Should feedback ever be attributable to an individual? (Part 3 of 10)

3. Should feedback ever be attributable to an individual?

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The debate here is that on one hand feedback should be attributable as this created the opportunity for the focus to approach their raters for clarification and encourages an open honest culture; but on the other hand, some argue that it takes a very mature culture to cope with attributed feedback and in fact this may distract from the content of the comments, as individual become pre-occupied with who said what about them. Furthermore raters are reluctant to highlight development areas at the best of times and may be even less inclined to do so if they felt they could be identified and held to account for their views.

The outcome of an online forum discussion suggested that most tend towards anonymous feedback, especially when: the 360 process is new, trust levels within the organisation are low, and the culture of the organisation does not support open feedback. This is consistent with best practice guidelines which state that all feedback should be anonymous other than that from the self and manager.

There is a perception that anonymity encourages openness and reduces the risk of reprisal from outlining development points. This last point is illustrated by results to a survey conducted by 3D Group where 96% of 360-degree Feedback program managers surveyed had promised anonymity to raters with the assumption that this would help obtain more honest feedback and less skewed ratings. The point is addressed again in studies that have shown that compared to anonymous raters, known raters tend to score significantly higher (around two thirds higher) and their scores tend to be less correlated with performance. The reason for this inflation of scores is that it is difficult for individuals to have open discussions about weaknesses.

It may however be argued that anonymous ratings do not help to harbour an open and honest working environment. Furthermore in order for 360° feedback to be trusted it has to be valued; anonymous feedback may reduce the quality of open comments as raters know they will not be individually called to question, and individuals are unable to approach raters for clarification, this may impact the value of the whole process.

“Not understanding what behaviour the respondent has seen will lead to a general ignoring or distorting of the data. The individual therefore needs sufficient understanding of the context of comments to gain full value.”

The answer to this question may also depend upon who has access to the feedback report. For example, it may be beneficial to a manager to see feedback in an attributed form whilst it may be sufficient for a focus to see it in an anonymous format. Managers being able to see attributed ratings and comments will ensure they are informed and in a better position to deal with potential problems in the workplace such as bullying and scapegoating. Furthermore if raters know their manager will see comments it may encourage them to be more constructive. Feedback from managers should however always be attributed16. It is after all seen as part of a manager’s job to be clear and specific on feedback and development. Respondents in a Facebook discussion agreed with this view and also felt it appropriate that a manager/ member of HR have some visibility of attributed feedback comments. It was felt that this helps highlight commonalities between feed-back from groups of raters; it was also felt that this allows the opportunity to explore further if clarification is needed on a comment.

At Talent Innovations we insist on attributed comments from managers but then ensure anonymity for all other raters. We do however ensure that comments can be attributed if needed, although this information is rarely passed onto the client or focus. The reason we ensure we can at least attribute comments is simple, we want to ensure that comments provided are constructive. We also want to ensure that feedback providers are suitable prepared, so we may flag up particularly difficult feedback to them before sending over a feedback report. In a recent example this service helped to flag up an existing management issue that was already being managed by our client; with this advance support our client was able to ensure feedback was put into context and delivered by the most appropriate internal coach. This resulted in the focus, who could have reacted in quite a negative way, being a great advocate of the process, in our clients own words „she loved it!‟.

Next topic discussed in part 4 will be, do qualitative comments relate to improved performance?


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