A New Paradigm for 360 Surveys
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What is the value of self-ratings in 360 surveys? Aren’t they overly inflated, unreliable, and have no level of agreement with the ratings of peers, direct reports, or superiors? Isn’t this the reason competency measures are typically calculated without the self- rating included?
Most practitioners would say they help to create dissonance and provide an impetus for change. The underlying assumption behind developmental 360 feedback systems being a review and comparison of ratings from others will heighten an individual’s self -awareness and increase their perceived need for change. With this logic, the individual is shaken from a lack of self-awareness by the much lower ratings by others and they then become highly motivated to change. It seems to me that it is just as likely, if not more so, that the individual is likely to discount the ratings of other’s or become defensive and demotivated by the lower rating values.
Clearly, self-awareness is an important ingredient for performance improvement. There is ample research that shows that higher self-other agreement is associated with a number of positive outcomes relevant for human resource practitioners. Some of these positive outcomes include perceived need for change, performance improvement after feedback, and leadership effectiveness.
Is a lack of self-awareness responsible for low self-other agreement? It could easily be argued that the degree to which a discrepancy exists between an individual’s self- rating and the average rating made by “Other’s” in a 360 process should be an indication of the amount of self-awareness possessed by the individual. Small differences would be an indication of high self-awareness while large differences would be seen as indicative of low self-awareness. I suspect it is not because individuals have such little self-awareness. It probably has more to do with the traditional 360 process which creates a scenario which encourages self-promotion.
Omni has developed a unique approach to multi-rater surveys that was designed to maximize self-awareness and show higher congruence in self-other’s ratings compared to traditional approaches. In this process, the individual rates their performance in comparison to structured performance standards for each behavior within a competency. The self -ratings are then shared with the other raters along with the performance standards to gather their perceptions of agreement or disagreement. The combination of structured performance standards with a transparent sharing of the ratings to others is felt to drive higher levels of introspection and self- awareness.
We recently put this to a test in a research study with one of our client organizations. The results were amazing. There was a highly significant relationship between self-ratings and the ratings by others and no significant differences in their means. In fact, the self-ratings were slightly lower than the ratings of others. It appears the Omni 360 process corrected the past problems with inflated self-ratings and low self-other agreement. Of course, there is always a caution to not overly extrapolate from a single study but these are pretty amazing results.
The benefits of this approach are most likely seen in performance feedback sessions and subsequent developmental planning. These sessions will not have the difficult task of overcoming potential defensiveness associated with other’s perceptions being much lower than the individual’s self-perceptions. The higher agreement between self and others should also make it easier for the individual to accept identified development needs as being accurately measured which should increase their willingness to act on the data. Finally, the more thoughtful introspection driven by the Omni process should help predispose the individual to receiving feedback since they have already thought carefully about their true strengths and development needs.
There are likely to be other benefits to higher self-other agreement including a higher willingness to participate in future 360 surveys. The process should be seen as less threatening by the target individuals.
Stay tuned. We will continue to gather more evidence concerning the impact and potential benefits of our unique 360 approach.