The spirit of 360 Degree feedback in India goes back to centuries ago when good kings used to go in disguise to find out the perceptions of their people of the way they are ruling, their style, impact of their decisions and the way people are living and feeling about their rule  and the needs of their people. Even Ramayana Lord Rama used spies (Goodacharis) to find out how people felt and even if one person said something bad Lord Rama acted on it than to punish the person who said it. He punished himself and sent away his wife. As late a few hundred years ago Emperor Akbar is said to have used the method of going in disguise to find out how people are living and the impact of his decisions. 
Modern organizations did not exist in those days. If they did perhaps India would have been rated as the most innovative country in terms of its HR processes. Today it is in for HR technologies from outside India. There is nothing wrong in borrowing good practices but to think “People Management practices are the best from the west while ignoring our own traditions and experience is perhaps is ignoring the treasures we have within. As Nitin Sawadekar quoted in his book on Assessment Centres. Sawadekar (2002) indicated that the use of Assessment Centres methodology are known to have been used or at least recommended to be used by kings at least 1500 years ago in India as mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthasshastra. In Arthashastra different methods of assessing a candidate for Ministerial positions has been mentioned including: observation, performance appraisal, assessment by those who know him, interviewing and other forms of testing etc.
                     I have stumbled on the methodology of 360 Degree feedback on my own. Since the time I started my career in 1968 as a Lecturer in Psychology I have been using Psychometric tools. As a student at Osmania University we used to go through a number of psychometric tests. TAT, Allport, Vernon Lindzey values scale, DAT, and various other personality tests were taken by most of us in 1966-68. I used to teach the same. Some time in 70s I was introduced to FIRO-B and other tools. In the Achievement Motivations Laboratories we conducted at NIHAE, Delhi; University of Udaipur and latter at IIMA we have been extensively suing these tools. If you are a Psychologist you are licensed to use the tests were not as commercialize as today. They used to be sold only to Psychology degree holders. Bodies like ISABS have developed a new era Behavioral Science Professionals who were trained and encouraged to use such tools. I have extensively used tools to measure work values, Locus of Control, Interpersonal trust, Tolerance for ambiguity etc. We conducted many Executive development Programs at IIMA and as a part of ISABS using a variety of tests. I have even developed a Psychosocial Maturity Scale with Abigail Stewart (Now at University of Michigan department of Psychology) using TAT. David McClelland invited me to do this after he looked at the work I was doing on entrepreneurship.
                      It was in one of the programs at IIMA when we were using these tools some of the participants suggested that these tools are useful but they could be more useful if I they have some way of knowing how people thought of them. It is this suggestion that made me to start a program in IIMA in 1986. It was actually as soon as I returned from XLRI I proposed this program to OB Area which promptly approved the same. Pradip Khandwalla encouraged this by joining and lending his tool on Management Styles. It also gave him an opportunity to use the tool on Management styles he developed in Canada. Measuring ten different styles of the top management as group. I have used the leadership Styles tool I developed based on the work we did with McClelland on Indian Managers. With J. P. Singh joining us with his tools on decision making we launched the first program which required the participants to register three months in advance and supply us the names of about 15 to 20 of the person with whom they interacted in the last few years from their Juniors, colleagues, and seniors as well as friends and acquaintances whose views they valued. We were surprised to get around 60 nominations to the program while we did not expect more than 15 to 20. We did not want to take them all as the program was emotionally involving and many tests were involved. We designed the program as a three day workshop. We used a number of tests to measure their styles, roles, decision making, delegation, interpersonal behavior etc. The tests required over a couple of hours to answer. In our first program we had top level Managers from all over the country like K. L. Chug, Mahendra Agarwal, Sinha from SRF, Arora from reliance, Anil Sachdev from Eicher and so on. The first day was devoted to explain the tools based on self assessment, and the concepts behind the tool and their significance to leadership. The Program itself was titled as “Leadership Styles and Organizational Effectiveness”. The participants were eager to know how their styles were assessed and the impact it has made on Organizational effectiveness. The second day was devoted to give them feedback tool by tool. On the third day they were required to choose one or two behaviors that they would like to change or further develop. We focused on weak areas than strengths. We created simulations on the third day when the candidates were to experiment with the new behaviors. Not all of them had an opportunity but a few did. For example we create meeting management situations to test out how they would conduct meetings and improve the same. The group would give them feedback.

                         The program was a great success and we repeated this program in the next year also with the first batch of the sixty participants who registered. Hrishikesh Mafatlal sent all his top management latter. Prof. Ramnarayan joined the team at this point of time and we started conducting in-house programs. Little did we know at that time that this methodology will be christened in the USA as 360 Degree feedback? Once we knew that it was called 360 degree Feedback we continued use this term without changing our philosophy.

                         When I look back the last 25 Years since we started this program and methodology I am left with a sense of satisfaction that we made some difference those who like to make a difference. We have stuck to our methodology and tried to counter the intrusion from other parts on the world into the philosophy and methodology.
Once I started my company TVRLS, I have even invited Larry Cippola from CCI, a Minnesota based company to come to India and share with us their approach and methodology. Larry offered a few joint programs with TVRLS in 1998. One was held in Hyderabad and another in Mumbai and Larry also addressed National HRD Network in their Conference at Delhi 1998. Larry used to introduce his firma s a vendor of 360 tools and I used to feel a little strange and the term “vendor” did not go well with our philosophy that knowledge is not for sale. But now we have learnt perhaps the hard way. We still maintain that knowledge is for sharing and developing the society around you. My continuous struggle to discourage corporations from tendering process is an in tune with this philosophy. We sell knowledge for those who can afford so that we can build more from the money w recollect but we give it free for those who cannot. For example we offer 360 DF for teachers and Head Masters with little or no investments while for profit making Industry we do charge. Sometime in early 2002 e were invited by one corporation to conduct a 360 DF program based on a tool they imported from abroad:  leader-Manager tool developed in UK. We assisted them with our process and latter also contacted the tool vendor in Australia (Ronald Forbes of 360 Degree Facilitated).

