Encouraging Teamwork and Improving Performance
When some people think about 360-degree evaluations they're reminded of a classic body image exercise where you are told to stand naked in front of a mirror and make an honest assessment of yourself. It's a frightening task, to say the least. However, once you open your eyes and take an honest look, you can relatively easily scrutinize your front and sides; it's the rear that takes some work!
The same is true for work performance – yours or your employees'. There are aspects of it that you can readily identify as needing work and others parts that you know are working really well. However, with normal performance reviews, you rarely see a full picture: your judgment is often clouded by your perspective and unconscious biases. With a 360-degree evaluation, you get others to fill in the "rear view" and help you see what you couldn't quite picture before.
With 360-degree feedback you gather information from the main people working with, or affected by, the person being evaluated (as well as his or her managers). This is then amalgamated it into one full and complete image. One person can have a limited and sometimes biased view, whereas many people should provide a more accurate and more complete overview.
Not only does this paint a clearer picture of which areas need improvement, it also encourages teamwork. After all, there's no point in someone "sucking up to the boss" if everyone else is going to point out arrogance, unhelpfulness, and political behavior!
However, it's at about this point in the explanation of 360-degree feedback that many managers gasp and raise the following types of objections:
- "You want my staff to evaluate me? I don't think so!"
- "It'll weaken discipline and compromise respect for authority."
- "It'll crystallize feelings that are better left vague and undefined."
- "It'll cause problems where none exist."
- "The bureaucracy created by the process of each team member rating each other team member is far too time-consuming for the amount of extra benefit we'd get over the usual appraisal method."
- "People will rate their friends high and take the opportunity to criticize others they don't like or get along with."
Is 360-Degree Feedback Really for You?
Arguably, therefore, 360-degree feedback is not for the faint of heart. It takes a very confident management group to implement it – one that is clear about the value in hearing the good and the bad from a whole bunch of different perspectives. The whole point of 360-degree feedback is to get the topic of performance out in the open.
In traditional workplaces, performance is discussed in private, once a year (if you're lucky!), and is simply one person's assessment of how another is doing. However, think about how rich a performance review could be if the results were based on information received from everyone a person interacts with!
Where 360-degree feedback works, it works really well. Where it doesn't, it can be disastrous. There are many precursors and steps for implementation that will improve your chances of success. None of these will be sufficient to overcome a core level of disagreement with the underlying philosophy of 360-degree feedback, though.
If you can handle giving more "power to the people," then it is worth serious consideration. If, for whatever reason, you're not there yet, take a look at the rest of the article, and see if there are bits and pieces that you might be able to use to enhance your current feedback system.
A well-designed 360-degree feedback system is potentially much fairer than traditional approaches. No longer is it a case of one person's opinion about another. Now the evaluation considers performance from a company-wide perspective.
As a result, favoritism is all but eliminated and supervisors have much more information upon which to customize personal development plans designed to address specific behaviors. This makes it a great tool for promoting teamwork and countering bad behavior.
However, make sure that this is what you want: some organizations put the burden of success on the exceptional performance of a few star players. If this describes your organization, then perhaps it makes good business sense to tolerate a certain amount of "prima donna" behavior. Here, the good of the team may just have to take a back seat.
Different cultures around the world will look at 360-degree feedback in different ways. An approach that may be seen as perfectly normal and acceptable in the U.S., for example, may cause serious problems in more reserved countries like the U.K. or Japan.
For specific guidance on giving and receiving feedback in different countries and cultures, see the articles in the Managing Around the World area of our Team Management section.
Other names for 360-degree feedback are "Multi-Rater Feedback," "Full-Circle Appraisal," "Group Performance Review", and "Upward Feedback."
What Is 360-Degree Feedback?
360-degree feedback is the process of getting feedback from other people as well as an employee's direct supervisor.
In typical employee evaluations, the boss rates the employee on a number of performance factors. The employee may have an opportunity to do a self-rating as well. The feedback is discussed, goals may or may not be set, and he or she lives to tell about another year with the company.
In contrast, with 360-degree feedback, the employee's boss, team members and other people who have regular contact with the person are asked to provide an anonymous evaluation of him. Some companies choose to have clients provide feedback ratings as well. These evaluations are compiled, and a full view of his performance is generated.
Sometimes an outside consultant is called in to develop a profile for the employee. Alternatively, someone not involved in the feedback itself, typically an HR representative, will do the final reporting. Using this profile report, the employee and supervisor discuss the competencies surveyed, and a goal plan for improvement is agreed upon.
The evaluations themselves are delivered in survey form, open-ended questions, or a combination of the two. The survey responses are typically easier for data gathering. However, the open-ended questions will probably yield more specific information to work with.
A survey question might ask a series of questions related to time management (i.e. Employee completes work in assigned time) and ask the evaluator to respond based on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not at all, 2 = occasionally, 3 = usually, 4 = often, 5 = always).
