Training 360-degree assessors is an absolute must if the assessment process is to be effective.
The use of 360-degree assessments to gauge the development needs of employees is growing. But training is key for them to work successfully.
How a system is managed internally and the level of support provided by external providers will have an impact on success and prevent some common pitfalls.These include inaccurate interpretation of data and delivering feedback in a way that damages employees’ self-confidence.
If managed internally, facilitators not only have to get their heads around sometimes complex data, they also need to be skilled in giving feedback.
Inevitably, part of that process involves discussion of an individual‘s weaknesses, and it needs a tactful tongue – and some keen coaching skills – to hit the right note and help the subject build a positive development plan.
If these skills are lacking, many 360-degree system providers will provide training in data interpretation and giving feedback, or recommend a training provider to deliver it.
Training sessions usually come at an extra cost to the system itself – often charged ata day rate, which can be as high as £250 per delegate.Nevertheless, it is usually more costeffective to train your own people than pay for external facilitators in the long term.
Ian Luxford, head of learning services at training provider Grass Roots, says it usually takes two days to train staff to use systems.“It is not all about the numbers, the bigger and more difficult part of training is about understanding the thought processes. Role play is useful as people need as much practice giving feedback as possible.”
The expertise that the supplier can provide should be a key consideration when choosing a partner.
If you want the system to be managed externally, make sure this service is available and within budget. If you want to manage the system internally, then make sure that training is available and that there is a clear hand-over strategy.
Some suppliers specialise in empowering HR to run systems in-house so they can take control from the start.
One such is Carbon 360. Its managing director, Iain Rhodes, says early ownership is important. “It gives those co-ordinating reviews better buy-in of the system and therefore better endresults. If the system is bespoke, they can set it up and manage it as they like.Many HR departments already have competency frameworks in place so the system should fit in.Flexibility is key,” he says.
Taking permanent control of the management of the system can also be cost efficient. “If using external facilitators, costs add up phenomenally – reports are often about £100 each,” says Rhodes.
It is also important that those being asked to provide the feedback have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. “People need to feel comfortable making judgements and giving criticism – it is often harder giving criticism than accepting it,” says Luxford.
Back in 1997, management training specialist Roffey Park undertook a survey of 500 feedback recipients and 500 internal feedback givers at BT.There was strong evidence that assessors could benefit from better training and support.
This was largely attributed to feedback givers being asked to consider behaviour over a lengthy period of time and falling victim to a number of rating errors.
“Feedback relies on a set of complex cognitive processes: observation, recall and rating. Where feedback is collected annually, difficulties in recalling specific events may lead assessors to make judgements that are based on general liking for a colleague,” says Valerie Garrow, principal researcher at Roffey Park.
Assessors can also benefit from familiarisation with the performance dimensions or competencies which they are being asked to rate.
“Good piloting and, where possible, involvement of employees in developing the 360-degree feedback form and scale ensures a deeper understanding of what is required and greater ownership of the process,” says Garrow.
Clarity is key
Being clear about the aim of the process – that it is there to help staff develop rather than affect pay or limit career progression – and communicating this to those taking part is also key.
“The actual process should also be clear: who will see the data where will it be stored will it be anonymous and is it compulsory?” adds Garrow.
Even if an external facilitator is managing the process, this type of internal communication is where in-house managers can add value.
The choice of 360-degree systems is increasing all the time, but a successful system will ultimately ride on how well it is managed.
Case study: Kirklees Metropolitan Council
In autumn 2004, Azure Consulting was commissioned by the Revenues and Benefits Service at Kirklees Metropolitan Council to develop its leadership capability. A key part of this process was the conduct of 360-degree feedback for each participating manager.
The 360-degree process was based on the council’s competency framework, and was developed with Azure, in conjunction with specialist questionnaire design organisation Quantify.At this stage, Azure used its own consultants to provide feedback to participants and individual development plans were produced.
The leadership programme that followed included developing coaching skills, which later formed the basis of participants becoming self-sufficient in providing 360-degree feedback to other staff. Azure also provided practical training in report interpretation and feedback skills for managers.
By providing this training to the senior team, Kirklees was able to become self-supporting in the 360-degree process going forward.