360-degree Evaluations – Part 2

Yesterday, I began an overview of 360-degree evaluations, and covered the first two items on the list below.  Today, I’ll cover item #3.

1)     what a 360-degree evaluation is,

2)     what the goals of a 360-degree evaluation system are,

3)     the various ways 360-degree evaluations are used,

4)     what it takes to make 360-degree evaluations effective.

360-degree Evaluations: How are they used?

The level of effectiveness of these types of evaluations depends on how the results are used within the organization.  Some companies use the results of a 360-degree evaluation in performance appraisals, and tie compensation and/or promotions to the results.  Others use them strictly for employee development purposes.  Some companies use 360-degree evaluations on a regular basis, and others use them more sporadically.  The specific use of the evaluation as an organizational tool can impact how well the tool is perceived by the staff, and how well the tool works to improve performance.

One of the goals of any type of evaluation is to help an individual plan for and work towards improvement.  If 360-degree evaluations are done only one time, or only once every few years, the leader misses out on the opportunity to measure his or her progress towards improvement goals.  Valuable information regarding others’ perception of the leader can be gotten from a single evaluation, but multiple evaluations are necessary in order to measure progress.  More regular reviews also support deeper understanding and acceptance by all those that take part in the 360-evaluation process, resulting in more open and accurate assessments from those evaluating the leader.

Many organizations use 360-degree evaluations as a part of their performance appraisal system, and this is perhaps the riskiest way to use the feedback.  The reason for this is that evaluator feedback may be impacted if they know it will be used to measure performance.  Friends of the leader may say overly positive things, while others may say overly negative things.  It can be difficult, at best, to create an atmosphere of trust under circumstances like these.   While decisions about how to use the information gathered in 360-degree evaluations and how often to perform them will have an impact on their effectiveness, a host of other factors will contribute to their success or failure, as well.

One key factor aimed at generating reliable feedback from evaluators involves giving clear directions and examples on how to rate the leader.  If evaluators have different ideas of what a particular rating means, the feedback will be less consistent, and therefore less useful in pointing out areas where professional development is necessary.  The design of the rating scale itself can provide evaluators with clear direction.  An anchored 10-point scale is a good approach.  Anchors are examples that illustrate to evaluators what type of performance or behavior would result in a given rating.  Providing a 10-point rating scale also gives raters the ability to be specific in their evaluations.  If a rating scale only allows for three choices, such as ‘Poor,’ ‘Acceptable,’ and ‘Excellent,’ the results will be too generalized.

The questions included in a 360-degree evaluation should be appropriate for the role the leader plays in the organization, and should not focus on specific technical job skills as much as behavioral skills and characteristics.   Some typical question categories and examples appropriate for a 360-degree evaluation are shown below.

Category Sample Question
Communication Leader communicates expectations clearly
Communication Leader is an effective listener
Communication Leader is transparent in communication (e.g. communicates honestly and openly)
Relationship Leader is approachable
Relationship Leader is trustworthy
Relationship Leader is respectful of others
Time Management Leader meets deadlines
Time Management Leader is organized
Time Management Leader follows up in a timely fashion
Leadership Leader inspires others to work towards goals
Leadership Leader is open to input from team members
Leadership Leader recognizes people for their contributions

Additional elements such as question length and specificity are important as well.  Questions that are too short may be so broad that raters may have trouble providing a succinct response, while questions that are too long may inadvertently address multiple topics.  For instance, ‘Leader is approachable’ is better than ‘Leader is friendly and approachable.’  Open-ended questions provide raters more opportunity to explain their perspectives in comments, but can be harder to tabulate consistent results from.  It’s important to find the right balance between the objectives of gathering specific examples and gathering hard statistics.  A combined approach may be most effective.

A successful 360-degree evaluation process will provide training and direction to raters.  Training should explain the importance of providing clear ratings and information, because the leader cannot follow up for clarification, given the anonymous nature of comments.  Additional important guidelines can include direction to evaluators to focus on the behaviors and performance of the leader, not his or her personal relationship, and direction that it is OK to skip a question if the evaluator doesn’t have a high degree of confidence in his or her opinion.  These tips help ensure the data is consistent and the feedback for the leader is relevant and focused on specific behaviors required in the job.

Training should also address the purpose of the evaluation system in order to increase the level of comfort that rater feedback will be anonymous, and that results will be used constructively.  Evaluators must trust that their feedback will be kept confidential, or the value of the feedback will be significantly lower.  Similarly, leaders may need training and support that helps them understand how to best use the feedback received from the evaluation.   The leader will inevitably receive at least some negative feedback, and in some cases, will receive conflicting feedback from various raters.  A trained facilitator can help the leader determine how to respond to feedback, and work through any emotional responses they may have.  Providing support for all the stakeholders of the 360-degree evaluation process is important to the success of the program.

Click here to continue to Part 3.

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