Beware of averages in 360 degree feedback

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Just a warning – keep averages in their place.  360 degree feedback reports often have averages in them; we use them ourselves for broad overview purposes. 

If you do have averages in your report (e.g. you’ve averaged out how all of the direct reports have scored) then please keep the following in mind

  • They are not a precise score.  You can’t ask 5 people a question and then say a manager is 3.75 on "Delegating effectively".
  • Feedback recipients are going to grab numbers and run away with them if you don’t place them in context.   Don’t let them – help them put the averages in context
  • Do what you can to watch out for the loss of nuance due to averaging.  If 2 people score excellent and 2 people score poor, then it is not useful to know that on average they scored in the middle.  Consider having supplementary reporting that supports this detail
  • Don’t put the resulting competencies in score order.  If you do, then you will spend a lot of time on a league table and discussing relative strengths when actually the order was based on a very limited amount of data
  • Use narrative questions in the questionnaire and then in the report to counterbalance the tendency to numerical analysis

360 degree feedback reports are powerful.  Ones produced through a system can carry greater initial weight with a recipient as they carry some sort of validity because a computer generated the output.  It is your role as debriefer, manager, or coach to ensure that the recipient gets the real story.


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