                           Today learn that there are many people conducting the 360 Degree Feedback. We have learnt a lot of lessons from our work on 360 DF. These lessons are summarized in our latest book on Life after 360 Published by Excel Publications and edited by me, Prof. S Ramnarayan and Nandini Chawla.
  • All assessments of people by other people are subjective. Hence, 360-degree feedback can be as subjective as any other assessment. However, it is the aggregate feedback and consistency in feedback that tends to make it more objective.
  • 360 DF should be used as indicative and reflected upon.
  • 360 DF could also be provocative. The candidate should use this for review, reflection and action.
  • The action plans worked out as an outcome of the feedback, should primarily be directed at empowering self and changing oneself where necessary.
  • Even if one has to change others, it requires change in oneself: ones approach, attitude, communication etc.
  • 360 DF should be used to empower the self and used the enhanced awareness to become a more effective leader. 
(As given in the manual for Leadership development through 360 Degree Feedback by TVRLS)
                      We don’t believe in 360 Degree Appraisals. We believe only in Feedback for development. In my view those organizations that use 360 Degree Feedback or Appraisal for rewards and promotions or for increments etc. are undermining the process and are likely to create new forms of politicking and manipulation in organizations. 360 is an individual process.

A caution for those who are facilitating 360 Degree Feedback:
  1. Please understand human psychology. You need to have the right background and skill to give feedback. Today you have many ways of acquiring the skills to provide 360 DF services:  ISABS, Sumedhas, Coaching Foundation of India, TVRLS to name a few and many others offer programs to develop Facilitation skills.
  2. You must be sensitive to feelings and Indian mind set. We (in India) are still not good at giving and receiving feedback and hence the feedback needs to be interpreted with caution.
  3. People should be helped to use it as an empowering tool. Please read some books and literature and conduct 360 DF. Just because you are a MBA in HR or a HR Consultant it is not right to declare yourself as a 360 specialist unless you yourself have experienced the same.

For those who are choosing 360 Tools:
  1. Choose the tool to suit your purpose.
  2. You may not keep using the same tool again and again. It is good enough if you use it first time and the second time after a gap of six months to an year and then at a three year and five year periods.
  3. However the tool you use could be shorter you may have to keep changing the tool depending on your needs.
  4. Some tools are based on well researched constructs: Example Leader-Manager tool, RSDQ tools etc.  Many tools have face validity.
  5. I think some of the off the shelf tools are free tools and are available on the net. They are good tools for an interested person to take for the first time. It is always good to have a first experience.  However for systematic leadership development guided learning might do some good and if your corporations are going to facilitate the same it is still better.
  6. Ask questions on validity, reliability etc.  for tools that are based on constructs. Make sure that your executives understand the constructs easily. Some tools that use factors are more difficult assimilate and use. The items are more important than the constructs. The items should be easily understood and usable.
  7. While graphic presentations of feedback go a long way in communicating feedback, it is not wise to choose a tool on how well the feedback is presented. Some tools are not rich in content but extremely well presented with graphs etc.
  8. Simple tools don’t require sophisticated validity and reliability coefficients. Usability is more important than the psycho metrics. If you are showing the tool to a few of your executives before administration and they are modifying the tool or choosing items of relevance to them you are already doing a “Face Validity” check.
  9. The issue of reliability is difficult as 360 is expected to bring change. If you administer it the second time the answers are different it is not fully correct conclude the tool as not reliable. If any the tool may have worked. Hence your interpretation of the psychometric properties needs to be done cautiously for 360 tools.

Way Ahead
                       A good 360 DF should be followed by Action Plans, Sharing of Action Plans and reviewing Action Plans. Corporations will get better returns on their investments if they have follow up workshops and coaching sessions. Just doing a 360 Survey and leaving it may not be a wise idea.

For Indian References:
Rao, T. V and Rao, Raju. The Power of 360 Degree feedback; Sage India: Response Books, New Delhi, 2005.

Ramnarayan, S, and Rao, T. V. Organization Development: Acceleraing Learning and Transformation. New Delhi: Response Books, Sage India, 2011.

Rao, T. V. and Raju Rao (editors) 360 Degree Feedback and Performance Management Systems, 2003, New Delhi: Excel Publications Revised.

Rao, T. V., Mahapatra, Gopal., Rao, Raju., and Chawla, Nandini. (Editors) 360 Degree Feedback and Performance Management Systems, 2002, Ned Delhi: Excel Publications. Volume 2

Sawardekar, Nitin. Assessment Centers, New Delhi: Sage Response Books, 2002

Sharma, Radha R. 360 Degree Feedback, Competency Mapping and Assessment
Centers: for personal and business development, Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi, 2002

Rao, T. V., Ramnarayan, S; and Chawla, Nandini.  (2010) Life After 360 Degree feedback: New Delhi: Excel Publications