Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
What are your feelings about 360-degree surveys? We’ve made sporadic use of 360s in the past. Now, we are considering making this the central part of evaluating our managers. I’m wondering if a commitment of this scope is going to pay off in the long run. Are there some typical problems that these programs lead to that we could avoid if we did things right from the start?
360-degree surveys are instruments that make use of multiple raters in assessing the performance of a given individual. Typically, these tools are used with supervisors, managers or executives. Three levels of assessment are common – self, boss and direct report. In some instances, these perspectives are augmented by gathering data from peers, customers (internal or external) or others whose feedback is valued.
The most effective 360-degree programs are executive-sponsored, systematic and organizationally relevant. They have the backing and support of the top executives of the company, they are deployed within a transparent and replicable system, and they address managerial behaviors that are meaningful and important to the organization.
It’s been my experience that 360-degree feedback programs work best in organizational settings where an open, collaborative culture is present. When participation and communication are high, use of a formal survey to collect feedback is a reflection of "the way we do things around here."
On the other hand, when trust is low, when individuals and work areas are guarded and defended, the survey process is approached with less enthusiasm. In some instances, it may be actively opposed. Obviously, in those circumstances, greater time and attention must be spent positioning the survey and getting buy-in and support.
So, it is important to keep in mind that using a 360-degree feedback program will be affected by the current corporate culture. As the program becomes more routine and is accepted and promoted, it will in turn affect the corporate culture.
Thus, there are some very real benefits to be accrued through the use of 360-degree feedback. These include:
- Greater employee involvement and commitment.
- More accurate judgments regarding managerial performance, given that multiple raters are used.
- The opportunity to systematically target areas for managers to improve upon-focused feedback allows for focused learning.
- Such feedback can be the basis for improved managerial performance, a deeper "bench" and sound succession planning.
- An enhanced corporate culture may be achieved, one characterized by openness, candor, trust and participation.
In terms of the mechanics of deploying a 360-degree survey on a comprehensive basis, four steps or stages are typical. These are:
This stage involves assessing and understanding the organizational context in which the survey will be used. Important considerations include grounding the instrument in the culture of the organization. What managerial behaviors are important? What should managers be doing? Not doing?
It is also important to specify how the 360-degree feedback will be used. Managerial selection, development, and appraisal are common applications. So is the application of the data to the process of organization development.
Perhaps most critical is determining if the culture is ready for a 360 process. Is the culture one of trust-based feedback or does fear pervade? Are managers learning-oriented? Does the culture promote learning?
This stage involves preparing for deploying the survey by clarifying roles, responsibilities, processes, expectations, etc. Ideally, input is sought from top managers so that there is clear executive sponsorship. What are the organizational goals that can be met by pursuing a 360 survey? How can the program be linked with other important initiatives?
Surveys can be administered electronically or in paper-and-pencil fashion. Normally, a shorter survey (e.g., 40-60 items) is better than a longer one. Likert-type (e.g., 5-point) scales are common, sometimes used alongside open-ended questions that allow survey respondents to offer comments.
Training should be offered to those being rated as well as those doing the rating. Questions like the following should be covered in training. How will the survey be accessed? What is it I am supposed to do? Will I receive feedback of the results? How will the results be used? The idea is to have people prepared and ready to go so there are no surprises once the program is underway.
This stage involves administering the survey, gathering and analyzing survey data, reporting the results, etc. Who will be the targets of the survey? Normally, the approach is to specify that individuals who occupy certain job classifications will be rated. At the same time, it is common to use a random sample of raters rather than collect data from everyone with whom a manager has contact.
Confidentiality and anonymity for raters is a must. If that is not the case, raters will be reluctant to offer constructive or corrective feedback for fear of being found out or retaliated against.
This stage involves evaluating the results of the survey by identifying individual and collective strengths and developmental areas, fine-tuning the survey process, etc. Each person being rated should receive a report. Follow-up activity should be timely. For example, the person’s boss should schedule a discussion soon after the results have been made available. Some organizations make use of consultants to provide detailed, thorough feedback sessions, as well.
A developmental action plan should be created once the survey data has been digested. This is where the rubber meets the road because it is at this point that a static report can be turned into a dynamic process. Mentoring, coaching, etc. can be powerful tools for helping individuals to make gains in their managerial repertoires.
At the macro level of program evaluation, the organization will want to consider tweaking the survey process based on accumulating experience. Are we surveying often enough? Is the survey giving us the data we need?
So, is it "worth it" to pursue a program of 360-degree feedback for your managers? My answer is an enthusiastic, affirmative one. One caveat is that the organization builds and deploys a program consistent with the guidelines I touch on in this article. Doing so will help the organization from falling into some of the traps that are associated with unsuccessful programs.