The concept of using 360-degree evaluations to provide feedback aimed at helping individuals to improve their job performance is not new. But, exactly what are they and how well do they work? Do 360-degree evaluations have you running in circles? Or is your organization running circles around the competition? If you use 360-degree evaluations and they aren’t as effective as you’d like them to be, or if you don’t use them at all, this article is for you. In a three-part series, I will explain:
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.
Information about the first two topics follows:
360-degree Evaluation: What is it?
Organizations function best when employees are happy, and employees are happier when they work for strong leaders. Done right, 360-degree evaluations represent one means to help leaders learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses, thereby improving their management skills, and creating happier employees. The process can serve as a tool that helps underscore the organization’s values and objectives to all people that take part in it. The questions chosen and the emphasis the organization places on various skills both serve to teach management and employees alike what is expected of them.
For the purposes of this discussion, the subject of the 360-degree evaluation will be referred to as ‘the leader.’ Other parties will be defined in terms of their relationship to the leader. Peter Ward, a well-known expert on the subject, defines the 360-degree evaluation in his book, 360-degree Feedback, as:
The systematic collection of feedback and performance data on an individual or group, derived from a number of the stakeholders in their performance.
In order for an evaluation to meet the criteria of a 360-degree evaluation, the leader should complete a self-evaluation, and additional feedback should be obtained from a variety of people that interact with the leader. Those people should be constituents of the various roles the leader plays, and at a minimum should include people from above (senior manager), below (subordinates), and to the side (peers) of the leader on an organization chart.
The feedback in a 360-degree evaluation can be obtained a number of ways, but the most common means consists of a survey. The survey asks evaluators to rank the leader’s skills in a variety of areas as well as to provide elaborated comments regarding their experience with the leader. Often the results of the surveys are consolidated and the feedback presented to the leader is derived from the detailed responses in order to maintain some level of anonymity and illustrate the average ‘weight’ or frequency of ratings and responses. Consolidation of multiple responses also helps account for extreme opinions – such as a single employee that is very unhappy and wants to harm a leader’s reputation, or a peer with a personal relationship to the leader who wants to reward him or her with very positive evaluations.
360-degree Evaluation: What are the goals?
The primary goal of a 360-degree evaluation is to provide the leader with valuable information regarding how others perceive him or her in a work environment. The evaluation should help a leader understand his or her strengths and weaknesses and illuminate areas of opportunity for professional development. There are two major areas from which conclusions can be drawn. First, the leader and senior manager can get a clear picture of how the leader is perceived from other stakeholder’s perspectives. Second, the leader can evaluate his or her level of self-awareness by comparing the survey results to his or her self-evaluation.
The leader can define an action plan based on the results of a 360-degree evaluation to help him or her improve his or her performance. Results that show trends from a variety of respondents can also help the manager more clearly understand where to focus improvement efforts. The nature of the questions themselves can provide a roadmap for positive change. For instance, if average scores indicate that the leader does not follow up with others in a timely manner, he or she can make a concerted effort to follow up more quickly, and can likely improve this negative perception in a fairly short amount of time.
An additional important, though somewhat indirect, goal of 360-degree evaluations is to improve the morale of an entire company or team. Employees that feel they have a voice and that their input is not only heard, but valued and responded to, will be happier within the organization. The type of interaction a leader has with various stakeholders is different depending on the role of the person he or she interacts with. Leaders can benefit from understanding how one type of behavior may be interpreted differently by different people. Armed with this awareness, a leader may be better able to communicate effectively with various constituents in the organization. This kind of sensitivity to others’ communication styles and preferences can create more solid and productive relationships, increasing morale.