360-Degree Evaluations: The Right Fit?

Mike Beringer, HR Business Partner | Aug 30, 2017

If you have ever participated in a 360 evaluation, you understand the value that employees, and organizations, can obtain from these.  But if you haven’t been involved in one of these before, it can look like a very abnormal type of review. Many traditional companies don’t consider subordinate, or peer, feedback when reviewing a supervisor/manager’s performance.  This is what makes a 360-degree evaluations unique.

“How does the evaluation process work and who is involved?”

Let’s revisit our buddy Frank, who is an entry level IT Manager at Mostly Good Food Products, LLC.- a mid-sized food distribution company. Frank is completing the 360-degree evaluation process with his team, which is done every other year. As part of that process, not only will his immediate supervisor complete an evaluation for him, but so will his peer, the Finance Manager. Additionally, Frank’s direct reports (Help Desk Associate and Infrastructure Technician) will complete the same evaluation as the others, and Frank will finish off the process by completing the evaluation for himself.

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The results are typically combined to show aggregate results.  This way the company can ensure that the individual employees, peers and supervisor remain anonymous (or at least their individual results).  Being able to have anonymous responses is a good way to ensure you get truthful feedback.  It also helps protect others from scrutiny by the person being evaluated.  Many times the results will be grouped into 1) subordinates, and 2) peers and supervisors (depending on the number of supervisors/peers completing the evaluation). If Frank were to have many more supervisors (such as a board of directors) then potentially you would have a third group with just the manager evaluation data.

“What kind of data should we be collecting?”

360-degree evaluations can measure all aspects of an employee’s performance, personality, interactions with staff, or ability to work with others.  Much of the time it will be dependent on the type of role you’re evaluating.  Here are some examples:

Evaluating an Individual Contributor:

  • Work ethic
  • Ability to work in teams
  • Attitude
  • Quality of work
  • Ability to adhere to schedule

Evaluating a Supervisor:

  • Communication to subordinates
  • Goal setting
  • Fairness and equality
  • Delegation of work

Evaluating an Executive:

  • Setting clear direction
  • Interpreting business objectives
  • Developing company culture
  • Process development

Some of these are used across all types of positions, such as “Communication”, but the questions that appear on the survey may differ to reflect how “Communication” is being interpreted.  For example:

Individual Contributor:

“The employee effectively communicates with others on their team”

Executive:

“The employee can effectively communicate complex business objectives to all levels of their team”

Both questions focus on “Communication” but are different in scope.  The idea is to target the behaviors, attributes, or skills that are important to the individual’s role.

“How do we get all this information?”

Typically, because of the amount of information and type of responses gathered, most often the information is collected through some type of online method.  Various vendors offer online solutions;  some are even free.  You’ll also want to conduct the surveys in a method that allows employees to respond anonymously, so they are comfortable giving honest feedback.  Online tools can easily e-mail weblinks to individuals completing the evaluation and they can then do it at their leisure.  The evaluations involve both scored/ranking, answers (scale of 1-10), and open-ended answers, so employees can enter direct or customized feedback. The length of the evaluation could be anywhere from 20 items to 50 items, all depending on what the company wants to collect. Results are typically automatically collected and consolidated within the online tool to make analysis and review of the information easy and consistent. If you’re thinking of using an online tool, do some research.  There are quite a few out there.

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 “Who gets to see the final analysis?”

Because it is an evaluation tool for a single employee, the information is typically given only to that individual and their immediate supervisor (sometimes shared in a vertical chain of command). The point of the evaluation is to find developmental areas for the employee, which many times will not involve others.  Sometimes larger companies will consolidate ALL evaluations for a specific type or level of position and publish the results to the rest of the company. For example:

Mostly Good Food Products, LLC. has concluded their bi-annual 360-degree evaluation process, and has decided to publish a consolidated report of all management and executive level staff (24 positions in total).  It publishes the results on its company intranet page along with a business plan to improve in some of the areas that scored low.  The organization has decided to do so to show its employees that it values the employee feedback and is committed to making improvements. This will also help the company maintain its culture of trust and transparency.

“What do we do with the results?”

360-degree evaluations are meant to establish areas that can be further developed in employees. When reviewing results, management/employees should consider establishing future goals to coincide with lower scoring areas on the evaluation.  Another example:

Through the 360-degree evaluation process, Frank found he scored low by his direct reports in the areas of communication and transparency. During Frank’s goal setting exercise, he and his manager decide that as part of his goals for the coming year, he will further commit to the company’s “Open Door Policy” by holding open hours for staff each week, where staff can come into his office and discuss any item they want. Frank will also begin to hold weekly meetings with his staff in which he will discuss the current business plan, what impacts it will have on the IT department, and answer questions his team has.

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From the example above, we see that Frank now has a new goal directly linked to each area in which he scored low. This result is the most direct type of response an employee could expect. However, depending on the exact item, and type/size of business, new or modified goals may be much larger in scope or fall across multiple years.

Before you go running off and trying to implement 360-degree evaluations, think long and hard about your organization and if this is something that is right for you.  It isn’t a tool everyone uses, and it really works well in some companies, and not in others. Its purpose is to solicit useful, constructive information to help the company determine the best areas to improve and develop. There should be training and communication regarding this type of development tool prior to its usage, as employees should have a good understanding of why they are doing this, and what will be done with the results.

If you’re interested in exploring a 360-degree evaluation further, contact The Employer Group.  We can help you determine if it is something that’s right for you!

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