It’s that time of year when organizations of all sizes are preparing for their semi-annual or annual review process. A common question I get asked at this time of year is: “Should we implement 360 feedback into our review process? If so, how do we do it?”
Unsurprisingly, the answer is it depends. Here are some common factors that would impact your decision:
- The current performance management system you have in place,
- what your goals are for implementing 360 feedback,
- how the feedback will be used to improve performance,
- whether or not it will be tied to compensation,
- as well as your organizational climate and readiness for this change.
But before we dive in further, let’s all get on the same page with what 360 feedback is.
The 360 feedback process includes obtaining feedback from internal stakeholders such as supervisors, peers, direct reports, subordinates and external stakeholders such as clients, vendors, and even board members. Each participant also self-reflects.
Ultimately, the purpose of 360 feedback is to gather data on employee skills, competencies, and work behaviors.
The data collected from 360 feedback is often used as a benchmark within the employee’s development plan or part of the overall performance management process, depending on the organization’s goals for such a program.
Today, I’m going to walk you through the upsides of 360 feedback, where 360 feedback programs can fall short and equip you with an implementation checklist.
The upsides of 360 feedback.
With 20+ years of experience as an HR advisor, I can confidently say there are multiple upsides for clients that implement 360 feedback. Some of these benefits are as follows:
Promotes greater self-awareness
When debriefing clients, I often ask, “what was your initial reaction to the 360 feedback?”. Or more specifically, “how did it make you feel?”.
Some feel surprised about the positive comments, others validated for the work they are doing.
One thing I know for sure is that the feedback identifies and reinforces strengths, recognizes efforts by individuals, and highlights areas of development.
Most often, participants respect the consistent feedback gathered. Because of this acceptance, employees have a higher level of awareness of what they do well and where they can improve.
360 feedback is a definite improvement over feedback from a single individual.
Managers don’t always see how the employee performs with other teams or executes in their jobs on a daily basis. This is especially true for managers that manage remote employees.
The added perspective can be used to validate a manager’s review of their employees’ performance. Employees will also learn the value of feedback from those that don’t directly manage them.
Reinforces team values and behaviors
360 feedback helps team members learn to work more effectively together.
Teams often define performance expectations and values in advance. So it’s not a surprise that we’re more aware of how we’re performing against the team norms than how we’re doing objectively.
Thus, a well-planned 360 process with questions that integrate values and specific competencies can improve team communication, alignment, and development.
Inspires and motivates people to develop and grow
360 feedback provides a “louder voice”.
This means participants get to see consistent feedback from multiple people. It can make a real impact by serving as a motivator for change and improvement.
Improves employee engagement
Following feedback, when action plans or goals are put in place, we often see a higher level of engagement.
With greater engagement comes more learning and productivity. It’s a win-win!
Why 360 feedback programs fail or get a bad wrap.
For every positive point I made, there are challenges too. The pitfalls of 360 feedback are important to know because it gives you a roadmap of what to avoid.
Lack of alignment with organizational goals
I can tell you for a fact that there are not many CEOs or managers that communicate to me they’ve had a great experience implementing a new process that isn’t aligned with organizational goals.
For a 360 feedback program to work, it must be connected with the overall culture and business strategy of your organization.
You need to be clear on what the desired outcome is for the process.
For instance, if you’ve identified competencies or have comprehensive job descriptions—your aim might be to give employees feedback on their performance of the expected competencies and job duties.
If your culture promotes learning and continuous development, communicate to align with that value and focus on the development opportunity.
Don’t implement 360 feedback without proper alignment. The system will fail if it’s an add-on rather than a supporter of your organization’s fundamental direction and requirements.
If there’s not a thorough planning and communication process for implementation, employees may not actively participate or follow through.
From defining the goal of the program to determining who the program will serve, the selection of the questions and tool to be used—it’s crucial to communicate this plan prior to launch day.
There are many considerations to think about for a program to be well received and successful.
Participant inexperience and ineffectiveness
There are numerous ways participant feedback can be used ineffectively, especially if tied to salary or promotions.
Participants may inflate ratings or deflate ratings to make an employee look good or bad. There might be a sense of worry about confidentiality and therefore dishonest ratings.
Checks and balances must exist to prevent these pitfalls. For example, organizations can provide training for both employees providing and receiving feedback.
Survey length or work overload
360 feedback increases the number of people participating in the feedback process. Not to mention the time invested by employees to complete surveys.
Too long of a survey, process or timeframe can affect the results of 360 feedback.
I once had to complete a 45 question survey with several open-ended questions for a team member. Unfortunately, there was no time to do this during the week due to my workload.
That being said, it was important to provide feedback as requested by senior leaders.
Therefore, I set time aside on a Sunday and spent an hour and 45 minutes to complete the survey.
But in all honesty, exhaustion set in and I forgot what I wrote earlier because the survey was so lengthy.
In the end, I would recommend prioritizing quality questions in your 360 feedback templates.
Sure you might not cover all the details but it serves the participant well to provide quality feedback on important topics.
