Brett, J. F. & Atwater, L. E. (2001): 360° Feedback: Accuracy, Reactions, and Perceptions of Usefulness.

Abstract A study of how 360° feedback ratings and differences between self ratings and ratings from others relate to reactions to feedback and perceptions of feedback accuracy and usefulness.Results indicate that less favorable ratings were related to negative reactions and perceptions of feedback being less accurate. This questions a popular assumption that negative and discrepant 360° feedback motivates positive change.
What is 360° feedback? A process in which subordinates, peers and bosses provide anonymous feedback to managers, who also rate their own performance.Is supposed to provide developmental feedback, which can improve performance by creating awareness and motivating individuals to change behaviour eg. if ratings from others are lower than self ratings.
What do studies say? Positive reports: Some 360° feedback studies have shown improvements in overall performance following the 360° feedback. Positive results have been shown for those who initially rated themselves higher than others rated them.Negative reports:

Research on performance appraisal feedback suggests that positive results are only one possible outcome. Some studies have concluded that managers receiving negative feedback were discouraged and not moticated to improve. Negative reactions were mostly the case when feedback concerned personal characteristics rather than task behaviours.

However: little is known about whether 360° developmental feedback has effects similar to performance appraisal feedback in terms of reactions to feedback.

Purpose of study To examine the relationships between:

  • 360° feedback ratings
  • self-other rating discrepancies

and

  • reactions to feedback
  • perceptions of feedback accuracy and usefulness
  • recipients’ receptivity to development following feedback

An invidual-differences variable, goal orientation, supposed to be a moderator in relationships between feedback and reactions, accuracy and usefulness, was also investigated.

Goal orientation a) Learning goal orientation: A disposition to develop new competence by acquiring new skills and mastering new situations.b) Performance goal orientation: A disposition to demonstrate and validate one’s competence by seeking favorable judgments and avoiding negative judgments.
Method of study N = 125, students in a master’s of business administration (MBA) program, 29 % women, average work experience = 5,28 years (SD = 2,7 years), average age = 27,87 (SD = 3,06 years).While still employed full time, participants asked bosses, peers and direct reports (subordinates) to complete a questionnaire (the ”Profiler” developed by Personnel Decision International (PDI)) that assessed their leadership behaviours. A minimum of 6 raters was required.During the 1st week of classes participants answered a 13-item measure assessing goal orientation.

6-8 weeks into the semester the participants attended a small group session and received feedback by a PDI facilitator. Feedback incl. a summary of self-ratings and ratings by boss on the importance of 20 skilss, boss, peers and direct reports ratings etc and the group session incl. how to interpret the information, how to understand discrepancies, emphasizing the importance of feedback, and offering a one-on-one meeting with a facilitator to discuss the use of feedback for developmental purposes. Participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire assessing their attitudes and reactions to feedback. After the session the PDI facilitator rated each participant on The Development Focused scale and the Defensiveness scale.

2-4 weeks later, participants attended an individual meeting with the facilitator to discuss developmental plans and complete a second questionnaire on their reactions to the feedback process.

Limitations of study
  • The 360° was conducted as part of an educational experience rather than in an organisational setting and the ratings came from ex-colleagues rather than current coworkers.
  • No posttest data to assess who actually changed and how perceptions of accuracy, usefulness, and reactions were related to future outcomes.
  • Most of the data came from the feedback recipient ≈ same-source bias.
Hypotheses Favorability of other’s ratings

  1. Higher ratings will be perceived as more accurate.
  2. Higher ratings will be related to positive reactions.
  3. Lower ratings will be related to negative reactions.

Based on studies of performance appraisal ratings suggesting that more positive evaluations are seen as more accurate and are better accepted than negative ones. Self-enhancement theory suggests that individuals react more positively to higher ratings regardless of purpose. Also studies have indicated that negative feedback may result in alienation, demoralization, defiant opposition and may be perceived as threatening. It is also suggested that reactions to negative feedback(ex anger) may incl. more affect arousal and intensity than reactions to positive feedback (ex pleased.)

Self-other rating discrepancy

  1. Overraters (those who have more ratings from others that are lower than expected) will rate feedback as less accurate than individuals with fewer overratings.

5A. Underratings of self will be related to positive reactions.

5B. Overratings of self will be related to negative reactions.

