360° Feedback is increasingly seen as a major skills development tool. By having a better understanding of other people’s opinions and any potential gaps with our own views, we can become aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
A successful 360° appraisal is based on six simple rules:
Engagement from top management
If it is to flourish, a culture of feedback needs champions at the highest echelons of management. The 360° appraisal must be backed and tried by top management first. They must be the first beneficiaries if they are to become its standard bearers.
The relevance of the appraisers
Feedback that is too complacent or laudatory does nothing to help people develop. Similarly, asking colleagues who are distant or have little interaction with you does not help in finding growth areas. Nor does avoiding feedback from your most critical co-workers.
The right questions
Too many 360° appraisals are based on complicated or generic questions, which do not faithfully reflect the specific skills that employees need to succeed in the company. The feedback can only be effective if the wording is relevant, because it assesses ‘good’ behaviour. This is all the more true when the assessed skills have to ‘mirror’ the reality of the internal and external environment*.
A seamless procedure
Nothing is more discouraging than an online platform that is neither proactive nor ergonomic. In today’s digital revolution, slowness and complexity are no longer acceptable.
High quality delivery of results
If the results are not to end up on a shelf, they must be presented in person and include follow-up support. Whether this is via a certified coach, an external consultant or an internal HR partner, relevant actions will arise out from detailed analysis and discussions.
A sound development plan
Let’s be frank, the 360° appraisal is only worth the actions that the appraised employee agrees to carry through. These actions must draw on the results, by taking into account the strengths, the job context and the feedback. In this respect, great attention should be given to the line managers’ opinions. The development plan must be shared with line managers, because they play a key support role, as does HR.
Two major barriers to the 360-degree appraisal
When all these rules are respected, two major pitfalls remain: the cost and extent of the measure. The need to give feedback of individual or collective results, creates significant costs and requires considerable logistical organisation (making appointments, booking rooms, etc.) This therefore tends to limit the use of the 360° appraisal to small group of top managerial staff. In many companies, operational managers and experts are still unable to benefit from this tool… Not to mention individual contributors or project managers!
A few ideas for the future
How can the 360° appraisal have a broader reach? How can more employees benefit from this powerful tool? Let us dream. Imagine a system where employees who have gone through the 360° appraisal can see a copy of their report that is so understandable or intuitive that they could almost dispense with a coach. Guided through their main results and interested in their own history, employees will begin to take ownership of the tool, understand their own strengths and development areas, and be able to envision themselves carry through their actions. They will then have everything they need to discuss this with their line manager and their HR partner. Coaching remains focussed on building a development plan, which in our view is the most powerful aspect and has the highest added-value. Other than financial benefits, such a system will encourage and speed up employee awareness and help them ‘buy in’ to the results.
Digitalisation has very interesting ways of extending the use of the 360° appraisal, although clearly algorithms will never totally replace the added-value a coach can provide. We should also point out that feedback is not restricted to the 360° appraisal and that light, flexible tools can be good ways of strengthening the feedback cultures that companies really need.
Nevertheless, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. At the moment, we are seeing that the current practice of constantly using feedback tools may be damaging and reduce their effectiveness. In other words: ‘too much feedback kills feedback.’
Didier Burgaud, Senior Consultant
*Read “The fourth industrial revolution: how should we prepare for it? 4 HR keys to succeed” White Paper No. 1, Qualintra.