360 Degree Reviews: The Pros and Cons of Horizontal Assessment

In most offices, the annual review process can be less than ideal. Even when a review strategy is built around clear productivity goals, it isn’t guaranteed that those goals will be communicated properly and in many workplaces, goals remain unclear even as weak and inconsistent review protocols are carried out year after year.

The most stubborn review problems are common across a wide range of business models. Among them: 1) Reviewers pull punches to keep from undermining motivation, 2) reviewers pile on criticism, thus draining motivation, 3) employees resent, dismiss, or take reviews too much to heart, 4) review protocols don’t offer a road map to real performance change, and finally 5) employees are left with reviews that are too abstract, hard to contextualize, and offered by a single person—one supervisor or manager who may or may not have all the answers.

What are 360 Degree Reviews?

As it happens, several of these problems can potentially be solved by one clever solution. If a review comes from multiple sources—not just a manager, but also a broad panel of peers and subordinates—then its take-home messages are more credible, more actionable, and carry more weight. 360 degree reviews are generated by several voices instead of one, which can increase both the accuracy and the impact of resulting data.

In simplest terms, a 360 survey provides a company and/or individual with confidential feedback on specific sets of competencies and behavioral traits as observed by his/her colleagues and other stakeholders. This feedback is meant not as a criticism of the individual but as constructive input that can lead to specific actions for improvement. It is meant to reinforce positive aspects of the employee’s performance as well as to improve performance by identifying possible areas of weakness. 360 surveys are a powerful tool with an important purpose – to harness the power of honest feedback from multiple sources.

In theory, a well designed and well executed 360 feedback can result in:

  • improved understanding of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in key aspects of competency and behavior
  • setting a baseline against which future changes/improvements can be measured
  • a good benchmark comparison between the individual’s own perceptions and those of the “raters”
  • the identification of specific training and learning opportunities to make changes and improvements
  • identification and development of future stars
  • platform for employee opinion and improved employee engagement

The Perfect Answer…Maybe

360 degree reviews are not ideal for every workplace, and some precautions should be taken before a company adopts this strategy. Confidentiality, for example, is key to a successful 360 review process. Subordinates will only provide meaningful information about superiors if they feel safe from retaliation, and peer reviews will only have value if the review structure aligns with the culture. Peers should be asked for blunt honesty in a non-confidential setting only if the established culture is socially open and supports this kind of dialogue. Because the objective of administering 360 surveys is to solicit open and honest feedback, maintaining the confidentiality and anonymity of respondents should be of the utmost importance. There are a handful of ways to help protect confidentiality and anonymity to respondents. Online 360 survey tools, such as emPerform’s eSurvey, can help to protect anonymity by generating results without respondent information. For companies looking to guarantee absolute confidentiality for both the raters and individuals being rated, it is often advised  to trust the process to a professional third party service.

Cost and time investment can also be an issue. If supervisors typically devote one hour to each subordinate review, expect to add additional working hours for each 360 review that must now be completed for peers and superiors. Make sure these additional hours are balanced against the productivity benefits of the new review process.

To save cost and prevent potential risk, put your HR software platform to work. Make sure your performance management software comes equipped with an online survey tool for 360 reviews and other online surveys such as customer satisfaction surveys, employee engagement surveys, and 30-60-90 new hire surveys. emPerform comes standard with eSurvey, which  allows organizations to execute surveys and easily report on the results. Best of all – results from all surveys – including 360′s – can be used to augment performance appraisals, succession plans, and compensation decisions. The integration of rich 360 survey results into decisions making ensures that employees are assessed, developed and rewarded accurately and fairly.

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