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First used in military applications in World War II, 360 degree feedback has been used in companies since the 1950s. Its popularity has increased substantially in the last decade with the use of internet-based applications. Basically, 360 degree feedback is a way to garner information about a candidate from a variety of sources, including the candidate himself. An anonymous online survey is sent to a subject and his managers and peers. In some cases, surveys can also be sent to subordinates and customers. Because of the multiple viewpoints presented, the surveys can provide a richer overview of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses than that found in a typical résumé. The technique is widely used by companies for performance reviews and promotions, and is gaining popularity in the recruiting process.
When used inside a company as a training and performance review tool, 360 degree feedback has proved to be very effective in identifying areas for employee improvement, and discovering hidden potential. However, 360 degree feedback should be implemented as part of a larger program where the results of the surveys lead to new methods that will bring better future results. Otherwise, a sudden change of approach can lead to lowered employee morale and biased results.
Because of confidentiality issues, it is preferable to have the surveys designed and managed by an outside company. There is no shortage of companies that will offer their software (and usually seminars on how to use it). As you look for a third-party that can provide services, examine their sample surveys, and if you want to use 360 degree feedback for your recruiting efforts, be sure that there is a version of the software specifically designed for that purpose. The surveys should include questions about the subject’s work skills, leadership, motivational effectiveness, ethics and general attitude.
360 degree feedback can be very valuable for recruiting. Some of the survey subjects listed above are the same subjects that can be difficult to include in an in-person interview. Getting multiple responses from outside sources can provide those valuable and necessary insights. For outside recruiters, the positive feedback that comes from a 360 degree feedback report can help build the candidate’s case in the eyes of a hiring manager. After all, multiple corroborating sources are much more effective than a self-serving résumé written by the candidate himself.
However, 360 degree feedback has its detractors, too. One of the major opposing arguments is that the information gathered in the surveys can be biased. Studies show that the longer the person taking the survey has known the subject, the less objective their opinions will be. This is especially true in the case of a candidate’s personal friends. There is also the “Rashomon effect” (named for a classic 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa) where different people will give their own differing assessments based on their personal motives. And with both of these issues, there is no way to judge the reliability of the information because all of the responses are anonymous.
In short, every company must make its own decisions on how and if to use 360 degree feedback. It can be a powerful tool, but can bring contradictory results. Perhaps the best solution is to research the companies that provide the service and if you want to take the chance, take advantage of the free trial versions on specially selected subjects. It is a trial-and-error process to be sure, but it may provide an additional and valuable resource to your recruiting and training efforts. Happy hunting! -Thomas Cunniffe
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