The 360-degree feedback mechanism for evaluating employees has been in use for decades — long enough for a battery of academic studies to highlight its benefits and drawbacks.
First, consider the limitations of the traditional supervisor-only evaluation, particularly for employees who work in teams or who have subordinates of their own. In this environment, direct supervisors:
A 360-degree feedback system can help you overcome those obstacles.
Before you jump into it, it might be more prudent to start a 360-degree system in conjunction with an ongoing development process, simply to pinpoint areas where an employee might benefit from additional training. Why? This allows you to gain confidence in your ability to evaluate the feedback you get from the process.
With some experience, you should be able to weed out comments that amount to complaints from disgruntled subordinates or colleagues. Also, employees are more likely to warm up to the process if they know that you’re giving it a trial run. Keep in mind that ideally people need at least six months of working with a person to be able to make valid evaluations.
If your organization is large enough, you might consider starting off with a 360-degree-feedback performance-rating pilot project in one department or division, before launching the program company-wide.
These programs aren’t always anonymous. One school of thought holds that it’s better for all raters in a 360-degree program to identify themselves in order to:
Still, most 360-degree programs are based on anonymity. That allows those providing the feedback to give more than bland or favorable comments out of fear of negative repercussions. Anonymous or not, a side benefit to a well-managed 360-degree program is that those giving the feedback get the message that their opinions matter.
Advocates of these systems encourage employers to avoid launching a 360-degree program until they’ve identified a specific purpose for it. That way, they can also establish a basis or benchmark for evaluating the success of the program. An example of a valid purpose might be to change an organization that has developed a rigid hierarchy into one with a culture that emphasizes continuous feedback and improvement.
Keep in mind that when you’re identifying a purpose, this type of system shouldn’t be viewed as a way to address poor employee job performance. Employees might become more self aware through the process, but it isn’t a substitute for direct communication between a supervisor and an employee.
If you’re designing your company’s program in-house, a critical element is the outline of the survey, which should include:
It’s also a good idea to use a dual-rating scale that includes both quantitative and qualitative performance questions. For example, you could ask:
1. To what extent does this person exhibit a behaviour?
2. Given the person’s role, to what extent should the person exhibit the behaviour?
By comparing the answers, you basically perform a gap analysis that helps interpret the results and reduces a rater’s bias to score consistently high or low.
Here are some pointers for implementing an effective 360-degree program:
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a 360-degree feedback system will accomplish the goals you set for it. But, as this method of review was pioneered in the 1950s and rose to popularity in the 1990s, its longevity alone suggests it might be worth a try.