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Using 360-Degree Feedback To Evaluate Performance

By: Gregory P. Smith

Greg Smith's cutting-edge keynotes, consulting, and training programs have helped businesses reduce turnover, increase sales, hire superior people, and deliver better customer service. As President and founder of Chart Your Course International, He has implemented professional development programs for thousands of organizations globally. Greg has authored eight informative books including Here Today, Here Tomorrow: Transforming Your Workforce from High Turnover to High Retention and 401 Proven Ways to Retain Your Best Employees. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information, visit www.ChartCourse.com or call (770) 860-9464.


"Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all?" Are you curious how others perceive your performance? Do you wonder how effective you are at what you do? Unfortunately, most people cannot accurately evaluate their performance. The truth is when it comes to performance, PERCEPTION is reality.

The 360-degree performance appraisal is gaining popularity as a tool to accurately measure performance. In this downsized economy executives are concerned how individual performance affects organizational performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

Informal performance feedback methods are unreliable. As individuals, we receive feedback from two groups. On one extreme we hear from people who like us, then on the other extreme we hear from people who despise us. As long as we surround ourselves with "yes" people, we will never know what needs improving. Neither group is entirely accurate in their appraisal. The silent majority, the group in the middle, has the most valuable and valid feedback.

Most people compare the traditional performance appraisal process to standing on a broken bathroom scale that provides everyone the exact same weight. The annual, one-on-one performance appraisal provides biased and limited feedback. Personal chemistry plays a large part in evaluations. Studies show individuals who look like, act like, and think like the boss will usually receive a better evaluation than individuals who are different. In more cases, supervisors avoid saying anything negative, not address shortcomings, and lump everyone in the same middle-of-the-road box.

When done properly, the 360-degree assessments are powerful tools for helping individuals improve, grow, and develop their interpersonal skills. I worked with one individual who received excellent scores from her supervisor and board members. She "walked on water." However, when I completed a 360-degree assessment, four out of her five direct reports identified major weaknesses. She was a micro-manager, over-controlling, and intimidated those who worked for her. The end result was a group of people afraid to take initiative and limited by her controlling management style. When she saw the report,she was willing to change her behavior and resolve the issues. If she had only depended on the feedback from her supervisor, she would have been oblivious to the problem.

The supervisor is only ONE person out of many possessing valuable input to the performance of the rated individual. Getting accurate feedback from all the groups of people we work with is more valuable than just one person. This assessment gathers information from people about an individual's performance as seen by the standards and expectations of their boss, self, peers, direct reports, and customers.

The development of effective skills begins with the awareness of ineffective behaviors. A 360-degree feedback assessment shows an individual what others think their performance is versus what it should be. By understanding the perception of others, people can improve.

How Does It Work?

The rated employee and his/her boss pick a group of 8-12 individuals. These people should work with the employee for a minimum of 90 days. The group should consist of stakeholders to include customers, direct reports, peers and the individual's direct supervisor. Most 360-degree assessments are completed on a secure webpage. Input and the identity of the individual is protected. At the conclusion, the rated employee receives a written report that includes the aggregate scores broken down by groups. (Supervisor, self, peers, direct reports etc.)

These 360-degree assessments must be used with foresight and forethought. Critics say these assessments are nothing more than popularity contests. As a management consultant, I have conducted dozens of assessments and found the input is much more fair and objective than other performance appraisals. In some cases, written comments provided by the stakeholders are the most helpful part of the process.

The 360-degree assessment points out blind spots individuals, team members, and managers cannot see about themselves. Depending on the maturity level of the individual, this revelation comes as a blessing or a curse. Assessment results should be facilitated in a way that leads to a complete process of improvement. Follow-up and action plans for improvement are a critical part of this process.

© Copyright 2003 Gregory P. Smith

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