HR has decided to implement a 360 review process and you’re concerned.
Who will be selected to participate? What will they say? Will the guy in Marketing who you p***ed off last week provide negative feedback? After all, it is our last contact with an individual that generally sets the tone for what they think of us.
Will the raters provide balanced feedback or will that person who has disliked you for years and who has a personal vendetta against you take that out in the process? What happens then? Will you get fired?
You’re not really sure what the process is meant to achieve, how it works, or even if it is valuable.
Your skepticism may be well placed.
Many organizations use 360 feedback as a way to assess an individual’s performance, but questions remain about the overall value and benefit of these processes.
What is 360 degree feedback?
A 360 degree feedback process is a confidential evaluation method that collects and incorporates feedback from the individual, his/her manager, peers, subordinates, and, in some cases, customers. The focus of the feedback is generally on specific sets of competencies and behavioural traits, and may include attitudes and performance.
Why are 360 feedback processes used?
They’re used for personal, professional and leadership development purposes. By reinforcing the positive aspects of the employee’s performance, as well as providing constructive input, it can lead to specific actions for improvement. However, it is not recommended that 360 degree feedback be used for performance appraisal purposes or as input in relation to compensation or promotion decisions.
How does the process work?
The organization decides on methods to collect feedback. This could include could include interviews, surveys, questionnaires, psychometric tools, or a combination thereof. People who will be asked to provide feedback (raters) are identified. In a 360 process they include the individual’s manager, peers, and direct reports. In some cases, it may also include clients or customers. are identified and the process implemented. Feedback is then gathered. Usually, there is a pre-determined timeline for response. When raters have provided their feedback, the results are tabulated and shared with the employee in report form and an in-person meeting. Interpretation of the results, trends, themes, strengths and areas for improvement are discussed as part of the debrief.
What’s the value?
Well defined and executed 360 feedback processes result in:
- Improved understanding of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in key aspects of competency and behaviour.
- Establishing a baseline against which future changes and improvements may be measured.
- A good benchmark comparison between the individual’s own perceptions and those of the raters.
- Identification of specific training and learning opportunities to make changes and improvements.
Factors linked to success
Strong organizational support
360 feedback processes are most effective where there is strong support from senior management. Organizations that have high levels of communication, trust, and support for individual growth are more likely to reap the benefits. Those that go through the motions because it seems like the right thing to do or where this is seen as an HR “pet project”, generally do not achieve the level of engagement that is required for 360 processes to achieve the benefits. Organizations that are highly political, or those where there is a perception that poor results may result in repercussions, are advised not to implement a 360 process until a high level of trust in the organization is reached.
Customized assessment development
The most effective approach is where organizational goals and values are incorporated in the feedback method. This is a case where “one size doesn’t fit anyone”! A customized approach that reinforces strategies, goals and values of the organizations is of higher value than a standardized approach that is used by many companies.
Intent is key in the development of a 360 process. What is the organization’s intent? Is it to help individuals improve, determine areas where there are leadership concerns, or gain perspective on the overall organizational leadership? Questions should be designed to elicit specifically required information. In some instances, questions are very vague and difficult to answer. When individuals aren’t clear what is required, questions are usually left blank.
Rating scales (typically 1 – 4 or 1 – 5) make it easier to consolidate and evaluate the results. However, they offer limited information. As well, my “3” may be another’s “5”. Rating scales indicate level of agreement with the statement but don’t provide any information on individual’s experiences.
In my experience, it is the comments that raters make that provide the most meaningful information. Expediency is a factor when there are many people who are being rated, however, organizations need to consider the true value of engaging in this process. A rating scale with a place for comments allows raters to provide further detail about their response.
It is human nature to focus on areas of improvement, rather than what is going well. 360 processes are sometimes set up to focus extensively on the areas of improvement, with less consideration of the individual’s strengths Having a balanced perspective, with a combination of questions that focus on strengths, as well as areas for improvement, helps provide this balance. However, in the case of someone with a vendetta or grudge, even the ability to provide positive comments may not be a sufficient push to actually provide them!
Providing information on the purpose of gathering 360 feedback, collection methods, and how data will be used is important to help employees buy-in to the process. Assurance that the feedback will be kept confidential and shared only with the individual being rated is paramount to ensuring a successful process.
A key part of communicating about the process is to place emphasis on the need for raters to provide comments that are professional and constructive, not personal and inflammatory. Advising raters that a balanced perspective is desired will help, but not guarantee, to effectively and meaningfully carry out the 360 feedback process.
Proper framing of the feedback in the debrief is critical. Feedback may be positive or negative – all is valuable. Criticisms should be positioned as opportunities for improvement. It is unproductive when one, or more, of the raters have taken the feedback process as an opportunity to “get back” at the individual being assessed. In many instances, these comments are traceable to the individual who made them. This identification could result in repercussions against the employee who provided the comments. This is especially worrisome when negative feedback has been provided by, and attributed to, a direct report.
For individuals to take action on the feedback, tangible results need to be presented as part of the debrief. If few tangible results are presented, it is challenging, if not impossible, to take action.
The purpose of the 360 assessment is for the individual to gain valuable information about his/her performance. The next step is to take action by developing a plan to address the agreed-upon areas for development.
Post – debrief support
Debriefs should be supported with back-up support or customized coaching. Commitment to this by the individual’s manager emphasizes its importance. The manager can emphasize the importance by including some of the agreed actions in the individual’s performance development plan and then periodically checking with the individual to determine if progress is being made. Note, that this is not the same as the performance appraisal process.
360 feedback processes can be highly valuable and effective, but they must be carried out in a thoughtful manner. Leaders must understand their intent in embarking on process, ensure that the approach utilized that fits their culture, will result in the intended outcomes, and that those results are utilized and presented in a way that is beneficial to the individual and the organization. This HBR article provides additional information on how to get 360 degree feedback processes right.
What has your experience been? Helpful? Harmful?
At Transcend we help leaders, their organizations, and their people perform better, grow faster, and achieve more. We design and implement 360 degree feedback processes to do exactly that. If you’re interested in having a conversation about this, please contact me at: 403.547.7900 or Wilma@transcendmgt.com .