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Pros and Cons of 360 Employee Reviews

360-degree Reviews

Human resources professionals, managers and department heads have a plethora of options when selecting performance evaluations and development strategies and tools. One such tool is the 360-degree review and feedback process, which provides continuous learning and more global feedback to employees than other common types of reviews. Organizational leaders believe this holistic tactic to obtain information about the employee will lead to more significant improvements in performance and personal growth.

What is a 360-degree review?

When an employer adopts a 360-degree review of an employee’s performance, he or she is obtaining feedback from a multitude of sources that the evaluated employee interacts with on a regular basis. Those involved in providing feedback are typically the individual’s manager, peers, subordinates, customers, clients and sometimes even his or her significant other. The individual also completes a self-assessment, rounding out the full-circle evaluation. The objective of this process is for the learner to receive as much feedback on his or her behaviors, outcomes and potential as possible. In addition, the individual should use the feedback to develop goals to further his or her career, which in turn may also benefit the employer.

This process is typically not linked with pay increases and promotions, because raters may skew the feedback if they were aware of the possible rewards. For instance, if the individual being reviewed had the chance to be promoted depending on the results of the review, the raters who were also in competition for the promotion may give the individual a poor review to stand a better chance of obtaining the promotion themselves. This defeats the purpose of gaining a well-rounded view of the individual.

The 360-degree Review Process

Once an employer decides to implement this review system, the process should be executed as follows:

  • Step 1—Outline an objective

  • Outline an objective that guides the assessment and determines the nature of the questions asked.

  • When devising an objective, ask: What will the results of the review be used for? Will this process serve to enhance leadership, management development or performance?

  • Determine what actions will take place, who will have what responsibilities and what resources will be used to complete the objective.

  • Step 2—Determine how the review will be administered.

  • Determine whether you will provide the review via internet, intranet, phone, or pencil and paper format.

  • Consider hiring a third party that specializes in administering these programs. The cost of hiring an outside source usually seems higher, but using in-house administration actually has a higher price tag when you consider the use of internal resources.

  • Step 3—Create the assessment.

  • When writing the assessment, include questions that relate to the company’s goals and the learner’s role. Include items such as:

  • How does the employee encourage the expression of ideas and opinions?

  • Is the employee flexible when dealing with change?

  • How does he or she influence others to act in a positive way?

  • Organize the questions into topics such as communication, development and leadership. Again, make sure these topics relate to the organization’s development goals and objectives.

  • Use a Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Offer a “not applicable” option for items that may not apply to all employees.

  • Include some open-ended questions where raters can provide specific examples relating to the questions.

  • Step 4—Prepare employees for the review.

  • Hold team meetings to explain the entire review process. Provide assurance that the results will be kept confidential and that the process is meant only to further development, not point out flaws.

  • Differentiate this process from a performance review in which compensation is at stake.

  • Outline how this process will further the company’s goals and benefit the employees as individuals and their long-term success.

  • Step 5—Train the individuals involved.

  • Survey training: Explain to the raters how they should complete the survey, the importance of the review, the types of questions that will be asked and how their comments will be used. Reiterate the anonymity of the process.

  • Management training: Train supervisors and managers on how to discuss results with the individual being reviewed, and how to use the information gained to assist in further growth.

  • Employee training: Encourage each employee who will be reviewed to keep an open mind, and explain what should be expected from the process as it is carried out.

  • Step 6—Administer the reviews.

  • When using this process for the first time, try it on an employee that is extremely open-minded, especially regarding criticism. This person can hopefully encourage others to be positive about the experience when they are reviewed.

  • Repeat the process with a like-minded person from a different department

  • Step 7—Collect the reviews and analyze the results.

  • Collect the reviews and analyze the results using a benchmarking strategy that you have created.

  • Organize the results into a report for each individual with the average scores calculated in a comprehensive fashion.

  • Step 8—Deliver the results.

  • The individual’s manager, a Human Resources professional or a trained feedback coach should explain the results of the review to each individual. During this session, they should identify areas that need improvement, areas of particular strength and areas where the individual has set a good example for others.

  • Step 9—Create an employee action plan.

  • Once the individual receives and understands the results, he or she should then develop an action plan to modify the areas that need improvement.

  • He or she will show the action plan to his or her manager for approval and agree on a deadline for achieving the goals.

  • The employee will then attempt to carry out the action plan. His or her manager should supervise progress to ensure that the plan is being carried out.

  • Step 10—Repeat the process.

  • Generally six months to a year later, conduct another 360-degree review and compare the results to the previous review. Determine whether or not the individual was successful in modifying behavior in areas that needed improvement.

Benefits and Drawbacks of a 360-degree Review

Unlike a traditional performance review, the 360-degree review process demonstrates how the individual achieves the output of his or her work. This process also highlights how individuals can develop personally and hone in on specific skills that need further growth. In addition, this process may prove to yield more accurate results since it requires more than one individual provides feedback. Essentially, there is less room for bias and subjectivity than there is in a traditional review.

Furthermore, if there are consistent or repeated comments concerning one particular trait, behavior or action, the individual’s manager can safely assume that this is a fairly strong attribute that the individual possesses. Beyond these advantages, the scope of the assessment is large simply because a full circle of individuals participates, and each one potentially has a very different relationship and very different interactions with the individual. Therefore, similar results between reviewers are extremely telling.

Despite the potential to achieve employer goals through employee personal enrichment, there are several drawbacks to this review approach. First, if the questions do not relate to the employer’s core mission, the review process will not measure the potential for accomplishments in the future. Instead, it will serve as added information about the employee rather than a correlation between an employee’s performance and how he or she can help move the company to where it wants to be.

Secondly, since the feedback is given from anonymous sources, there is no opportunity for further explanation and dialogue. If the individual needs clarification on a particular area, he or she may be left guessing.

Beyond this, the raters may skew the results either in their favor or in favor of the individual, depending on their personal goals. As previously stated, if there are several people vying for the boss’s attention, raters may give one another negative reviews to have a better shot. On the flip side, if several employees form a pack and resolve to give each other all rave reviews, management will not know how each employee is actually performing in the eyes of his or her co-workers. Therefore, the company must create some form of check-and-balance system to resolve these types of issues.

One other drawback to this approach is that feedback is not always well-received by the individual because he or she may feel scrutinized by the large group that performed the evaluation. This is detrimental to the process since accepting feedback is the gateway to behavioral change. Depending on how the feedback is delivered to the individual, he or she may become extremely defensive and may become de-motivated rather than excited to make changes. That is why it is imperative that whoever explains the results to the individual is explicitly taught how to do so to yield a positive learning experience.

Consider a 360-degree review as part of your organization’s evaluation tools. Experiment with the process to determine if it yields the type of results that achieve your company’s goals. Whether it suits you or not, the individuals evaluated will certainly become enlightened about their performance on the job.


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