360 degree feedback vs 360 degree management

One management tool that has achieved significant popularity over the past ten to fifteen years is 360 degree feedback. The basic concept is that rather than have only top down feedback, feedback on performance comes from all directions, i.e. manager to employee, subordinate to employee, and peer to peer.  

Theoretically, the concept is sound, and it has thus gained a lot of followers. However it has not been that successful in practice. A leading consulting company did a series of studies on various practices that affected shareholder value. It found that the appraisal of managers by subordinates as well as the appraisal of peers by peers led to a decline in shareholder value.

Why has a seemingly sound concept turned out to detract from organization effectiveness?

The answer lies in at least two areas of its implementation.

i) It has too many variables (one author lists fourteen) that have to be met in order for the process to be effective.
ii) A significant number of events can occur that cause the feedback to be destructive.

Ensuring that all the variables essential to success are in place requires extensive resources and sophistication. Most small to mid-size employers do not have the resources available to successfully implement a 360 degree feedback process.

But even with a lack of resources and the proven shortcomings of the method, many organizations continue to attempt the implemention process—often to their detriment.

360 Degree Management
While considerable time and effort has been spent on trying to promote the implementation of the 360 degree feedback process, little effort or attention seems to have been paid in training managers to implement a 360 degree management process.

Most management training and development is directed towards training the manager to lead or to manage his or her subordinates. The other roles of management—managing one’s superiors and managing one’s peers—get very little attention. New or first time managers in particular may not recognize the need to manage persons other than their direct reportees. Yet managing these other relationships is frequently as vital to a manager’s success as managing subordinates.

Frequently, a manager will assume that maintaining agreeable relationships with the various stakeholders she interacts with is the same as managing the relationships. In fact, maintenance of good relations by being a “yes” man or being always agreeable may do nothing to enhance one’s ability to manage. In fact as most of us realize, the “yes” man is frequently viewed with disdain and contempt. It is often a surprise to yes men that these feelings of disdain are shared by his peer group and by the manager he is trying so hard to impress.

An effective manager needs to make a conscious effort to manage on a 360 degree basis if he or she is going to achieve optimum success. Although there may be some common management elements in each direction, there is enough dissimilarity that a manager should develop a plan—beyond blindly agreeing with superiors—as to how he or she is going to manage each group.

As organizations have relationships beyond that of the sales person and the purchasing decision maker, managers need to plan how they will manage inter-company relationships as well. This is just another facet of the 360 degree orbit today’s manager needs to consider.
In my next article we will discuss the specifics of how a manager should manage her manager in order to improve her effectiveness and enhance her personal success.

Fred Pamenter