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How helpful is 360 Degree Feedback from friends?

An interesting article from Ladders*: it seems that 360 Degree Feedback is being used as part of a business school’s application process. New York University’s Stern School of Business has decided that relying on individual applicants’ ‘personal statement’ has not been a reliable indicator of their empathy and emotional intelligence.

So they have now decided to get 360 Degree Feedback from two of the applicants’ friends.
Apart from the reasons mentioned in the article (friends will give great feedback – that’s why they’re friends, and narcissists will persuade people to give them good feedback), there are some things that really trouble me about this.

Can friends be objective?

Firstly, people can behave very differently at home, at work, or even on an MBA course. What friends may see could be very specific to the context and their relationship to the applicant. So friends are really not in the best position to give objective feedback.

When 360 is run within the workplace, it’s given by people with a mix of relationships to the reviewee: they can be that person’s colleagues, direct reports, bosses or customers. So the feedback will include a balance of view

Is there enough feedback to make comparisons?

In this scenario, where friends or family are giving feedback, their feedback is not balanced against feedback from other people, so it likely to be strongly skewed in favour of their pal/wife/son who they want to help get on that prestigious MBA programme.

And where only qualitative feedback is requested, the person being asked to give the feedback may simply avoid the issue by only focusing on the positive aspects, giving generic comments, making their comments very short, or not responding at all – a bad sign.

Keep 360 Degree Feedback in the workplace

So for reasons of balanced feedback, confidentiality and simply to maintain friendships, I would recommend keeping 360 Degree Feedback within the organisation, where the process can be managed and relationships are relatively clear and have a specific objective. Workplace relationships are more structured, as is the feedback that relates to work-based activities and behaviours. Taking feedback outside that structure runs the risk of being random, irrelevant, and potentially hazardous to relationships!

*Psychopath’ MBAs have been banned at this big business school