When employees get fed up with feedback

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The increasingly popular management practice of "360-degree feedback" - under which companies obtain an all-round view of individuals by questioning their staff, their colleagues, line managers and sometimes even customers - is a powerful method of measuring employee performance, but it can create conflict and confusion, says a report published recently.

The report, 360-degree Feedback - Unguided Missile or Powerful Weapon, produced by Ashridge Management College, found that 50 per cent of organisations feel it is time-consuming and expensive, 36 per cent say employees find being on the receiving end of it "threatening", and 45 per cent of managers say they believe colleagues providing the feedback find it hard to be openly critical with their comments.

At the same time, though, authors Laurence Hardy, Marion Devine and Laura Heath suggest that three-quarters of companies using the concept judge it to be successful, while 92 per cent of managers who have experienced the process say they have found it helpful. Sixty-nine per cent of companies are using it as part of personal development programmes for managers and 29 per cent see it as a way of helping them make decisions about promotion and pay. Moreover, 78 per cent of organisations using it are planning to expand it.

The authors questioned 1,000 leading UK companies and 1,500 managers and carried out 13 detailed case studies at such organisations as Glaxo Wellcome, Tesco, Rank Xerox and United Distillers. They say 360-degree feedback should be regarded as an organisational process rather than a mechanical tool. "It is more than some form of questionnaire sent to various groups of employees. It is a process that requires a strong raison d'etre, well thought-through checks and guidelines about its use, effective communication, sensitive delivery and appropriate follow-up."