Using 360 degree feedback.
360 degree feedback is most often used in development or training and to a lesser extent in performance appraisal. It has particular relevance for appraising leadership skills. This checklist is assuming the scheme will be managed by the HR or training function rather than individual managers.
Changes in organisational structures towards flatter hierarchies and greater employee empowerment have had implications for the appraisal process. An individual manager will now often have a greater span of control, so an employee's colleagues may be in a better position to judge his or her performance than before. Hence the now established interest in 360 degree feedback which, by combining opinions of subordinates, peers and team members, can provide a well-rounded and more accurate and objective view than the perceptions of a single person. 360 degree feedback can be particularly motivating for people who undervalue themselves. It can also increase general awareness of the impact people have on each other and lead to more open working relationships and improved teamwork. It is most effective in organisations which have, or are moving towards, an open, supportive, and participative culture.
National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership
This checklist has relevance to the following standards:
D: Working with people, unit 6
360 degree feedback (or appraisal) involves appraisal by those above, below, and to the side of the appraisee and incorporates self-assessment. In practice, it may not include all of these elements. Depending on the level of openness required, feedback may be provided through a third party, so that any one person's opinions cannot be traced. Similar approaches are described in a glossary towards the end of this checklist.
1. Decide which behaviours you want to measure and whom to assess
Consider which sets of knowledge, skills and abilities you want to measure: for example, should they be competency-based, job-related, or behaviour-related? Remember that 360 degree feedback can be used at any level of the organisation, so decide if you want to assess specific individuals, particular teams, particular levels, or the whole organisation.
2. Design a feedback questionnaire
Devise the detailed questions or, if you do not have the necessary expertise in-house, consider buying in a ready-made questionnaire or employing a consultant. Check that the questions are phrased to elicit a descriptive, rather than a judgmental, response, as the former is less likely to give offence and more likely to provide information for the appraisee to act upon. Also, avoid asking questions which the majority of the likely appraisers are not qualified to answer or which contain terms that might be open to misinterpretation.
3. Communicate the scheme and prepare participants
Good communication and an open management style are vital to the success of 360 degree feedback. Make sure that the scope and purpose of the scheme are clearly explained and encourage the airing of worries and objections. If necessary, circulate a pilot questionnaire asking employees, for example, for their views on managers in the organisation in general. This will serve to demonstrate how the scheme will work and to give reassurance. A focus on strengths as much as weaknesses will help to make the exercise non-threatening. Appoint a manager to act as a facilitator and publicise his or her roles and responsibilities. This person should be widely respected and have a good reputation for fairness and honesty. If it is not appropriate to nominate an internal manager, consider using a consultant.
4. Train all appraisers in giving, and appraisees in receiving, critical feedback.
Encourage appraisers to be constructive, positive and specific, rather than being critical, negative and general. In describing a colleague's behaviour, for example, "I notice that you rarely acknowledge us when you arrive in the morning" is more helpful than "I think you are a bad communicator". "I note that you need time and space to yourself but when you get it you can really produce the goods" pinpoints the message in an acceptable way, which should be better received than "You're too much of a loner". Do not allow the appraisal to become an opportunity for subjective gripes. If this happens, critically appraised people will tend to get their own back when appraising others, especially if they are identified or identifiable.
5. Let the appraisee choose their appraisers
Allow the employee to select who is to appraise them from an agreed pool, but ensure that those chosen include people with whom they do and don't get on: the aim is to achieve a rounded appraisal. Set limits on the number involved in each appraisal, as otherwise the exercise can become an administrative nightmare. Instruct appraisers to return their questionnaires to the appointed facilitator. If it has been agreed that all comments will be treated anonymously, reassure them that their views will not be attributed specifically to them. Minimise the gap between collecting the data and giving the results.
6. Decide how feedback is to be presented
Work out how the results are to be collated and presented by the facilitator: is your objective to allow employees to be able to compare their own performance over time, compare themselves with like employees, or compare themselves against a set of competences? Consider whether feedback on particular actions is to be linked to a consensus on how important that action is to the job. If so, the results will have to be weighted accordingly.
7. Provide counselling and assistance
Decide whether improvement actions should be left to individuals or whether they should be offered solutions. If you wish individuals to take responsibility for their own improvement, don't show the results to their boss without their approval. The facilitator or another trained person such as a psychologist should be available to help employees deal with feedback, particularly to advise on how to deal with diverging views. Consider whether to hold development sessions in which appraisees can offer support to each other.
8. Set action plans for improvement
Follow up appraisal with a programme of suitable training. This may range from attending a course, or sitting with a colleague, to internal or external secondment. Remember that learners will have different needs and preferences.
9. Evaluate the use of 360 degree feedback
Evaluate the appraisal initiative, taking into account the thoughts of all participants, including any difficulties that arose in completing the appraisal questionnaire or in analysing the data from it. Compare the results of using 360 degree feedback with previous appraisal schemes. Details from the evaluation should be acknowledged when undertaking the next appraisal.
Glossary of terms related to 360 degree feedback
Peer appraisal: employees are evaluated by their colleagues and their supervisor.
Team appraisal: team members assess their own team's performance. Feedback should preferably also come from representatives of clients of the team and from a supervisor.
Upward feedback: managers are appraised by those who work under them.
Managers should avoid
* forgetting that employees may find the introduction of 360 degree feedback both threatening and challenging
* treating it as a one-off exercise or leave long gaps between appraisals
* allowing appraisers to drift into personal attacks
* generating an environment of suspicion.
360 degree feedback beyond the spin
Michael Silverman, Maire Kerrin and Alison Carter Brighton: Falmer, Institute for Employment Studies 2005 (IES report 418)
Appraisal and feedback: making performance review work, 3rd ed, Clive Fletcher
London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004
360 degree feedback best practice guidelines
Department of Trade and Industry: London
Guide to the implementation of 360 degree feedback, Valerie Garrow
Horsham: Roffey Park Management Institute, 1999
This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic
Survival of the similar, Madan Pillutla and Sarah Ronson
People Management, vol 12 no 6, 23 Mar 2006, pp36-37
How to link 360 degree feedback and appraisal, Peter Goodge
People Management, vol 11 no 2, 27 Jan 2005, pp46-47
This is a selection of journal articles available from the Management Information Centre. More information at: www.managers.org.uk/mic
Conducting a performance appraisal (036)
Preparing to be appraised (069)
Establishing a performance measurement system (129)
Giving feedback as a coach (222)
Giving criticism as a coach (223)
Team Builders Plus: www.360-degreefeedback.com Basic introduction to 360 degree feedback with details of tools and products.
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