360-degree assessments: going round in circles

Introducing a 360-degree assessment system to an organisation is all very well, but it won’t deliver unless training needs are addressed.

Anyone embarking on 360-degree appraisal systems shouldn’t overlook the training issues involved, which are very often the difference between success and failure when it comes to implementing a system.

Many underestimate the time and money needed to train staff to manage and run the 360 process and, crucially ensure feedback is delivered properly. Also 360 works best for both organisation and individual when it is linked to a development plan

“Organisations which use 360 regularly recognise that employees are individuals with individual requirements,” says Kieran Maloney, a consultant at London and West Yorkshire-based Quantify, whose services include 360-degree feedback or appraisal systems. “For them 360 is more about development and training.”

The challenge for HR and training departments is to take a holistic approach and work together to decide on the 360 approach that best fits their needs. They must budget for implementation, training and support.

The highly personal nature of how 360 works means it must be trusted by employees. If it isn’t, beware. “If people mistrust the whole process, they can become disaffected and won’t trust the organisation,” says Vandy Massey, CEO of 360 supplier MSA Interactive.

Feedback

Sadly, you don’t have to search hard for examples of bad practice. “We know some companies that carry out 360 reviews, e-mail the report or post it to the reviewee who then files it in the bin – or even worse, fumes and stews for months on end,” says Judith Elliott, managing director of Cambridge-based management consultancy Elconsulting.

Without doubt, the biggest 360 training issue is ensuring those who deliver the feedback have the appropriate skills. Finding out that people don’t think you are as good a manager as you thought needs careful handling by someone with good facilitation and communication skills.

Tiffany Bowles, lead consultant at Henley talent management consultancy Get Feedback, says organisations are starting to realise this but she’d still like to see more of it: “If the person is properly trained in giving feedback, it will be far more meaningful for the individual.”

This may cost money initially but should ensure you get a better a return-on-investment from the exercise. “In practice, every one of us benefits from help in getting perspective on the results and then support on how to move forward,” says Elliot. “Any kind of review that does not move us forward is a waste of time and money.”

Training

Delivering feedback may be the most emotive area of 360, but organisations will also benefit from learning how to interpret data as well as taking the trouble to find out more how the surveys are put together.

MSA Interactive recently started a one-day course in helping companies get the most from its assessment tools and Quantify runs a one-day course on developing, authoring and designing survey questionnaires.

Kings Langley-based Talent Innovations, which provides a range of 360-degree feedback options, also gives the choice of letting individuals add personal questions that are important to them. This, says technical director Mark Ainsworth, helps the individual feel a sense of ownership of the feedback. “We find that if the individual engages with and feels ownership of the feedback, they are more likely to act on it,” he says.

Finally, while 360 surveys are supposed to be relatively easy to administer these days, don’t overlook training at this practical level and check that telephone support comes as part of the deal as you may well need it. We spoke to one training department which received one-day’s training in May but didn’t start using the system until September. When it did go live with the system, it found that it wasn’t set up appropriately for its purposes.

“I’d advise anyone thinking of acquiring a 360 system to think carefully about how they want to use it to be very specific when advising the supplier and to be trained in how to use the system immediately before it goes live,” says a spokesperson at the company. “The supplier did respond to the changes we wanted and now we’ve got to grips with it.”

by Sue Weekes

Case study

Booking.com, Europe’s leading online hotel reservation provider, carried out a 360 feedback exercise for its entire management team to help them raise their game and prepare for the next phase of expansion.

The directors had personal experience of 360 before so had specific demands. The company wanted an online tool with a pedigree combined with coaching support. It turned to management consultancy Elconsulting Cambridge, which uses the MSA Interactive online 360-degree tool. Each of the 13 managers chose up to 10 peers and 10 direct reports, plus one boss.

The exercise revealed that there were some straightforward knowledge gaps to fill, largely around practical techniques that had never been considered before. Some clear themes emerged, the most significant being the need for people to have clearer short-term goals. The exercise also acted as a training needs analysis, illustrating a need for short, punchy, just-in-time training where managers could pick up good practice tips and implement them immediately.

“The whole 360-degree process has moved us forward significantly, both individually and as a business,” says Booking.com managing director Rachel Howes. “The online tool gave us invaluable feedback and the coaching proved to be non-confrontational and constructive.”

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