Are you satisfied with your company’s performance evaluation system?
We have asked this question to thousands of managers and employees working in different companies in Canada, the USA and Europe more than half answered “no”. How would you respond? When did you have your latest evaluation? What did you get out of it? Did your performance truly improve following this evaluation? Do you consider traditional performance evaluation systems to be weak, not very valid, not motivational and generally of little use?
Nonetheless, we agree that feedback is essential for learning and development. So, although performance evaluation evokes high levels of dissatisfaction for many, we cannot simply forget about it. We would be better off trying to improve it. A technique, which has been around for about ten years, called 360° Feedback, has proven highly beneficial in this regard. It consists of receiving specific behavioral feedback from multiple sources, i.e. superiors, colleagues and subordinates. 360° Feedback has proved to be a powerful lever for organizational and personal development.
Objectives of 360° feedback
A 360° Feedback program primarily tries to meet the following two objectives:
- to develop and put into place specific and effective personal developmental actions for employees at all organizational levels;
- to reinforce specific behaviors that reflect the company’s values.
360° Feedback helps identify development needs, both individual and group, and offers feedback to employees on how well they conform to the organization’s values. It also contributes to personal and organizational development in line with the company’s strategic plans and culture.
Principal characteristics of 360° feedback
360° Feedback, as its name implies is feedback that comes from different sources: the higher organization level (superiors); the same organizational level (colleagues); the lower organizational level (subordinates); and, also internal or external customers (if appropriate). This multidimensional aspect gives it built-in validity and credibility. Those evaluated also do a self-evaluation. They can then compare their perception with how others perceive them. In order to be accepted and effective, a 360° Feedback program must meet the following criteria:
- be entirely focused on personal development;
- have the commitment and active participation of top management;
- be based on a valid questionnaire that reflects the company’s values;
- ensure confidentiality of feedback and anonymity of evaluators;
- clearly communicate to participants the program’s objectives, process and how it will be used;
- provide participants with a clear, easy to understand report that interprets the results
- based on valid and relevant statistical analysis;
- offer a method for analyzing the results that leads to the development of an effective and challenging personal development plan;
- be rigorously followed-up so as to reinforce implementation of the participant development plan
A process for implementing a 360° feedback program
Implementing an effective 360° Feedback program normally entails the following steps:
STEP 1: Questionnaire development and validation
The first step consists of developing, in close collaboration with company personnel, a valid questionnaire based on behaviors that reflect the values of the company. As the results of this questionnaire will be used by participants for their development, it is essential that the statements used in it be valid and understood by everyone. A pre-test of the questionnaire is therefore required. Responses obtained during the pre-test are then statistically analyzed, including factorial analysis, which allows non valid statements to be eliminated.
A feedback questionnaire needs to respect established scientific rules and is not something that should be improvised.
STEP 2: Start-up sessions
To ensure the accuracy and validity of the evaluations, start-up sessions to launch the 360° Feedback program are critical. They normally take about three hours and involve about fifteen participants.
Start-up sessions are designed to:
present participants with the objectives of the program and how it works;
- increase participant awareness of the importance of feedback for personal and professional development;
- train participants on how to carry out quality evaluations while avoiding common pitfalls associated with evaluation (halo effect, central tendency, etc.);
- introduce the 360° Feedback questionnaire and have participants complete their own self-evaluation in order to better understand the program;
- allow participants to select their evaluators, i.e. the superiors, colleagues and subordinates who will be asked to complete the questionnaire.
The choice of evaluators needs to be done by the person being evaluated and subsequently validated with his/her immediate supervisor. This process will ensure that the person being evaluated and the organization recognizes the relevancy and validity of the evaluations and the program itself. According to our experience, the ideal number of evaluators is that which allows the person being evaluated to receive relevant and valid feedback. As to the selection of evaluators, it should be based solely on the following criterion: That the evaluator knows the evaluated well enough to be able to do a fair and honest evaluation.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that 360° Feedback programs may generate some employee anxiety. This is only normal within an evaluation context and partly reflects the importance of the process to the employee. Take, for example, a situation where the immediate supervisor gives the employee feedback that he/she perceives as negative. The employee may often rationalize by saying that the supervisor does not know him/her well, because the supervisor rarely sees him/her, or worst yet that the supervisor is incompetent. Alternatively, if the same feedback comes from several superiors, colleagues and subordinates, the employee has no loop-hole to hide behind. 360° Feedback moreover, does not develop new perceptions. Rather, it formalizes the opinions that others already have of the person being evaluated. This inescapable characteristic of 360° Feedback programs is bound to create a certain amount of stress. This concern is significantly reduced, during the start-up session, when employees better understand what the program is all about and how it is to be used.
