[This post is part of a series on Coaching Highlights from coaching Columbia Business School students. If you don't see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you'll get more value than reading just this post.]
In the context of the lessons from coaching Columbia Business School students in leadership, I’ve mostly written about the value of 360-degree feedback processes and reports and how to use them.
Their shortcomings, costs, and problems are mostly obvious, but I’ll cover them anyway since I’ve covered so much about them. I’ll include ones that don’t apply to MBA candidates, despite the context here. I’ll try to mention how to avoid or work around problems too.
First, 360-feedback reports cost a lot, and not just money — also resources like time and relationships. Large, established companies with dedicated HR departments may already have resources to overcome them, but that doesn’t help the rest of us.
Since you usually have to hire an outside company or coach to administer them (see below), you have to spend money.
They take time from the schedules of you, your evaluators, and whoever administers them to administer and interpret your results.
They can take value from relationships with outsiders if you ask clients and other colleagues to report on them just from the time they take. How you respond or interpret feedback can affect relationships too.
Two main shortcomings of the reports affect feedback in general. As evaluations, they look at the past, which you can’t change. Since they ask people to evaluate, and people often feel uncomfortable communicating negative evaluations, you never know how biased they are.
Reports often overcome these shortcomings with qualitative feedback sections. Personally, I recommend feedforward as an effective, free, and relationship-building way to overcome them.
You usually need other people to administer the reports to maintain privacy and keep key personnel from the distraction of administration.
You usually need yet another person to help review and give an outside perspective on the person being evaluated.
For all the value and direction they give, the reports do not intrinsically motivate. Many people never act on their reports, even if they intend to. So you may want yet another person to help motivate and coach people to act on the reports.
For students taking a leadership class, having to take the rest of the course overcomes at least some of these issues. Large corporations with HR departments that regularly administer the reports can help too.
The large amount of information these reports give can also cause problems.
One is overconfidence: you may feel you know everything about yourself you need to change, forgetting that they only give a snapshot in time. Also, however much 360 degrees sounds like all directions, the external world changes all the time and you may miss many important directions.
Another is feeling like if some information and analysis helps some, more information and analysis will help more, sometimes called analysis paralysis. After you get the report, you have to act.
I haven’t exhausted all the shortcomings and problems, nor offered all the solutions and workarounds to overcome them, but I think I’ve covered the main ones.