By David Hallam
January 8 2004 -
In the wake of recent corporate scandals, 360-degree feedback has emerged
as a tool that may help prevent future disasters.
The tool is already recognized for promoting the growth of managers. It
enables people in the know to provide their leaders with an honest assessment
of their skills and integrity, based on a secure, confidential questionnaire.
But its success on the individual level can blind us to its capacity to
scan for danger in the organization as a whole.
In every organization that hit the headlines because of governance issues,
there were people who recognized the problems but had no secure way to
voice concerns. By default, their silence supported the pretence of the
official corporate numbers.
But had their organizations aggregated and studied the results of 360-degree
feedback, corporate health could have been charted earlier and more accurately,
boards of directors alerted, and remedial measures put in place.
In recent years, there have been growing demands from customers of the
360 provider PanoramicFeedback.com, for automated aggregate reports that
would help them measure their human assets and understand the culture of
"They asked for a tool that would provide useful data by combining the
results of their 360s," said CEO Esther Kohn-Bentley. "They wanted to sort
them effortlessly by department or division, by individuals, by highest
and lowest ratings, even by the extent to which those being assessed differed
from or were similar to each other."
These requirements led to the development of a 360 aggregate report by
which organizations can measure:
The integrity of their leaders
Their level of competency
Whether they adhere to codes of ethics
Whether the organization is out of control
To put in place such a remarkable instrument requires foresight but surprisingly
little additional effort. Here's a 3-step plan to scan for danger in your
1. Assess the right people
It is essential to make sure your 360 project covers all the senior management
of the organization, including the CEO and CFO.
That's not as difficult as it might seem. Leaders generally understand
that 360 has the most positive impact on staff when its use is modeled
by the leadership.
2. Ask the right questions
The confidential nature of the 360-degree feedback questionnaire makes
it safe for responders to provide valuable intelligence.
In addition to focusing on traditional business skills, your 360 can ask
questions like this: "Does the person being assessed carry out accounting
and audit measures rigorously and transparently?"
As well, you can ask pointed questions about the culture of the leadership
group. For instance: "Would you trust this person to manage your own personal
Finally, you can ask responders for unstructured comments that elicit their
valuable personal perspective: "Please comment on this person's adherence
to the highest standards of governance."
The most effective questionnaires include competencies and skills that
will be needed in and beyond the foreseeable future.
Questions like these have a strong positive side effect. They convey an
unmistakable message that the organization is committed to integrity in
3. Aggregate the results
An aggregate report provides the view from 10,000 feet, contributing to
an overall picture of corporate skills and culture. It can reveal specific
corners of the organization where integrity is strongly or weakly practiced.
As well, aggregate reports can be filtered to show the results for specific
leaders. Their Individual results can alert you, for instance, to persons
who were rated high on business acuity but received lower scores on ethical
or financial issues.
(Be careful to generate this kind of data only if the people being assessed
understand that their individual results may be seen by others.)
Use aggregate results to understand the organization
360 aggregates have benefits beyond governance issues. Organizations are
hungry for quantified, usable data. An oft-quoted study by Lingle and Schiemann
in Management Review, March 1996, showed that Ameasurement managed@ companies
consistently out performed the rest.
360-degree feedback can provide crucial numerical information about the
skill levels in individual departments or divisions. It can suggest cost-effective
training initiatives, help keep your best performers fully
engaged, point to winning strategies, and warn the organization away from
plans for which it may lack the bench strength.
But for many organizations, the most urgent concern is to assess the integrity
of governance. 360-degree feedback can predict whether they risk becoming
the next victim of critical headlines.
David Hallam (dhallam@PanoramicFeedback.com) is a staff writer at PanoramicFeedback.com,
a provider of Internet-based, multi language 360 degree feedback (www.PanoramicFeedback.com).
Experts from PanoramicFeedback.com offer single-day consultations to organizations
about using 360 aggregate reporting to assess their governance and strengthen
their strategic position.