So think through your survey questions and consider the organizational climate for taking on such a time and people-intensive process.
Lack of a follow-up plan or accountability
360 feedback is not about the feedback, but what you do with it. If you don’t have a follow-up plan or tools to support next steps, the program will not have an impact on development or performance.
Questions you need to answer before adding 360 feedback to your performance management process.
There are many great debates that arise whenever organizations consider adding 360 feedback to their performance management systems.
The following are critical questions that will help you flesh out how to implement 360 feedback into your organization:
- Questions on the goal of using 360 feedback:
- Is it a development tool?
- An appraisal tool?
- Questions on facilitating the 360 process:
- Is feedback anonymous or known rater feedback?
- Does it feedback Impact salary or not? If so, how will it impact salary and be measured?
- Who will select the participants?
- How much training is needed?
- What will be the code of conduct for implementing 360’s?
- Are the results confidential? Who views, has access to or owns the data?
- Questions on selecting or building a tool:
- Customized by an external agency?
- Developed in-house?
- Ready-to-use in the market?
- Questions on organizational readiness:
- What are your organizational culture values?
- Do employees currently give and receive feedback?
- Do your employees have time to provide feedback to multiple people?
As you can see, the decision to implement 360 feedback requires some careful thought.
I’m a big advocate of 360 feedback if it’s set up with the intention of being a development tool.
Whether implemented as a standalone assessment tool for development or as a component of an overall performance management system, the goals for this type of feedback must be clearly defined to complement the employee development strategy or review process.
A 360 feedback process as a standalone tool tied to performance and compensation isn’t ideal. If not rolled out correctly, it can create havoc, fear, and a lack of trust among employees within the work environment.
People want feedback, although not everyone wants to be accountable for impacting one’s salary or limiting them from a promotion.
With that said, there are many opportunities to introduce 360 feedback into the workplace and it doesn’t have to be at the time of an annual review.
Today, 360 feedback tools are used for Leadership Development, Performance Management Benchmarking, Employee Development, Career and Team Development, and most commonly with Executive, Leadership, and High Potential coaching programs.
And these programs should not be limited to once a year. But rather, ongoing throughout the year.
From my experience in the corporate world, and in my current coaching practice, I most often implement 360 tools as part of leadership development programs.
Over the years, 360 feedback has become Increasingly tied to greater employee engagement as part of a well-thought-out employee development program. In many ways, this shows us that companies value continuous learning and innovation.
Peer feedback gained popularity because employees want to know how to become better at what they do. So making 360 feedback available for employees who actively want to develop themselves is another added benefit offered in the workplace.
Now, let’s take a look at critical key steps for implementing 360 feedback into your workplace. Then, you can determine how your organization would benefit from using 360 feedback.
Checklist: Implementing a 360 feedback program in your workplace
Create management alignment and provide support
As with any change management initiative, alignment with management or leadership is key. If your stakeholders are not aligned and supporting the process, getting employees to prioritize taking time out to give feedback will fail.
Define the purpose of your 360 feedback program
- What is the desired outcome of the program?
- How will 360 feedback tie into your strategy for employee development and/or performance management?
- Does it align with the values tied to culture, mission, and vision?
- Is it a development tool for leaders only or will it be implemented or available to all employees?
- Will it be tied to compensation and performance reviews?
- Is it designed for career and personal development? Is it optional for employees?
- Who will own the process? Employees, managers, both?
Communicate the purpose or goal of your 360 feedback program
Communicating throughout the planning and implementation process of 360 feedback will minimize the fear in the process. Think about the how, when and why, for all aspects of the program.
Train and educate employees on the purpose and process
Depending on how your organization likes to facilitated providing and receiving feedback, leadership can spearhead training for teams to try 360 feedback.
Define next steps and expectations for all participants
(employee, manager, raters) following the assessment exercise which might include,
- Share feedback with participants: Including how the process works when it’s happening and best practices.
- Create a development and action plan: Is there a tool provided to do this? What strategies, resources, and support can be applied to development goals?
- Accountability: Who, how and when?
Measure success and assess program for improvements
Celebrate successes and assess what is working and what’s not working. Make modifications as needed.
To learn about key success measures of a 360 feedback program, check out this free ebook.
Careful planning and communication are essential to a successful 360 feedback program.
Ensure you have alignment and support from leadership and key stakeholders.
Be clear about your purpose and goals for the program, communicate the purpose, process, methodology, and train your employees to ensure the feedback is well-intentioned and received.
Double check you have thought through all key elements of the program before launching. And once launched, define next steps and action items for all participants.
If presented with clarity and purpose, and with good intentions, it will fuel amazing growth, productivity, and employee engagement.
You know your organization, and it is up to you to determine if implementing 360 feedback is the right fit.
Guest Author: Theresa Strickland is a Certified Leadership Coach and HR Advisor to startup and high growth organizations. She’s held executive leadership positions in HR and implemented many talent and performance management systems throughout her career. For more information, visit www.stricklandhradvisory.com
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