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Coaching and Multi-Source Feedback

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Frequently, customers are brought in not only to provide feedback but also help design the process. Typically customers in the 360° feedback process complete a rating scale that parallels the scale being filled out by employees. Customers might also be interviewed regarding the employee’s performance or several customer focus groups might be convened to generate data about the employee’s performance. In some instances, members of the organization serve as surrogate customers and provide an assessment of their own experiences of being served by the employee who is being assessed.

The true 360° feedback process involves all of these sources—though in a few cases, a multi-source assessment may be even more extensive, involving the solicitation of appraisals from members of the employee’s family, friends or former employers. This extensive review is typically oriented toward employee development, rather than being used for personnel decisions. It is usually only available to the highest-level employees in an organization and is rarely mandatory. In yet other cases, the 360° feedback process is conducted with a team rather than an individual employee. Data are gathered not only from the team members themselves, but also from customers, independent observers and raters, other teams in the organization, and the supervisor to whom the team reports. In some instances an entire organization has conducted a 360° feedback process regarding its own operations.

The typical 360° feedback process involves construction or purchase of a formal rating scale, though many of those experienced in the field have advocated the use of individual interviews to compliment quantitative assessments. While interviews offer substantial benefits, most multi-source assessments currently rely exclusively on rating scales. Furthermore, the items on this scale are usually normative in character. A minority opinion (with which I agree) suggests that normative items might be interspersed with items that describe the employee’s style or pattern of behavior. When only normative items are used, the multi-source feedback system is likely to be threatening for many employees—especially if it is mandatory and deficit-based.

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