An open-ended question, on the other hand, would say, "Comment on this employee's ability to manage his/her time." The evaluator would then have to come up with specific instances where the person did or did not use effective time management.
While 360-degree feedback does give you a panoramic view of a person's performance, it is not the ultimate answer to employee evaluations that people have made it out to be either. Soliciting feedback is always a risky prospect. People have their own agendas and bias. And when you use 360-degree feedback, these biases are often multiplied.
Precursors for Implementing 360-Degree Feedback
Conditions for using 360-degree feedback within an organization need to be carefully analyzed and monitored. The culture of the organization is the largest determining factor when deciding whether 360-degree feedback will work: not all organizations are ready for the openness and honesty that this panoramic viewpoint provides.
The first thing to ask is, "What is the purpose of implementing 360-degree feedback in the first place?" If the sole reason is for performance appraisal then that is not enough. A key component of 360-degree evaluation is employee development. You have to be prepared to use the information gathered to determine learning and growth.
Here are some questions to consider as you evaluate your 360-degree feedback:
- Is there executive or upper-level management support?
- Is the culture open and honest?
- Is there a sufficient level of trust among members of the organization?
- Is the management model participative and engaging?
- Are employees clear about how their role fits into the big picture?
- Is employee performance solidly tied to corporate objectives?
- Is there commitment to coaching or facilitating support to help employees meet their objectives?
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when considering 360-degree evaluations is the fact that it is not just a program: it's a process for employee and organizational improvement. The two must be taken together in order for this type of multiple-rating system to work.
An important notion to remember with 360-degree feedback is that the feedback itself is still subjective. Each piece of feedback comes from an individual source with his or her own biases, preferences, preconceived notions and, perhaps, hidden agenda.
What 360-degree feedback does accomplish is increased reliability. By increasing the amount of feedback, you increase the reliability that similar opinions are in fact true and indicative of the person's real behavior. The power of 360-degree feedback lies in hearing the same thing from different sources, not simply from gathering a variety of opinions.
Designing and Implementing a 360-Degree Feedback System
360-degree evaluations provide a prime opportunity for self-analysis and, when combined with an appropriate and action-oriented development plan, they can help to create a more harmonious and productive workplace.
There are many companies that provide custom and off-the-shelf tools for implementing 360-degree feedback systems. Whether you plan to use an outside consultant or design a system yourself, there are some important aspects you'll need to consider first.
- Collaborate with top managers and executives to clarify the purpose, aims and objectives of your 360-degree process.
- Identify a 360-degree planning committee to coordinate implementation and communicate its objectives.
- Set program policies, such as:
- How insensitive or inappropriate feedback will be handled.
- Set timelines and schedules as appropriate.
- Start communicating what the program is and how it will be applied as soon as possible.
Design the Program
- Evaluate the job descriptions and define the underlying competencies.
- Consult with employees to gain further insight into the positions being evaluated.
- Determine what type of survey tool will be used:
- Rating scales?
- Open-ended questions?
- Paper format or online?
- Decide how the process will work:
- Will employees have a say in who gets to participate?
- Who will be raters? Employees, bosses, coworkers, clients?
- What timeline will the process follow?
- How will surveys be returned?
- Who will compile the information into a profile?
- Will the surveys be shared with the employee?
- Communicate how the 360-degree feedback system is designed.
Implement the Program
- Conduct information sessions and brief all the participants and raters on the objectives, policies and processes involved.
- Ensure all the managers and supervisors know what to do to facilitate the process.
- Continue communicating.
- Provide necessary support to interpret and debrief employees on the feedback.
- Create employee development plans utilizing the direct feedback received.
- Use the information gathered to develop organization-wide development plans based on the training and other needs of your employees.
- Use the development plans to align employee performance, behaviors, and expectations with the organization's needs and overall strategy.
- Measure and report progress or improvements in achieving the company's overall goal or strategy.
Monitor and Evaluate
- Create a feedback process for the program itself.
- Make changes as required.
- Communicate what changes will be made and their effectiveness.
By being purposeful from the very beginning of your 360-degree feedback program, you'll be able to develop the right environment needed and support required for successful implementation. When you have a clear and well-defined process, the information gathered can be used to develop the employees and the organization as a whole.
360-degree feedback is different from normal feedback because it entails getting feedback on a person's performance from a variety of different stakeholders including co-workers, bosses, clients, or suppliers and vendors.
There are some very compelling reasons for implementing 360-degree evaluations, and the results of a well-orchestrated program can be impressive, particularly where successful teamwork is important for an organization's success.
The key to a successful rollout is to ensure openness and readiness. 360-degree evaluation is a significant departure from traditional methods, and leaves you open to the opinions of peers, colleagues, and superiors, as to what they truly think of your performance.
360-degree evaluation is not for all organizations. But successful, performance-oriented, and team-based corporations will benefit enormously from the self-confidence and self-awareness it will instill in employees.