In the last article we noticed just how good the 360-degree assessments are, if implemented correctly. But there is a major reservation! In order for the 360-degree feedback system to be successful, there must be employee acceptance of the system. Both perceived accuracy and justice are considered critical factors for system acceptance. If the system is unjust or has errors, it will be dismissed for obvious reasons. Fortunately, reputable providers of 360-degree feedback have often delivered hundreds of thousands of ratings, and are experienced in maximizing the likelihood of system acceptance.
There are three key steps to using the 360-degree feedback system successfully:
Make it synchronize with the organisation culture
Make it psychometrically sound
Handle with care
Make it synchronize
Try to make the 360 feedback fit into the culture of the organisation. In doing so, it will appear less threatening and fairer. To increase the perception of justice, employees should be encouraged to be active participants in the evaluation. A multiple source feedback works best in an environment that is team-oriented and cooperative. Giving individuals the opportunity to voice their opinions about the system’s construction, process and results will increase employee buy-in, acceptance and will yield useful suggestions.
It is also important to train the feedback providers to be sensitive, respectful and polite. Treating employees in a friendly and respectful manner and offering constructive advice will make them more open to accepting the performance appraisal system.
People tend to be suspicious of things they do not understand. Thus, it is important to communicate to the employees the precise way in which ratings are to be combined, as well as the purpose, benefits and procedures of the 360-degree feedback system. It is particularly important to communicate the intended uses of the information.
Make it psychometrically sound
A good assessment should be reliable and valid. It must measure what it proposes to measure, consistently and accurately. The 360-degree feedback system only works effectively if it measures the relevant job performance, knowledge, skills, abilities and personality characteristics necessary for high levels of job performance. Thus, the first step is to identify, define and incorporate these job performance behaviours, knowledge and skills into the appraisal system.
Select raters who are well acquainted with the employee. Rater familiarity is linked to accuracy and fairness in performance ratings. To evaluate rater familiarity, some 360-degree feedback systems include a rating for familiarity and provide the option of indicating “inadequate opportunity to observe” for performance characteristics. To increase reliability and decrease the impact of individual biases a large sample of raters should be selected.
Reliability continues to increase when up to 20 raters are included, but adequate reliability can be obtained using six or more raters. Both ‘self’ and ‘other’ appraisal accuracy should be promoted and rewarded. The nature of the 360-degree feedback system should reduce the problem of rater accuracy, as the use of multiple raters will average out individual biases.
Furthermore, there is an apparent trade-off when using either ‘self’ or ‘other’ ratings. Other-ratings are perceived to be more accurate, however, they may also be perceived by the employee to be less fair. The inverse is true for self-ratings. Clearly, both rating methods have advantages and disadvantages; thus, a performance appraisal system that combines both ‘self’ and ‘other’ ratings will be the most beneficial.
Handle with care
When implementing the 360-degree feedback system it is important to be consistent across employees (all of the employees should have an equal opportunity to participate in the system) and administered frequently. A consistent system will be perceived as more accurate and fair. A one-time 360 feedback exercise is not recommended — they are best when at least a three to five term is planned. Furthermore, evaluating performance over time provides employees with benchmarks for development.
There are nine steps to move in designing an effective and professional 360-degree feedback.
Decide the purpose of multi-rater feedback in your organisation. What do you want to measure and why? Make sure you’re clear on what you want to measure and why. Be as specific as possible about what behaviours, skills and actions you want to change and how you will know that they are improving as you continue to measure them.
Select the survey instrument. The choice is between designing a survey instrument in-house and purchasing one from commercial provider. Some believe that in-house survey is more effective because it can include company specific elements. However, it is also expensive to develop; it needs expert knowledge in survey instrument development. The benefit of good commercial instruments is that they are validated and also standardised. It means results could be compared between managers and for each manager over time.
Decided the behaviours that are to be included. If you already have a competency or development framework, job descriptions or skills matrix, or learning objectives, these are a useful place from which to start designing your 360-degree feedback. If they are not available the approach involves the highly complicated step of deciding which behaviours the survey should focus on, translating these behaviours into statements and creating a rating scale.
Decide who will be rated. Most organisations target their top management layers. There are different opinions how far down the organisation the technique should be pushed. Each organisation needs to make a considered decision on this issue.
Inform the participants. Managers being rated need to understand the purpose and the boundaries of the exercise. Similarly, the raters need to understand the why and the how of the process.
Decide who will rate. Typically, raters are chosen by the manager who is the recipient of the feedback. The raters can be chosen from anyone within the 360-degree circle around the manager – boss, peers, staff and clients. The number of raters is usually in the range of six to 12 so there is quite limited opportunity to stack the deck.
Organise the distribution process and report generation. Survey forms can be distributed physically or software-generated to all the participants. This process should maintain confidentiality at all times. The responses should then be processed to generate a report. These reports will show the recipients self-assessment for each behavioural area and compare this with averages broken down to sub-groups of the ratings made by other raters.
Report the feedback. The feedback session should be carried out by someone experienced in handling development discussions. The session should use the data contained in the report to identify areas where the recipient of the feedback could strengthen his/her performance as a manager. Areas of strength should be agreed to balance the discussion. This may lead to the identification of training opportunities that can assist the behaviour change. Accordingly, an action plan needs to be prepared and agreed upon.
Follow up the action plan. This is done to ensure that managers follow through their commitments to improve their performance. Another point that could be considered is whether to repeat, say after about a year, the survey process in order to determine if any improvement has happened.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)