You know those fitting rooms in clothes shops? The ones that have mirrors left and right, in front, behind where you can see yourself from every angle. Where you see what other people see.
The way we appear to others doesn’t always match our own perception. Getting that fresh perspective can be a helpful reality check. It can boost confidence. And it can kick-start some other change for the better.
That’s the 360 effect.
It’s something that has found its way into workplaces. Employers are building 360 feedback into their HR practices as a way of developing their employees, identifying and growing their next leaders, and building better performing teams.
What is a 360 review?
In a nutshell? It’s getting a group of people to tell you what they think of a particular individual (‘the employee’).
It’s not as dangerous as it sounds! A 360 review is not about letting off steam about a person’s annoying habits (‘I can’t stand the way Nick slurps his coffee’). It’s a very controlled process that focuses on certain key aspects of the employee’s skills, competencies and contribution to the organisation. The employer sets the parameters. And those giving the feedback (let’s call them ‘the reviewers’) are encouraged to provide their opinions frankly, but also sensitively and constructively. The comments then get collated and anonymised before being relayed to the employee.
How should 360 feedback fit into performance management?
Think of these reviews as an add-on. They shouldn’t replace regular check-ins with staff or annual appraisals; those things are still crucial.
Three-sixty feedback offers something different. One-to-one conversations between an employee and their manager – the standard way of appraising staff - are great when it comes to things like performance and targets. But they have some significant limitations.
First off, the employee who is being appraised usually gets to hear just one opinion: their manager’s. Three-sixties are completely different. They provide multiple perspectives, so they’re more comprehensive. By involving more people in the process, the results tend to be fairer, more rounded, and there’s less risk of conscious or unconscious bias skewing the outcome. And areas for improvement that might otherwise be missed are identified. It means that skills gaps and personal development – from the big things to the little things - can be addressed far more thoroughly and systematically.
Another difference with 360 feedback is it's focus. While employees undoubtedly need to work towards clear, measurable goals (and appraisals are a critical mechanism for keeping tabs on that), there are other things that matter. Things like the employee’s traits and the effects – good and not so good - he or she has on others at work. That’s where 360 reviews come into their own. And it’s why they’ve earned themselves a special place in HR processes.
So what will a 360 review usually cover?
There are no rules. It’s really about the way the employee fits into and contributes to the organisation. What skills do they offer? What is it about them that makes a positive difference to those they work with? What could be improved? How could they do better? Do reviewers see things in a way the employee doesn’t or can’t?
Reviewers can be asked to comment on anything, from the employee’s teamwork and communication, to their leadership and strategic thinking. Each 360 review should be designed around the employee’s role and status in the organisation, and any particular skills or attributes that may be relevant.
Who should the reviewers be?
This really depends on who the employee is and what they do. Three-sixty reviews can be used to assess anyone in an organisation, from the top down.
Ideally, choose six to 12 people who are in the best position to give you the precious insight you’re looking for. It’s best if these are people who interact in different ways with the employee and who can offer different viewpoints. Perhaps they:
- work in the same team as the employee
- report to the employee
- have worked on a project alongside the employee
- directly manage the employee
- manage the employee’s manager
- are customers or clients of the employee
- are suppliers who deal directly with the employee
Having the views of a good range of people means that the outcome is likely to be balanced. You might even see themes emerge – Becky doesn’t listen to other people’s ideas. James should be more confident; he doesn’t realise how good he is.
It’s sometimes useful to get employees to review themselves, too. The results can make interesting reading! The real benefit, though, is in identifying blind spots; things that others see in the employee which the employee doesn’t.
How does the 360 feedback process work?
The reviewers respond to a series of questions or statements set by the employer. It’s usually done online, platforms such as Tazio are designed to make these type of assessments really easy to carry out.
Online is also a much easier way of keeping reviewers’ identities anonymous. This is an essential element of a 360 review. Reviewers tend to be far more comfortable in being open and honest if they know the employee probably won’t know who said what. However, there’s always a chance that the employee will put two and two together and work it out. The smaller the organisation, the higher that risk.
Reviewers should allow themselves a reasonable amount of time to complete the review. It’s not an exercise that should be zipped through. Responses should set out as much detail as possible, and preferably examples to back up or explain a particular score or comment. The employer might otherwise struggle to give the employee constructive feedback. It can really devalue the 360 process.
Once all reviewers have done their job, the employer will collate the responses and format this into a (no-names) document that can be shared with the employee. Online systems like Tazio’s have a mechanism for collating the responses and formatting them into an employer-branded report, so that part is all taken care of.
How should employers set 360 feedback questions?
The more structure you can give the review, the better.
The key to getting the most out of a 360 review is to keep your reviewers reined in! Questions that are open-ended, or that don’t guide the reviewers towards the type of response you’re looking for, will rarely get the best results - and you’ll have a massive sifting job on your hands in separating the useful from the irrelevant (or the offensive/discriminatory).
