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Achieving a successful 360-degree appraisal

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CompassUsing 360-degree appraisals is a very effective means of improving management and team performance. To succeed, they have to be carefully planned and well executed, says Valerie Heritage.


Planning your approach

Firstly, you need to understand how the proposed 360-degree appraisal process fits with your current performance appraisal and people management processes. This will help you select the most appropriate questionnaire and process, and ensure that it produces real performance improvements.
The level of investment in time and money that you make at the start of this process will pay dividends in the long term. The first time you use a 360-degree process, you need to enlist the help of an expert so that you achieve the best possible outcomes. This will set the standard for future success and ensure that tangible performance improvements are achieved and maintained.

Long-term performance improvement can only succeed if you have an accurate picture of where to start and the majority of employees believe that it is in their best interests to work together to improve.

Executing your plan

The engagement cycle below illustrates the proven engagement process.

Research

Make sure that:

  • Your chosen supplier has a full understanding of your needs and organisational culture

  • You choose the right time to undertake the exercise

  • Participants are properly briefed on the importance of their role in the success of the appraisals

  • There is a plan to act on the results of the appraisals and this plan is communicated to your participants

Feedback

First you need to obtain an accurate picture of individuals ‘perceptions’ of the current situation.
This must be:

  • Obtained in a confidential and practical way which will not take up too much of their time

  • Tangible and reliable to ensure that you gain an accurate picture of key strengths and development needs

The best way to do this is to use a straightforward online questionnaire which can either be ‘generic’ or ‘bespoke’. The benefit of using a generic questionnaire is that it is ‘tried and tested’, and you will be able to compare against the other organisations that have used it. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel – most individuals face the same challenges whatever organisation or sector they work in and a properly constructed generic questionnaire will bring out all the important and relevant issues.

Questionnaires

Listed below are some of the key features you should look for when putting together a questionnaire:

  • Online, password protected – easy to access

  • All positive statements (between 32–85) – easy to complete

  • No jargon, short and unambiguous – easy to understand whatever level/role in the organisation

  • Rating scale 1 to 7 (1 = disagree, 7 = agree) – each response is thought through

  • Should take no longer than 20 minutes to complete

  • Optional ‘comments’ section – adding value

  • Totally anonymous – honest and reliable feedback is obtained

  • Based on an individual’s ‘perception’ – which is their ‘reality’ – it is not a psychometric test

  • ‘Save’ facility – if you run out of time you can ‘save’ and return later to complete

  • Easy page navigation – saves time

  • Full ‘help’ functionality – easy to understand

  • ‘Contact us’ facility – guaranteed response within 24 hours

Output – key requirements

The format of the output from the questionnaires is crucial to the success of the process. The use of bar charts around a ‘benchmark’ makes it much easier for the participants to understand.

  • No complicated statistics and graphs – making it easy to engage individuals

  • Uncluttered pages – making it easy to understand and work with the data

  • Key strengths/development needs highlighted – to quickly see the priorities

  • Gaps in perception measured between individuals and groups – to allow you to open up discussion and prioritise

  • Measurement of trends and change over time – to review progress and maintain commitment

  • Individual and group profiles and comparisons – to highlight the priority areas and ‘blue-print’ best practice

Discussion

Gathering feedback is only the start. The information obtained from a 360 appraisal does not provide the solution – it acts as a ‘catalyst’ to open up discussion with the very people who provided the feedback in order to find out why they are feeling this way. By involving them in an independently facilitated discussion of the results, you can generate a shared understanding and commitment to work together to improve, by building on strengths and developing areas of weakness.

The ability to compare feedback from different individuals also enables the ‘blue-printing’ of best practice across the organisation.

There are various options for delivering feedback, facilitating discussion and generating action plans depending on individuals’ needs and circumstances. Developmental workshops are particularly valuable when working with several individuals to build on the information obtained from 360 appraisals.

Action

The ‘facilitated’ discussion process leads to practical actions agreed by each individual on how they are going to work to improve performance. These actions need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.

Learning

Ongoing support to achieve your action plan is essential. This support is likely to involve a combination of independent facilitation, training and coaching depending on what needs to be achieved. Encouraging individuals to ‘buddy-up’ with a colleague whose strengths compliment their development needs and vice versa helps to maintain commitment and enthusiasm, in addition to fostering a more supportive and open culture.

Measurement (benchmarking)

How do you know things are improving and how do you ensure that the momentum is maintained?

Regular progress reviews are critical to sustain enthusiasm and commitment. Ideally you should repeat the process on a regular basis, preferably every nine to 12 months, to monitor and review progress and re-define your action plans, based on the results.

The key to a successful 360 appraisal

  • Choose a supplier with ‘proven’ expertise who can manage the entire process for you

  • Have clear objectives for the appraisals

  • Gain commitment from senior management

  • Choose the right time and the right people

  • Ensure you prepare adequately and brief everyone involved

  • Have a plan in place once you have the results

  • Ensure the system you choose offers:
    • Flexibility in grouping participants e.g. by relationship, function, location, management level

    • Flexibility to add or remove respondents

    • Clear instructions for accessing and completing the questionnaire

    • Simple, practical questions that are easy to understand by everyone

    • Online access to a quick and easy process that is confidential and anonymous

    • Responsive ‘help’ facility

    • Ability to send reminders to participants to ensure high response rate

    • Output that is easy to understand and interpret

    • Output that automatically identifies strengths and development needs, differences in perceptions between groups, and priority areas for action

    • An effective process for feedback, action planning and learning

    • A system that makes it easy to identify and measure progress over time


Valerie Heritage is from The Communication Challenge Ltd.

2 Responses

  1. Measurement

    I agree with much of the recommendations above – and the broad approach is excellent.

    One area where we handle things differently is in measurement. We tend to move away from numerical scoring and rather we use categorical data. So, rather than use 1 to 7 and then bar chart averages, we recommend using a scale such as "Development need, Competent, Strong performer" and report back how many people selected each category.
    We have found that this approach gives richer information and avoids some issues around averaging of this data.
    I'm new to this site and I'd hate to fall foul of any self-promotion guidelines but I did write a light-hearted blog entry once on this which can be found here http://360degreeappraisal.blogspot.co.uk/2007/02/360-degree-appraisals-and-russian-judge.html.

    Brendan

  2. The 360 process is important, but using the feedback is the valu
    Valerie’s recommendations should be followed as they will help ensure a successful implementation.

    The return on the investment in 360 only comes afterwards: the “bang for your buck$” arises from changed behaviours that raise performance levels.

    I would strongly recommend that readers who are contemplating introducing 360 to their organisation read a recently-published book titled “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” written by Marshall Goldsmith with Mark Reiter, which was recommended to me by an OD colleague. It has a wealth of tips about how feedback is used…..and there’s also a great suggestion about using “FeedForward” as a proactive way of self-help.

    If you want to get the essence of the book, before you buy, listen to an audio-visual summary of the book and get access to Marshall Goldsmith’s library of resources – lots of excellent materials are there. This is at http://www.2020insight.net/GoldsmithWeb%202/GoldsmithWeb%202.htm

    By the way, I’m not on sales commission from Goldsmith!

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