How to Conduct Employee 360 Assessments

As part of the process of increasing employee engagement in your company, an EDP (employee development plan) should include a summary of the employee's 360-degree assessment. So, what's that?

In answering that question, here’s a cue from Socrates's playbook (asking another):

What is one key drawback of the traditional one-on-one review?

Easy. The manager serves as the sole judge and jury of an employee's performance. That means the manager is limited to telling each direct report how she measures up to the job as the manager understands it.

It's taken for granted that the reviewer and the reviewed share the same perception of the employee's job requirements and of what is meant by “good” or “poor” performance; often, however, this is not the case.

Why do 360 assessments improve engagement?

A 360-degree assessment solves this problem by combining self-review by the employee with anonymous feedback from those surrounding the individual, including peers, supervisors, direct reports, and even clients. The result? A review that provides a fuller picture of how the person's skills and demeanor are viewed by others.

This review often reveals important aspects of performance — think collaboration with colleagues from different departments — that a traditional review would miss. Instead of simply distinguishing between the excellent, the mediocre, and the deficient, the 360-degree assessment captures valuable feedback about an employee's behaviors and traits (remember those?), past performance, developmental needs, and strengths.

360-degree assessments are particularly important for first-line managers. Why? Because in addition to learning how they're assessed by colleagues and superiors, they also find out how they're leading, directly from those who are being led. Enabling junior staff to comment on their managers’ performance bolsters the credibility of the review process.

Not only that, but it fosters engagement by demonstrating to junior staff that their experiences matter and their opinions are important. This practice can also help reveal to higher leadership whether there is alignment between the company's overall goals and those of an individual department.

Perform a 360-degree assessment

Performing a 360-degree assessment involves asking the following questions:

  • What are the employee's strengths? In what areas does the employee need to improve? Be as specific as possible.

  • How would you rate the employee in the following behaviors, skills, and competencies? Choices include “Excellent,” “Strong to Very Strong,” “Good,” “Some Skill, Not a Strength,” “Minimal,” and “Not Observed or N/A.”

    • Customer satisfaction: The employee performs with (internal or external) client satisfaction in mind as an important goal while not compromising the integrity of the work. The employee identifies client needs and manages the relationship to the benefit of the client.

    • Technical competence and knowledge: The employee is competent and keeps abreast of new developments in the field. The employee is respected and sought out as a resource, and enhances other people's professional or technical skills.

    • Quality: The employee is committed to quality. He incorporates quality standards into existing operations. The employee ensures that work delivered to clients meets all requirements and standards.

    • Productivity: The employee completes the expected volume of work in the time allotted while meeting quality standards. She willingly works on multiple and additional assignments as required and uses time wisely.

    • Initiative: The employee is self-motivated and resourceful. He searches for new ideas and demonstrates a sense of urgency about next steps. The employee takes responsibility for technical and behavioral growth by learning new skills, cross-training, taking coursework, and so on. He also explores new ways to apply existing resources.

    • Communication: The employee has the necessary written and oral skills to effectively perform her job responsibilities. The employee clearly expresses thoughts, ideas, and concepts. She effectively communicates with subordinates, peers, supervisors, and clients, and listens effectively.

    • Planning and organization: The employee budgets and uses time effectively. He follows through on work in a timely and cost-effective manner. The employee also effectively schedules people and resources to meet goals, making wise use of other people's time.

    • Dependability: The employee's work requires minimal follow-up. She follows through on commitments. She completes assignments by the scheduled deadline.

    • Teamwork: The employee works effectively as team member, applying tact and courtesy in dealing with others. The employee exhibits persuasive skills for team effectiveness and promotes cooperation. He works effectively with other departments, client service centers, and regions, and contributes to strategic initiatives within the framework of his own job and ability.

If the employee is a manager, additional behaviors, skills, and competencies will apply, including leadership, goal setting, mentoring/employee development, motivation, and quality and risk management.

Get the best employee assessment results

The 360-degree assessment not only provides a more balanced view of an individual's performance, but also can build trust and strengthen lines of communication between management and staff. As a result, engagement will likely be enhanced as well.

That being said, companies implementing this tool for the first time will likely contend with an apprehensive staff at best, or outright distrust at worst. The fact is, inviting feedback from one's staff can be intimidating all the way around — which is why companies soliciting this feedback must ensure complete anonymity.

If your company already has trust issues, it may be worth outsourcing the 360-degree review process to a third party or at least considering partnering with a third-party technology provider. This often assuages employees’ fears about confidentiality.

It’s also strongly suggested that you filter and composite all feedback before passing it on to the person being reviewed. Otherwise, any nasty comments — even if there's only one — will haunt the poor reviewee for weeks to come, even if said nastiness was buried in praise.

Not that the review shouldn't include negative comments — it should. It's just that a supervisor, from an impersonal distance, can put them in their proper context, presenting them as a statistic to be reviewed as a subset of total comments.

The goal is to provide a clear and constructive portrait of any given individual in the organization, not to provide a platform for complaint or derision.

For best results, consider starting with a pilot program. That way, you can gain early acceptance among a select few while also tweaking the process. Then roll the program out companywide — first to managers, and then to your rank-and-file workers. In my experience, after people undergo their first 360-degree review, their fears subside, and communication and trust often improve.

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