The History and Current Business Applications of 360 Degree Assessment

360 degree assessment is defined as the practice of evaluating specific performance strands by interrogating the immediate contacts and affected parties within a given business group. This means, for example, that the performance of a single individual may be assessed by interrogating her or his colleagues and clients; while the performance of a whole department may be assessed by talking to the other departments with which it works.

The concept of the 360 degree assessment is thus analogous to the idea of stakeholder management: that is, the people and institutions with the most to gain by the good performance of the object under scrutiny are given most weight in assessing its performance. In stakeholder management, the people and conglomerates with the most invested in a company make that company directly answerable to themselves.

Historically, 360 degree assessment was developed as a feedback tactic during the Second World War. The German Military began to assess feedback from more than one source to gain a more complete picture of the success or failure of units; of operations; and of individuals. The resulting reports were used to identify weak links by the simple process of confirmation: if many sources identify the same weak link, its weakness is more likely to have been genuine than if a single source identifies a single perpetrator.

In modern business terms, the same principles are applied to both individual and collective feedback (as noted). Ideas from psychological theory, most notably that of the T Group, are also included.

The T Group is a psychodramatic form of architecting a training group, in which groups of multiple candidates are trained together to learn surprising insights about themselves, and so to find novel ways to push through into new areas of performance seen desirable by the business for which they work. In essence, the fulcrum of the T Group model is the idea that by learning how others see us, we can also begin to uncover potentially useful truths about our business behaviour. This fulcrum is almost identical to the lever at the heart of the 360 degree assessment model, whereby a multitude of external opinions begin to create a picture of the analysed team or individual that is hard to deny.

Central to the concept of the 360 degree assessment is the idea that it is the effect of actions, rather than their intent, that has the most bearing on a business’ success or failure. To put this simply: a department may have every intention of properly advertising a new product, but unless it properly advertises a new product it has failed to carry its intent, through its behaviour, into actuality. Essentially, a 360 degree examination of the whole advertising campaign in this example may be more useful for a business in understanding exactly how and why a product was not advertised properly, as well as in teaching the department how its view of itself differs from the reality of its actions.

The method may be used to assess any type of business object, from the sole worker to the entire company.

Maria Bilson is a business analyst. She is writing a paper on the concept of the 360 degree assessment programme.


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