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360° feedback : The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted by Denise on 28 April 2011 | 0 Comments

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Paint this picture.  Annual review period is around the corner.  Discussions flow at senior management level about the current process; it’s ability to draw meaningful information against which to rate an employee’s performance; how to get round the subjective assessment that can occur between line manager and employee.  The light bulb goes on.  Let’s introduce 360° feedback into the process.  Problem solved.  Or is it?  Organisations that do a poor job of introducing and implementing 360° feedback run the risk of unearthing a can of worms that can leave  employees feeling aggrieved, especially when it affects compensation decisions.  The outcome is disengaged employees who may ultimately vote with their feet.

What is 360° feedback?

It’s a mechanism or tool that provides each employee the opportunity to receive performance feedback from key people they regularly engage with; for instance their supervisor, peers, reporting staff and customers.   The feedback allows the employee to understand how their work performance is viewed by others.  Where reviews are tied to remuneration, 360° feedback helps to manage the risk around employees ‘talking themselves up’  as part of pay setting.

With a direct line of sight between employee performance and organisational performance, a high level outcome is about building superior employee performance that exceeds customers expectations.

Key aspects that the organisation needs to consider are:

  • Selecting the tool and crafting the feedback process
  • Selecting raters
  • Upskilling key users to review and use the feedback
  • Integrating the process into a wider performance management system 
Selecting the Tool 

An effective 360° tool should align to the skills, behaviours and values that the organisation needs to be able to deliver on it’s  business goals and mission. Raters who routinely interact with the employee are asked to provide feedback against what they observe the employee demonstrating in these core areas.  The employee undertakes their own self-assessment against the identified areas.  The resulting information provides a platform for discussion and agreement around the final ratings.

Selecting Raters

Selecting the raters is a critical component.  The organisation needs to manage the risk around raters who may  see a 360° tool as an opportunity to ‘get back’ at an employee or, conversely, overrate an employee as ‘excelling’ in all areas.  This raises the potential for inaccurate and misleading information that can have damaging consequences.   The best approach is a mix of raters nominated by both the organisation and the employee.

Reviewing and Using the Feedback 

Line managers need to be properly trained in reviewing, understanding and feeding back the outcomes to the employee.  They need to be able to take a collaborative approach with the employee in translating  the  feedback into performance objectives.  Negative feedback needs to be handled sensitively and with consideration to the employment relationship.

Implemented with thought and training  360°  feedback is a powerful tool to help drive employee performance.  Done poorly it can disengage staff  which over time will result in lowered business performance.  The exact opposite of what it was intended to achieve!

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