It’s all about striking the right balance between encouraging reviewers to be full and frank but also mindful of what you’re trying to achieve. Personal attacks must be avoided. Instead, steer the reviewer towards commenting on the employee’s skills and attributes and how those things (or lack of) affect the people around them.
The first thing to think about when setting questions is the format. Do you want questions that can be answered on a scale of one to five? Do you want more open questions that let the reviewer give quite a bit more detail in response? Or maybe a blend of the two?
Here are some examples of the first type, which would typically ask the reviewer to mark a point on a scale:
- How would you rate [x]’s communication skills?
- How well does [x] get on with colleagues?
- How effective is [x]’s time management?
- How inspiring a leader is [x]?
- How much do you enjoy working with [x]?
And the second type:
- Which interpersonal skills does [x] demonstrate when around (a) colleagues, (b) clients/customers. Could these be improved?
- Is [x] a good team player? Please explain your answer.
- Does [x] demonstrate leadership qualities? If so, give some examples.
- Does [x] delegate effectively? How could he/she improve?
- How is [x]’s time management?
- How effective is [x] at problem-solving? Please give examples.
- Is [x] an efficient worker? Which (if any) aspects of his/her performance could be made more efficient?
- Do you think [x] is motivated by their role in the company? What leads you to that conclusion?
- What do you like about working with [x]? What could [x] do to improve that?
Try not to pile everything into a single 360 review. We think it’s better to carry out a shorter exercise a few times a year than to do a mammoth review just once. By focusing on some bite-sized elements (leadership and interpersonal skills, for example), you should find that you get better responses. A long set of questions risks reviewers getting bored and reviews repetitive.
Train your reviewers
This is so, so important.
Imagine asking people to simply rate a colleague. Some would take that opportunity to put the boot in. No holds barred, especially if they didn’t have to put their name to it.
It would be a pointless exercise. Reviewers need to understand why you’re doing the review, what you hope to gain from it, and – above all – that the feedback they give should be constructive. That doesn’t mean that it all has to be positive, far from it. But it should be honest, specific and helpful. An employer should be able to look at it and think ‘Right, these are the issues and here’s how we’ll deal with them.’
Sometimes, it’s about the wording and the tone as well as the content. For example, a frustrated colleague might write:
‘A good leader? That’s a joke. Alex gets in late every day, and when he’s here he’s not really ‘here’. We just get on with stuff ourselves.’
What if that colleague had been trained in writing the sort of responses that can be really useful? Yes, there’s a chance he would have written the same thing. But there’s a higher chance that he would have given you something better. Like:
‘Alex’s leadership could be improved by setting a positive example to his team. Punctuality is a part of that. He usually gets into the office 30 to 40 minutes after the rest of us. It’s affected morale.
I also think he could interact a little better with colleagues, and show more interest in the teamwork that is going on around him. For example, last week, the team had a client pitch to deliver, and Alex didn’t get involved in any of the prep or the presentation. He didn’t even ask how we had got on.
Alex has plenty of valuable skills, knowledge and experience to share. It would be great to see him engage a little better with the team’s day-to-day work and take more of a lead. Some small changes could make a significant improvement.’
A fuller and more constructive review, with examples and context, makes the feedback process far more straightforward. It also means that there may be less scope for the employee to take offence, retaliate, raise a grievance, or even resign off the back of colleagues’ comments.
Preparing to feedback
If you use a system like Tazio’s, your feedback report will be generated automatically, as soon as the last review has been filed online. You’ll get a summary of the comments made by all reviewers, and it should be easy to spot common threads. For example, perhaps a few of Alex’s (above) reviewers mentioned a lack of motivation or commitment. It’s far easier to convince an employee that something needs to be tackled if more than one colleague has pointed it out.
Feeding back 360 reviews
Ok. So this is the awkward bit. Sometimes.
The employee needs to hear everything: the good, the bad, maybe even the ugly (use your judgment). An employer should do this face-to-face. That way, it’s easier to have a productive, two-way conversation.
But just as important as the feedback is a plan to build on the positives and address any negatives.
Remember, 360 feedback is not about praising an employee’s successes or criticising them for their shortcomings. It is the springboard to boosting confidence, skills, motivation, leadership - anything that could be worked on to make them better at what they do; to develop them. Letting the employee know this at the start of the process is crucial. It’s vital that they, too, are open and honest with you during the feedback. That way, you’re more likely to get their buy-in to specific actions aimed at their development. You’ll work up a plan of action together. It should put a spring in their step.
Then the real work begins. Because a great 360 review is the beginning of a process, it should lead to an employee improving their skills, harnessing their qualities, and shoring up their longer-term professional development. And when a workforce accepts these reviews as just another part of employee assessment and engagement, the benefits extend far beyond them personally. An organisation’s culture can be transformed, morale lifted, productivity improved. Three-sixty reviews really can turn things around.
To find out how Tazio can help you gain more effective 360 degree feedback, give us a call on 02922 331 888 today.