If you're searching for a better way to more fully evaluate your company's culture, the accuracy of job descriptions, employee performance, and the efficacy of everyday business practices and procedures, you might resolve, in 2000, to experiment with 360° feedback. (360° refers to the direction of the feedback, whether from competing teams, supervisors, direct reports, members of the board, vendors, clients, and anyone in between who can share meaningful information on the subject at hand.) Today, loads of companies are using multi-rater evaluations to help set career paths for employees, groom shop people for managerial positions, or identify the most qualified successor to the CEO post. Or, they might incorporate individual (or team) evaluation results into pay-for-performance plans. The uses of 360° feedback are plentiful, restricted perhaps by imagination alone.
|A CEO Recalls His First Experience with 360° Feedback|
"In a management program sponsored by Dale Carnegie, I was the subject of a 360° evaluation. It was fairly long, perhaps 40 to 50 questions. The raters were strictly anonymous. I guess I scored high almost across the board because I pass out the paychecks. But through that exercise, I realized that my temper was an issue. When I get angry, I get motivated, but that anger demotivated everyone else. At times, I was unapproachable. Consequently, people brought me less and less news, and we just couldn't move forward with our game plan.
"Since then, we've done 360° evaluations with two managers, adapting many of the same kinds of questions I answered. In the beginning there was apprehension. They thought they'd be criticized. So we made it into a learning experience. We kept the language upbeat, explaining to everyone that we were just looking for ways people could begin improving right away. We didn't want to overanalyze the results, just set some personal-development goals. It's been very good."
You don't need a fancy software program to get accurate results. Plenty of small companies have developed their own low-tech, paper-and-pencil 360° feedback systems and have achieved great results. Whether you're just starting out or you're perfecting your current system, consider these guidelines offered by Rim Yurkus and Diane Irvin, principals of LISten, a Denver-based training company that focuses on professional-development and multi-rater evaluations.
- Contract with employees. Call a meeting to explain the purpose of the 360° feedback, how it will be used, and who will see the results. If it's for professional-development use only, then share results with the subject of the evaluation and perhaps an internal coach/mentor. If the results are applied to a pay-for-performance plan, spell out how they'll be weighted. For instance, yearly individual incentives might be based thusly: ½ on overall game results, ¼ on well-defined team goals, and ¼ on 360° ratings. Other questions to answer: who rates whom? (Anyone who can give meaningful feedback on the subject or team.) How will the evaluations be administered and collected? (A drop box in the lunch room? A mailer?) What's the follow-up plan? Will there be another round of evaluations in six months? A year? What about professional-development training and mentoring? Talking through these issues up front builds trust.
- Develop fair job descriptions for success. Start by forming a committee of reps from different areas (definitely HR, if possible, and at least one skeptic) who can sketch a draft of the skills, knowledge, and experiences required for success in various jobs - using the company's core values and strategy as a compass and its champions as role models. "Talk to the people who know intuitively what it takes to succeed in your workplace," advises Irvin. "If getting results is critically important, then you want to weigh organizational know-how or technical skills more heavily than, say, personal appearance." Once you've agreed on the desired skills/competencies for various jobs, you break them down into minute, observable, concrete, measurable behaviors.
|Try This Exercise|
|Refer to LISten's checklist of skills and below. For each of those skills - leadership, management, supervision, and so on - you might brainstorm two or three well-defined characteristic behaviors of your internal champions. Ultimately, this will give you job descriptions that may be circulated for feedback. "There's always an unwritten job description - all the things that are never stated but that you finally absorb by being on the job for a few months," says Yurkus. "These expectations are at least now documented."|
- Translate those behaviors into "little" statements. "To get the most accurate evaluation results, you have to break the behaviors down to a level where you can get similar responses from raters who have known the subject for six weeks, six months, or six years," says Yurkus. "That's the goal." So the trick to designing a powerful evaluation document - and the process should take only a few two-hour sessions - is to keep the language consistent and company-specific. For example, "meets deadlines in a timely manner" can mean "done somewhat shoddily at the last minute" in one company and "complete and ready to roll a few days in advance" in another. Lastly, edit those lists of desired on-the-job behavior statements by combining, adding, or subtracting as needed. Then hand the final draft of the evaluation to leadership for approval.
- Hold a quick teach-in. Raters need a crash course on how to give quality info, otherwise they'll rate their friends high and others low. Remind them of the confidentiality rules and the importance of accuracy. Tell them which people they'll rate and explain any behavior definitions as well as your rating scale. (LISten suggests a quality scale of 1-7, which might measure behaviors from "unacceptable" to "outstanding." Be sure to offer an N rating for "not applicable.") Also, point out the written section of the evaluation, which poses a few concrete questions on the subject: what specific strengths does Ed bring to our company? What is the most effective thing Ed could do to enhance his performance in the near term?
- Tabulate and deliver results carefully. It's great to have composite scores (or group norms) for jobs, teams, managers, and so on. Those may be used to facilitate job and exit interviews. Sort individual results by relationship with the rater (peer, subordinate, customer). "The bottom line here is that the validity of results has everything to do with your own company norms," says Yurkus. "That's why it's often best to do a 360° evaluation of your culture before teams or individuals."
- Follow up. Subjects can call a brief meeting to say simply, 'Thanks for the feedback. I was totally unaware I was acting that way - and often don't realize when I am - so please pull me aside and tell me when I do because I want to improve.' You could identify the top performers in each of the skill areas and create mentoring programs around them. The results can also help your champions develop more targeted training sessions.
|LISten's Checklist of Competencies/Behaviors|
Editor's note: The folks at LISten offer a variety of services and resources. They can help you start your own 360° feedback program from scratch or computerize your paper-and-pencil evaluation results, which will save you time and money. They can also help you focus your personal- and professional-development efforts. For a faxed copy of tips for successful 360° s, call LISten at 800-765-6186.
Copyright 1999 Open-Book Management Inc.