Using 360-degree feedback effectively. By Louise Phelan
There has been a great deal of debate in recent years about the best ways of managing the performance of a company’s human resources. Even in the HR industry, terms such as “performance review”, “feedback”, and “assessment” are used interchangeably; and, to add to the muddle, these terms are often confused with “performance development”.
One of the most popular forms of performance management over the past five years has been the use of multi-rater evaluations, often called 360-degree feedback because they involve a full circle of feedback from employees, peers, managers, and customers.
But, 360-degree feedback has developed into a fad and many companies look to it as a replacement for the “top-down” appraisal method, which is now seen as subjective and judgmental. In an era of horizontal management structures, many companies have welcomed 360-degree feedback as an opportunity to democratise the feedback process by using a broader range of information and facilitating open discussion.
However, those new to the system should realise that using multi-rater assessments in isolation as a means of appraising an isolated individual, rather than as one contributor to an overall performance-management strategy can be controversial. This is especially true when the stakes are high and the information influences pay, promotion and downsizing decisions.
In these cases, the data generated by the process is designed to record what the employee already has done, and whether they are working well enough in a given role within the organisation. It is akin to closing the gate after the horse has bolted.
There are obvious pitfalls if a 360-degree assessment is used exclusively to gauge an employee’s effectiveness on the job. If an employee is aware that the data is being used to determine salaries or promotions, he is more likely to forego total honesty when completing his assessment or to put a positive spin on negative data.
In addition, if peers competing for a similar position are rating one another, how genuine is the data likely to be? Moreover, several researchers have found no credible research demonstrating that a multi-rater assessment, when used only as an employee appraisal, improves work performance.
To get the most out of the system, 360-degree feedback must be integrated into the development activities and the business strategy of the company.
Development, as distinct from appraisal, has to do with recognising the competencies required for a role, assessing the individual against them, and then offering learning programs to bridge any gaps. It offers a way forward for the individual and provides information about goals, rather than simply judging past performance.
In some companies, these action plans are employee-driven, so that the subjects of the assessment are enabled to make their own development decisions based on the areas for improvement that the 360-degree assessment highlights.
Melbourne’s Hotel Sofitel recently successfully implemented the approach. Most people in the hospitality industry rise through the ranks of management without much attention being given to improving their skills as managers.
But Hotel Sofitel decided to invest in developing the skills of their management in early 1999. Benchmarks were developed based on criteria that the hotel identified. These included people management, guest satisfaction, strategic management, communication, teamwork, administration and finance.
The hotel and staff have all gained because management positions from the head of housekeeping to the head of marketing have been made more flexible, with transferable qualifications that can take them to other hotels in the group. Job satisfaction is up, morale is up, and the gaps have significantly closed between the skill levels of the hotel’s management and its overall goals.
Although people responsible for career development programs often agree that performance management should be linked to a company’s organisational strategy, few do so systematically. The 360-degree assessment model is ideal for this purpose.
How not to
How not to get things in perspective
Psychiatrists have expressed great concern at the emergence of a new condition called “Sudden Wealth Syndrome”, especially common in parts of California infected by stock options and the e-commerce revolution. There are now nine million millionaires in the United States 64 are being created each day in Silicon Valley and not all are coping well with their excess loot.
Ever solicitous in their pursuit of the mentally distressed and the filthy rich, psychiatrists are aggressively targeting the condition, and proposing several ways of treating it. Not all of them involve a hefty wealth transfer to the treating psychiatrist, although this is considered the best option. Another method is to employ lawyers to pursue any injustices, which has been shown to be extremely effective at ensuring that the client loses most of their loot, thereby automatically curing them.
Research is being conducted into why some groups notably doctors, lawyers, management consultants and members of organised crime syndicates are immune to the condition. The most likely explanation is that it has to do with the absence of heart. A related condition, “Long-term Poverty Syndrome” afflicts about one billion people, many of whom earn less than $US3 a day. The psychiatric community has shown no interest in this affliction.
How not to advertise
On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:
PRODUCT WILL BE HOT AFTER HEATING.
On a Korean kitchen knife:
WARNING: KEEP OUT OF CHILDREN.
On Chinese-made kitchen lights:
FOR INDOOR OR OUTDOOR USE ONLY.
On a peanut jar:
WARNING: CONTAINS NUTS.
On a Japanese food processor:
NOT TO BE USED FOR THE OTHER USE. (The “other use”? The mind boggles.)
On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
INSTRUCTIONS: OPEN PACKET, EAT NUTS.
On a child’s superman costume:
WEARING OF THIS SUPERMAN COSTUME DOES NOT ENABLE YOU TO FLY.
How not to develop your knowledge assets
For imperious inanity, it is hard to go past British news presenter Jon Snow.
Snow: In a sense, Deng Xiaoping’s death was inevitable, wasn’t it?
Expert: Er, yes.
A talented council manager got to grips with life’s paradoxes in this excerpt from British radio: “Street hockey is great for kids. It’s energetic, competitive, and skillful; and, best of all, it keeps them off the streets.”
The Slithershanks File
Going global puts Slithershanks head in a spin. After all, if the centre of the world is his world, what is the centre of the globe? His cranium? These and other profound questions must remain deeply tantalising and mysterious, perhaps even worth asking. But we can be sure that he gets little help from this excerpt from What is Globalisation by Ulrich Beck:
“One essential feature distinguishing the second from the first modernity is the fact that the new globality cannot be reversed. This means that the various autonomous logics of globalisation the logics of ecology, culture, economics, politics and civil society exist side by side and cannot be collapsed into one another. Rather, each must be independently decoded and grasped in its interdependencies. The guiding supposition is that only in this way can the perspective and space for political action be opened up. Because only then can the depoliticising spell of globalism be broken: only with a multi-dimensional view of globality can the globalist ideology of materialist compulsion be broken down.”
This stretches Slithershanks global knowledge assets, but with a decent dose of interdependencies (a mixed drink) and a touch of subtle depoliticising (hosing down sexual harassment claims), he feels that he should be able to get a nice round perspective on this globalisation caper. Or not, as the case may be.