STEP 3: Completion of evaluations
Carrying out evaluations is the third step in setting up a 360° Feedback program. It consists of distributing the questionnaires and return envelopes to the evaluators. They can return the completed questionnaires to an outside firm, or a person within the organization. Whatever the choice, it is essential that the anonymity of evaluators and confidentiality of the evaluations be ensured in order to motivate participants to respond sincerely and truthfully.
STEP 4: Statistical analysis of questionnaires and preparation of individual reports
During this step, completed questionnaires are analyzed statistically which allows the average for each statement and source of feedback to be calculated. Group averages can also be developed, which would allow each person to see how he/she compares to the total group. A personal report is provided for each participant and is handed out at the development session.
STEP 5: Development sessions
This step is a key determinant for successful implementation of the 360° Feedback program. In effect, well-structured and accurate feedback alone is not sufficient to improve one’s performance. A well-thought out and valid development plan is needed that includes specific objectives, detailed action plans and a realistic deadline. This is facilitated by using the following model of problem-solving: define the behavior to be improved, clearly and specifically; analyze the factors that have influenced this behavior (skills, knowledge, experience, etc.); and, establish a developmental objective and a specific improvement strategy.
These development sessions are best done in small groups and, based on our experience, take a full day. They also need to be facilitated by a person who is sufficiently qualified to provide individualized support for those who need it. It is worthwhile mentioning that among the 350 managers with whom we have worked using 360° Feedback, 88.4% reported that the results did not give them a great deal of anxiety and only 1.3% indicated being really disturbed by their results. It appears then about 12% of participants do not accept their feedback or are really quite surprised. A qualified resource person is useful in helping this group deal with a distressing situation by putting their results in perspective. As a result, they will better understand and accept what their feedback results mean, so that they channel their energy towards designing and following an effective and challenging personal development plan.
STEP 6: Follow-up
It is not sufficient to simply review the results and put together a development plan. Carrying out the plan and following it through are key success factors in personal and professional development. A recent study carried out by Hazucha, Hezlett and Schneider on a group of American managers clearly demonstrates the key role that coaching by the immediate supervisor has on skill development by managers after getting 360° Feedback. Carrying out this step often includes an inherent important difficulty. To truly help their employees achieve their development objectives, supervisors need to be aware of their employees’ feedback results. Yet, as previously mentioned, confidentiality is a fundamental characteristic of any effective 360° Feedback program. A way to overcome this apparent contradiction is to ask the employee to present only his/her strengths, development objectives and action plans. Together, they would develop an appropriate follow-up procedure. The employee’s specific results could then remain entirely confidential, if he/she so wishes.
This step could also help link the 360° Feedback program with the performance management program. In effect, any good performance evaluation system measures two aspects, results and behaviors. Achievement of personal development objectives, established because of 360° Feedback, could be used as a way to measure behavior.
As the immediate supervisor has a key role to play in helping his/her employees achieve their personal development plans, the organization’s support of the 360° Feedback program is essential for it to succeed. The organization must provide the necessary development tools and ensure that the company’s management practices reinforce the behaviors that in values.
360° Feedback is not a passing fad. It is an effective and valid tool that contributes to employee and organizational development. 360° Feedback is based on a valid questionnaire that describes observable behaviors valued by the company. It has a built-in credibility and reality as the feedback comes from different evaluators. Traditional approaches leave employee evaluation to primarily one source, the immediate supervisor. Studies however show that the immediate supervisor observes less than 5% of his/her employees’ work. The involvement of colleagues and subordinates in the evaluation process thus provides the employee with a more comprehensive and credible input.
360° Feedback is equally a powerful tool that anchors organizational values through specific behaviors. If a company wants to change or evolve its organizational culture, its main challenge is to initiate and sustain change. We all have a natural tendency to return to our old ways of doing things. Providing feedback to everyone on how well they are in line with the company’s new values, is highly effective in reinforcing its new culture.
Finally, 360° Feedback itself consists of two fundamental and complementary values that characterize the culture of top performing companies: Open communications and consideration for employees at all levels. Asking employees to give feedback, especially to their bosses, is a real test of the willingness of the company’s executives and managers to show that they are open to the opinions of their employees and to include them in changing the company’s management style
Could you pass this test?
- Adaptation of our basic questionnaire to the values of your organization
- Pre-testing of the questionnaire
- Preparation and facilitation of start-up sessions for the program
- Administration of the questionnaire using the WEB or other appropriate methods
- Confidential statistical analysis of the data
- Preparation of individual reports
- Hand delivery of individual reports during the development sessions
- Preparation and facilitation of development sessions (individual working and coaching sessions)
- Identification of collective development needs