Making 360-degree feedback work in organisations

HR
departments looking to effectively measure employee performance should think
about 360-degree feedback, says Lena Baillie of the Performance Management
Forum

What
is 360-degree feedback?

The
term 360-degree feedback has been defined by Ward (1997) as “the systematic
collection of performance data on an individual or group derived from a number
of different stakeholders on their performance”.

The
data is usually fed back in the form of ratings against various performance
dimensions (such as competencies). Another way of referring to 360-degree
feedback is as multi-source assessment or multi-rater feedback.

Performance
data in a 360 process can be generated for individuals from the person to whom
they report, their direct reports and their peers (team members or colleagues
from other parts of the organisation).

The
range of feedback is sometimes extended to include other stakeholders –
external customers, clients or suppliers (sometimes known as 540-degree
feedback). A self-assessment process may also be incorporated using, for
comparison purposes, the same criteria as the other generators of feedback.

Why
use 360?

Research
by Roffey Park (1997) has found that the majority of people do value feedback,
find it useful and are willing to use it as a catalyst for change. The
Performance Management Forum has identified that many organisations intend to
use 360, but significantly fewer have managed to make it work. 

How
should you be using 360?

This
depends on your objectives as an organisation. Do you intend to use it for
appraisal or for developmental purposes? 360 as part of performance appraisal
has had mixed success and is only to be recommended in organisations that have
a mature and open culture with an existing strong appraisal system. Any linkage
to reward needs to be made clear but many organisations feel there is too much
inherent risk in doing this.

By
far the most popular use of 360 is for developmental purposes, whether for
individual, group or team development. 

What
should you consider before embarking on a 360 project?

Planning
is key. Many organisations underestimate the amount of time they should devote
to this. A good framework to follow is: Plan, Pilot, Implement, Feedback,
Review.

Planning


Does your organisation’s culture truly support the use of 360 for the purpose
it is intended?


Is there senior management commitment?


Are the purpose and objectives clear and how will you know if it is a success?


Are the participants ‘bought-in’ by involving them in the planning process?


Are there sufficient resources to support the process?

If
yes…..


What type of tool will you use (paper-based v electronic), and does it suit the
nature of the organisation?


How will raters (those that evaluate) be identified and how many raters will be
used? A minimum of three to five ensures a valid sample size.


Have raters been trained to ensure they are as objective as possible?


Is the questionnaire psychometrically sound (is it reliable and valid)?


Will the questionnaire be based on competencies, if not, what else will you use
as a basis for rating?


Will you use a numerical or verbal rating scale?


How often do you intend to carry out the process? Never underestimate how long
the cycle can take.


How secure is the system and how secure do participants perceive it to be?


Do you have sufficient resources for subsequent personal development, once
needs have been identified?

Piloting

This
is critical and also gives a good indication of the level of resources
required. Focus groups need to identify areas such as whether the questionnaire
is user-friendly and relevant to jobs and whether the process truly identifies
development needs.

Implementation

Clear
communication is needed with both the participants and the IT department, if
applicable. 


Are there are any IT issues on the horizon that could affect the functioning of
the system?


Provide a point of contact or helpline and make someone responsible for the
administration.


Consider the time of day at which completion reminder e-mails are sent in order
to maximise impact.


Communicate deadlines for completion and feedback.


Continuously monitor completion rates.

Feedback

Sensitive
information needs to be delivered by a trained facilitator. Many organisations
prefer to use external facilitators and research has shown that the results are
more likely to be accepted if fed back in this way.

The
cost of this, though, can be prohibitive for some organisations and is also
time-consuming where large numbers are involved. Many organisations prefer to
train their own HR or line staff to become facilitators. Others use small
groups to enable participants to share their feedback with each other.

The
emphasis should be on positive development planning. Feedback should be
provided as soon as possible but never when support is unavailable, such as
before a weekend or holiday. 

The
resultant aggregate data can be used for group training needs analysis or
session analysis, and can also feed into developmental planning at a strategic
level, to ensure the organisation has the relevant skills to meet its
objectives.

Review


Did it meet objectives?


Were relevant development needs identified?


Did the process allow sufficient time for completion?


Was the feedback process easy to manage?


How comfortable were participants with the feedback?


If used for appraisals, did it supply information in a fair, objective and
credible way?

Making
360 sustainable in organisations

The
use of 360 raises expectations and increases the knowledge of expected
behaviours. Ratings over time may therefore not fully reflect improvements that
individuals have made, so it is important to communicate this in order to
maintain enthusiasm for the scheme.

It
is also crucial that the development needs identified are followed through by
the organisation. 

Lena
Baillie is an HR consultant at Longbridge International and manager of
Longbridge’s best practice group, The Performance Management Forum.

For
more information, visit www.pmfglobal.com

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