360-degree feedback is an increasingly popular tool for executive coaching
and leadership development. An individual evaluates him or herself along some
predetermined quantitative and qualitative dimensions, providing numerical
ratings for the quantitative items and comments for the qualitative ones. This
feedback can then provide valuable input into the individual's strengths and
areas for professional development.
Human Resources professionals are often tasked with finding a technology
provider for 360 degree feedback, which is most easily collected online and
tabulated automatically. HR sometimes gets asked by the executives or managers
who are going to be participating in the 360 process whether the particular
items being asked about the individuals who are participating have been
While having concerns about the relevance and utility of the items being asked
on a 360 is understandable, there is no need to be concerned about the
"validity" of the 360 items. This is because the traditional meanings of
1. Extrapolating from a sample to an entire population (e.g. if a political poll
is taken before an election, do the responses from the sample provide a valid
reflection of how the entire population of voters would vote if the election
were held on that particular day)
2. Making predictions about the future (e.g. does this personality or
intelligence test predict who will be successful).
... are not applicable in a 360 context.
It does, however, make sense to inquire about the utility of the 360,
considering questions such as:
- Have people who have received this kind of feedback been able to improve their
- Have teams who have taken a team 360 been able to build on strengths and
Whether or not statistical analysis has been conducted on items is much less
important than whether those items can catalyze thought and action. The highly
popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for example, is not even reliable,
much less valid, yet is still the most commonly used assessment in the
workplace. As long as it is used to catalyze constructive discussions and not to
select employees, the validity of the MBTI is beside the point.
In conclusion, a 360 should be a starting point for individuals and teams to
reflect on their performance and consider ways to improve it. Whether or not a
360 has been used elsewhere in the past is much less important than whether the
questions asked, and the way in which they are asked, are relevant to the user's
needs. The only "valid" concern about a 360 is whether or not it can raise
awareness and help people improve their performance.