360 Feedback Norms - Distraction or Helpful Context?

iStock_000027862116_SmallIt is natural to want to know how you compare with others, especially when receiving feedback on your leadership skills. 360 degree feedback is about individual self-awareness, change and development. As such, one could argue that when an individual is provided with comparison information it provides an opportunity to focus on how they compare to others versus their own strengths and opportunities for improvement. Consider a leader who receives feedback that puts them “above average” relative to those in their comparison group. Their relative ranking as compared to others may cause them to be less motivated to continuously improve their skills as they do not see a need for change. So, should we avoid the use of normative information in 360 degree feedback?

Comparative information can be helpful in analyzing data and drawing conclusions, but only when the comparisons are relevant and meaningful. Let's consider the options.

External/Industry Norms in 360 Feedback

It has been common practice to select a 360 degree feedback tool based upon the availability of industry-specific normative data. This comparison data allows leaders to assess how their leadership skills align or differ with other leaders in their industry.  However, the effective use of industry norms is really only possible if an organization uses a standardized 360 degree assessment tool. As such, external/industry comparison norms restrict an organization’s ability to measure the specific factors and behaviors that are directly linked to success within the company.

As discussed in my previous article, many vendors offer standardized or off-the-shelf assessments that measure a broad set of competencies. You will likely find that the set of competencies will be 50-75% on target – missing some factors that are important to your company, and including some that are not important. If your company does not have a defined set of competencies, using a standardized assessment tool to begin your 360 degree feedback process may be a good option. 

Internal Organizational Norms in 360 Feedback

Many organizations choose to create their own internal norm/s to use as comparison information in 360 degree feedback. Organizations that use a customized 360 degree feedback tool that measures the behaviors and factors aligned with organizational strategy can build their own comparative norms over time. Individuals receiving 360 degree feedback within the organization can compare their profile of strengths and development needs to other leaders within the same organizational structure and culture. As the pool of data grows, norms can be made more specific to include groupings by job level, tenure, geography, function, etc.

viaPeople has worked with many organizations, including Marriott (formerly Starwood Hotels) and Google to create norms by geography and job level. This type of normative comparison is much more relevant and helpful in targeting development priorities than external industry comparisons.

Focus on Individual Development Planning

Ultimately, the results that leaders achieve from 360 feedback are dependent upon the actions they take in response to feedback. When delivered effectively, 360 results should assist an individual in identifying the top one or two areas that require development, as well as how they can put their strengths to good use. For more information on creating an Individual Development Plan, download viaPeople's eGuide: Making it Happen! A Guide for Performance-Driven Development Goal Setting.

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Ultimate Guide to Choosing a 360 Degree Feedback Vendor