Control theory suggests that self-other discrepancies will motivate managers to either reduce any discrepancies by changing their behaviours or seek feedback from the environment that would disconfirm the discrepancy. Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that another way to reduce discrepancy is to discount feedback as inaccurate. Studies suggest that negative feedback is rated as less accurate than positive or equal feedback, and was associated with defensiveness of recipient. Feedback that confirms one’s self-view is preferred and seen as more informative, while feedback that was too different from the self-view resulted in nondevelopmental outcomes (ex rationalisation).

Accuracy and reactions

6A. Perceptions of accuracy will be positively related to positive reactions.

6B. Perceptions of accuracy will be negatively related to negative reactions.

Studies suggest that perceptions of accuracy may relate to recipients’ affective reactions to feedback (ex anger or discouragement) and to their satisfaction with the appraisal and the evaluation system.

Reactions and feedback usefulness

7A. Positive reactions will be positively related to perceptions of usefulness.

7B. Negative reactions will be negatively related to perceptions of usefulness.

Cognitive dissonance theory and other studies have suggested that feedback that makes one angry will be seen as having little value.

Accuracy and feedback usefulness

8. Perceptions of accuracy will be positively related to perceptions of feedback usefulness.

9A. Participants’ perceptions of usefulness will be positively related to facilitators’ ratings of participants as development-focused.

9B. Participants’ perceptions of usefulness will be negatively related to facilitators’ ratings of participants as defensive.

Goal orientation as a moderator

10A. Goal orientation moderates the relationship of ratings and perceived accuracy. (Individuals with a higher prove orientation will perceive lower ratings as less accurate than individuals with a lower prove orientation.)

10B. Goal orientation moderates the relationship of ratings and negative reactions. (Individuals with a higher prove orientation will have more negative reactions to lower ratings than individuals with a lower prove rating.)

10C. Goal orientation moderates the relationship between self-other discrepancy and perceptions of accuracy. (Overraters with a higher prove orientation will perceive feedback as less accurate than those with a lower prove orientation.)

10D. Goal orientation moderates the relationship of self-other discrepant feedback and negative reactions. (Those with a higher prove orientation will report more negative reactions to overrating than those with a lower prove orientation.)

Learning and performance goal orientation are associated with 2 different interpretive frameworks. People with a learning orientation view their ability as unfixed, ready to be developed and effort is believed to be a strategy for future mastery, while people with a performance orientation view their ability as a fixed, uncontrollable entity/personal attribute and effort expenditure indicates that ability is low. The differences in goal orientation also shows itself in different response patterns to failure and feedback: People with a learning orientation pursue an adaptive response pattern to failure, in which they persist, try harder and are solution-oriented, while people with a performance orientation pursue a maladaptive response pattern where they withdraw from the task and make negative ability attributions, ie. failure calls their ability into question. The performance goal orientation can be defined as the desire to gain favorable judgments (prove) and to avoid unfavorable jugdments about one’s ability (avoid).

Discussion The results of the study provide evidence that caution is needed when using the 360° feedback and that some of the assumptions underlying the 360° can be questioned. Even though 360° feedback is supposed to be developmental, especially negative feedback was not seen as useful or accurate and did not result in awareness, but rather in negative reactions like anger and discouragement. Also high ratings were not related to positive reactions, merely the lack of negative reactions.This study (along with others) suggest that more research is needed to identify potential negative reactions and to take steps to prevent or manage these reactions in a 360° feedback process.Goal orientation did not moderate the relationship between ratings, accuracy and reactions as expected. An explanation for this is suggested to be that the 360° feedback process itself may induce a situational performance orientation in which people (regardless of usual disposition) respond with a performance goal orientation. A post hoc analysis was carried out to test this, controlling for perceptions of feedback usefulness at Time 1 and Time 2 (3-4 weeks after initial feedback). The findings suggest that individuals with a learning orientation at Time 2 may have recovered from the situationally induced performance context and the negative reactions associated with it, resulting in changed perceptions of usefulness. Those with a perfomance orientation did not change their perceptions of usefulness of feedback.

Other interesting results suggest that ratings from different sources are perceived differently (see Accuracy findings above.) Also of interest is that negative feedback is associated with negative reactions, but positive feedback is not related to positive reactions.

Managerial implications The study indicates that negative and discrepant feedback is seen as lesss accurate, less useful and related to negative reactions. Following this it is important for administrators of the 360° to understand that individuals receiving negative or discrepant feedback may need different follow-up activities than those receiving positive feedback. A facilitator may help with focusing attention on positive areas, motivating recipients to continue good behaviours etc.It is important to note that even though 360° feedback is explicitly developmental and not evaluative, the recipients of the feedback may not experience it as such.

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