After reading many articles on the benefits and weaknesses of 360 degree assessments, I have come to a simple conclusion—that articles often do not differentiate good 360 degree assessments from bad. Therefore, what can be a great tool for providing (professional, appropriate) feedback and constructive progress can also negatively impact organizational trust and lead to low morale. What SurveyConnect has found is that by using out-of-house 360 experts (like us), you have a guide to ensure the best results possible from your 360-degree project.
The best reason to go out-of-house when implementing a 360-degree assessment is that the assessment consultant can ask you questions, discuss all the parts of the 360-degree process, and help you reach the best outcome. Some examples:
What are your objectives? Why are you conducting a 360 assessment – Development only? Performance feedback for decision-making? A combination of both? Our research has found that about 69% of our customers use the 360 tool primarily for development, about 30% use it for a mix of development and decision-making, and about 1% use it exclusively for decision-making.
What communication should you have with the participants and their raters? Assessment consultants can support your internal communications program by providing FAQs so that all participants and raters know why the 360 is being deployed, who will see the data, and if there will be anonymity from the raters’ input.
What competencies/questions will help you to achieve your objectives? How many questions should be in the assessment? We believe that it’s best to strive for 45 – 50 questions in your assessment. Shorter may not give the participant deep enough feedback to understand the message; longer provides potentially more feedback, but at what cost to the rater who may have to take multiple assessments? Aim for a similar number of questions per competency to aid participants’ understanding of the roll-up competency scores.
Who will provide feedback? From what relationship categories? Include enough relationship categories to be able to understand the messages (e.g., don’t group direct reports with second level reports). However, there should be enough raters in each category so that anonymity is protected. We generally recommend that, including the manager, all the direct reports and 4 – 6 peers/colleagues rate participants. An ‘other’ category can also be included. In almost all cases, the participant also self-rates.
Who will see the reports? Will there be a de-brief? What action(s) do you want from the participants (the people being rated) after they have reviewed their reports? While many clients still have both the manager and the participant see the report and discuss findings, we also see a shift towards organizations allowing just the participant review the report. The participant writes up a list of ‘lessons learned’ (one template is: what are the three things that people value about working with me, and what are two areas that I want to work on going forward) and submits this document to their manager within a week of receiving the report. The participant and the manager then discuss the 360-process and action plan. To have this debrief process work well, the participant should have an HR professional, coach, or assessment consultant go through the report with them. Research shows that employees are more likely to overcome their resentment and act on feedback if an expert consults them (Overeem; 2009, 879). If other options are not viable, at the very least, guidelines for reading the report should be available to the participant.
There is also a perception issue with deploying a 360-degree process in-house. In a low trust organization, participants and raters may not feel safe providing their assessment(s), wonder about the anonymity of responses, and have concerns over who will see their feedback.
So, when you are ready to deploy your 360 assessments and you consider using that free online software, think about the successful outcome you want and determine if that free software might ultimately cost you more with an unproductive, ineffective process.