alexander, 2006; Smither et al, 2005)
- be conducted by a trained professional (e.g., McDowall and Kurz, 2008; Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005)
- involve goal setting for the participant (Latham et al, 2005; Smither et al, 2005)
- provide “short- and long- term support for participants, as they seek to make sense of the feedback and commit to specific actions” (Lawrence, 2015)
- “provide a comprehensive and valid measure of workplace behaviour” (McDowall and Kurz, 2008) that is linked to the purpose of the programme (Lawrence, 2015).
The latter point is particularly relevant in our experience of working with sales organisations. Historically, many have used generic 360 surveys more geared to measuring leadership or general workplace behaviours, whereas what they should measure are the capabilities that drive improved sales performance.
The importance of the skill and diplomacy of the feedback facilitator in navigating the potential sensitivities and nuances of 360 data is highlighted by a number of authors and researchers, because it is critical that the feedback is understood and accepted by the individual in order for there to be a commitment to goals and behaviour change (Alexander, 2006; Latham et al, 2005; Lawrence, 2015).
Finally, the overall sponsorship and positioning of the 360 programme is key, as it must be based on mutual trust and buy-in that is fostered through good communication (McDowall and Kurz, 2008).
Combining 360 and coaching: turbo powering the impact on performance
Whilst there is a lack of research specific to the field of sales, there is a growing body of evidence that shows professional coaching support following 360 feedback can be a powerful way to improve performance.
- A large study of over 1000 senior managers examined the effects of executive coaching on 360 feedback over time. One year later, they found that managers who worked with a coach were more likely to set specific (rather than vague) goals, to solicit ideas for improvement from their superiors and had improved more than other managers in terms of 360 ratings (Smither et al, 2003).
- Luthans and Peterson (2003) found that participants need systematic coaching along with the 360 degree feedback in order to gain self-awareness and have a positive impact on work satisfaction and organisational commitment.
- Thach (2002) found that the combination of 360 feedback and individual coaching increases leadership effectiveness by up to 60 per cent.
In contradiction, Jones et al’s (2015) review suggests that using 360 feedback reduces the size of the positive impact of coaching. However, they acknowledge that this may be due to issues of the participants not accepting the feedback or using generic leadership surveys that have no direct relevance to their objectives. In other words, poorly designed or delivered 360 programmes will inevitably not achieve your desired aims.
McDowall and Kurz (2008) conclude that coaching and 360 feedback processes are mutually beneficial as “coaching is helpful for initiating and embedding behaviour change following the initial feedback process” and “360 feedback measures make an effective contribution to the coaching process, as differences in ratings provide both the coachee and coach with valuable information about levels of effective performance at work….”.
- Goal-setting and ongoing support for the individual enhances the impact of a 360 feedback programme
- If you want to change sales behaviour, you need to measure sales behaviour in your 360
- Feedback must be accepted and understood by the recipient in order for them to commit to behaviour change
- Combining 360 feedback with ongoing coaching will turbocharge its impact
Bloojam are business psychologists who take an evidence-based approach to selecting and developing salespeople, leaders and sales leaders. To learn more about our Academy approach to developing sales capability in your workforce please visit our website.
Alexander, D.M. (2006) How Do 360 Degree Performance Reviews Affect Employee Attitudes, Effectiveness and Performance? Seminar Research Paper Series. Paper 8. http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/lrc_paper_series/8
Bracken, D.W. & Rose, D.S. (2011) When Does 360-Degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does? Journal of Business and Psychology 26, Article number: 183
Jones, R. J., Woods, S. A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2016) The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.
Kluger, A.N. & DeNisi, A. (1996) The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory. Psychological Bulletin, II9(2), 254-284
Latham, G.P., Almost, J., Mann, S. & Moore, C. (2005) New Developments in Performance Management. Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 77–87.
Lawrence, P. (2015), “A best practice model for the effective deployment of 360° feedback”, Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 29 No. 6, 13-16.
Luthans, F. & Peterson, S. J. (2004) 360‐degree feedback with systematic coaching: Empirical analysis suggests a winning combination. Human Resource Management 42(3), 243-256.
McDowall, A. & Kurz, R. (2008) Effective integration of 360 degree feedback into the coaching process. The Coaching Psychologist, 4(1)
Smither, J.W., London, M. & Reilly, R.R. (2005) Does performance improve following multisource feedback? A theoretical model, meta-analysis and review of empirical findings. Personnel Psychology, 58, 33-52.
Smither, J.W., London, M., Flautt, R., Vargas, Y., Kucine, I. (2003) Can working with an executive coach improve multisource feedback ratings over time? A quasi experimental field study. Personnel Psychology 56, 1, p23-44
Thach, E C (2002) “The impact of executive coaching and 360 feedback on leadership effectiveness” Leadership & Organization Development Journal Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 205-214.