Does 360-Feedback Work?

Renee Harness

Q: Recently, I was conducting a workshop for a particular department in a large corporation. Only a few minutes into the program, the department head made the statement "360-Feedback doesn't work-period." How do I respond to such a comment?

A: In a recent article in Talent Management magazine, Kenneth M. Nowack, Ph.D., offered reasons "Why 360-Feedback Doesn't Work." Nowack contends that there is a lack of research confirming that 360 feedback impacts behavior change and performance. At the same time, research documented in The Leadership Challenge shows that people are successful in achieving their goals and "self-correcting" their performance if they receive ongoing, detailed feedback.

This paradox struck me when I considered the LPI, a powerful tool that assesses leadership behaviors based on The Five Practices of Leadership®. My business partner, Jo Bell, and I have found the LPI to be very effective in helping individuals improve their leadership behaviors. Jo has worked with the LPI for nearly 10 years and says, "With the clients that take the LPI a second time within 3-6 months, every single person I've worked with has shown improvement in one of the practices or in multiple behaviors. The improvement shows up in their own scores, or in the smaller differences between their scores and those of their constituents." Organizations that have chosen to focus their development efforts on a single practice also have demonstrated significant improvement on their overall LPI over a two year period.

While our experience shows that the LPI does work, I agree with Nowack that organizations and individual leaders can help others implement the feedback component more effectively. Often organizations promote thinking that I call the 'event' mindset, where the LPI, for example, is used merely to reflect a point-in-time snapshot rather than a guide that can be helpful in the process of lifelong learning and development.

In learning and development circles, we campaign to eliminate the event mentality to ensure that learning takes place and to create a positive impact on performance and business results. Instead, in The Leadership Challenge® Workshop we encourage clients to think of leadership as a journey and the LPI as the compass. LPI results can show leaders where they are and where they need to go. They may find that they are right on track in some areas while in others they may need course corrections to be more effective.

With the LPI, leaders see their current location, but the journey should not end there. Leader's can't put the compass down at the start of the journey and expect that they'll successfully navigate through areas where they are unsure of themselves. Unfortunately, that is what happens when the LPI is used as a one-time tool to improve behavior. When viewed as a snapshot only, any tool can be static, providing little information or incentive to move forward.

Instead, we must view and use the LPI as a guide. Refer back to the tool often. Perhaps have clients complete it again periodically. And allow leaders time for practice, reflection, and additional feedback. Look at feedback as a dynamic process, one that is essential to developing talent in an organization and changing behaviors that lead to more effective individual and organizational performance.

When leaders increase awareness of their own behavior by participating in the LPI, they see themselves differently and can make a concentrated effort to improve their leadership. The most effective leaders continually seek feedback, implement changes that enhance their leadership skills, and focus on practicing those skills for the long term.

Renee Harness is president of the Meridian Leadership Center and a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop. She has led organization development, training and effectiveness initiatives in corporations and academia for over 14 years. She can be reached via e-mail at renee@www.meridianleadershipcenter.com.

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