Anonymous 360-feedback drives Vauxhall strategy

e-HR in action: When it transferred its employee feedback online, Vauxhall
ensured its new system worked in its favour, by linking behaviour to
performance

In theory, the concept of 360-degree feedback provides the HR professional
with one of the most enlightening and potentially effective appraisal tools.
The reality, however, has meant it hasn’t always delivered on these fronts. It
can be cumbersome to implement such a system and its use is blighted by
confidentiality and impartiality issues.

The internet has gone a long way towards providing a suitable medium for
easing the implementation of 360-degree feedback, but there is a lot more to it
than simply migrating a paper-based system to an online environment. To
maximise the benefits, what’s needed is a clearly thought-out approach which
links the system to a wider business and people strategy.

This was the line taken by car manufacturer Vauxhall. "We had a
paper-based system, but it was difficult to administrate, rate of returns was
low, results came back late and it tied up resource," says Richard
Pennington, Vauxhall’s manager of planning and development.

"Our starting point was to use the new system to help us move towards a
performance-driven culture – tying it in with results, business objectives, and
behaviours. We have a set of cultural priorities, and wanted to drive these
into everyday behaviours."

Vauxhall employed the services of performance management consultancy
Getfeedback which devised an online system that embedded the 360-degree
feedback facility into a wider performance management system called Performance
and Development Review (P&DR).

Entirely anonymous

"Having a third party involved adds a degree of trust," says Penn-
ington. "Employees know the system is entirely anonymous and any comment
non-attributable."

The system is accessed through Vauxhall’s intranet, Socrates, and provides
three tiers of access: to individual employees, to managers and to
administrators – the latter is the only group who can see everything on the
system.

One of Vauxhall’s demands was that it must be easy to use, so Getfeedback
took a simple forms-based approach which nonetheless allowed for a large amount
of information and data to be collected.

The consultancy ran an extensive pilot programme and one of the biggest
challenges lay in dealing with the finite, yet ongoing nature of performance
management, explains Getfeedback’s managing director Alison Gill.

"Performance management is a finite process every year in that
objectives change the following year, but it’s also a continual process,"
she says. "You need to be able to close the process off every year, but
also to access limited information from the previous year. It can be difficult,
and whatever route you take, you must ensure it is logical."

Pennington describes it as handing over a relay baton. "Towards the end
of the year, one cycle hands over to the next, and objectives are reset."

Vauxhall will be starting the appraisal and performance management cycle in
October when the 360-degree feedback is carried out. The system automatically
reminds all those involved in the process to return their feedback and this
generally takes around four weeks. Questions cover the organisation’s cultural
priorities of ‘people development’, ‘act as one company’, ‘product and customer
focus’, ‘stretch’ and ‘sense of urgency’.

There must be a 100 per cent response from those who have been nominated to
supply feedback before the system will generate a report. If you continually
get no response from an individual, however, it is possible to delete them from
the list.

Behavioural objectives

During the first six weeks of the process, employees and their managers
review the previous year’s performance, including the 360-degree feedback, then
discuss and agree new business and behavioural objectives. If the feedback is
lower than the standard in a certain area, such as communication, employee and
manager will discuss how to address it and review it during their mid-period
review, which usually takes place in July. Comments are again agreed upon and
entered into the system.

The whole process then kicks off again in October and towards the end of the
year one cycle transfers over to the next.

One of Vauxhall’s objectives was to be able to use the information collected
by the system in a more strategic way, and Pennington says having the data in a
coherent form has already allowed it to identify potential development areas.

"We found one-to-one coaching is helping improve performance, and so
this year we ran a workshop for managers on that subject," he says, before
explaining where that stands in a wider business context. "We have a
number of individual business plans that relate to elements of the overall
company business plan and the system provides us with a method of rolling out
the business plan from the top down.

"In the future, we want to be innovative in how we manage people
systems and processes. This means using modern technology and encouraging its
use."

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