A Case for 360 Degree Feedback
My partner, Mike Fisher, recently discussed the need for us to own both our performance and the perception of that performance. The focus of this article is on why the perceptions of others are so important in improving how we perform. Let’s start with assuming that we all want to perform well and that we hope to improve our performance over time. Performance improvement is similar to travelling between two points on a map; if you have not correctly identified your current location you cannot possibly estimate the distance and direction necessary to achieve your destination. The actions necessary to achieve our performance destination therefore are completely dependent upon an accurate identification of our current performance.
Justin Kruger and David Dunning, then of Cornell, in 1999 published some interesting results that have now become known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Dunning and Kruger’s research indicated that people of low competency in a given area tend to overestimate their abilities, while those of greater competency tend to underestimate their performance. The results of the Dunning-Kruger experiments seem to support Charles Darwin’s observation that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”. While Darwin was discussing how the ignorant claim that science will not solve certain problems, his observation is relevant here as well. As Darwin, Dunning and Kruger observe, it seems that we just aren’t capable of properly estimating our competency in any given area.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect creates a compelling reason for why we must not only act upon but also actively seek out the perception of others. By seeking out feedback from multiple sources including our bosses, our peers and our subordinates (as in a 360 degree feedback process) we can start to better understand how we are truly performing. Understanding how we are performing, as we’ve previously explored, is critical to improving our overall level of performance.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t also create objective measurements of success and use those to help identify our performance. We absolutely should create key performance indicators to help us understand how successful we are and how we are performing. But the development of these KPIs are obviously influenced and biased by our level of competency. This creates yet another reason why we should actively seek out feedback from our boss, our subordinates and our peers.