How to square the circle on 360-degree feedback

 I was at a dinner last week with a handful of HR directors, and the main topic of conversation was 360-degree feedback. Is it worth using? Should it be standardised? Can technology help? How can it be rolled out and, probably the hardest to answer, should it be linked to remuneration, or used purely as a developmental tool?

My personal litmus test, especially in HR with its thousands of initiatives and fads, is to ask: what would ‘Pete the Plumber’ do?

Pete has a business with 15 employees and no HR department. He doesn’t use any bureaucratic forms or complicated HR systems to manage or develop his people, but he does act on poor performance. The question is, if Pete doesn’t have any fancy HR systems in place, how does he know how to manage his people? He doesn’t call it such, but he actually relies on 360-degree feedback.

Pete spends much of his time going from job to job, talking to the team. He knows how much work should be done in a day and questions under-achievement. He talks to clients about timekeeping, cleanliness, and manners. He also meets two apprentices to discuss their progress at college and with on-the-job training. If Pete receives any negative feedback, he acts on it quickly, having learned over the years that his personal prosperity relies on the performance of others.

Pete is successful because he uses and acts on this feedback – in this case, for performance development and performance management. It sounds good, but how can we implement such a dynamic use of 360-degree feedback in HR?

First, keep it simple, transparent, consistent and fair. Pete treats everybody in the same way, and his benchmark is what he personally believes is the right standard for his business. Companies must adopt a standard that supports the company’s brand values and is clear to everybody. Consistency will allow calibration and benchmarking across functions, departments and individuals.

Second, people will need support to handle feedback. Ideally, managers should be equipped for this role. If not, use central or external coaches.
Third, depending on size and the desire to compare results over time and geographic locations, you will need technology. There are lots of tools available, and I would recommend one that can integrate and share data with the rest of your HR systems.

Finally, you will need to agree on whether 360-degree feedback is to be used solely for development or as a link to performance management.
My advice is to be careful. Understand why you want to introduce it and gauge whether your organisation is mature enough to give and receive feedback that is linked to remuneration. Start with performance development only, and bring in performance management once the process is up the running.

It works for Pete…

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