Setting the scene for 360° feedback

 In Articles

If your organisation is implementing a 360° feedback process, the foundational groundwork is critically important. The company needs to ensure that employees understand exactly what the 360 process entails, what is expected of them, the purpose of the process, how it will benefit them, how the results will be used, and who will have access to the reports and data. The company will also need to obtain permission from all participants and raters for their personal information to be used for the feedback process. Then everyone can prepare well, and this encourages buy-in and builds trust in the feedback process.

So what do we at Thornhill recommend the company should consider beforehand and communicate to participants and raters?

The company needs to explain the following:

  • The 360° feedback process provides leaders with an opportunity to solicit anonymous feedback from peers, direct reports, and their own manager. The feedback can be used as a starting point for action planning, or to plan training and set development goals.
  • The 360 process can have a powerful impact for both the individual and the organisation. It helps leaders gain insight into how they come across to others to identify development areas as well as strengths that can be leveraged. This 360° feedback can also renew focus on goals and objectives, encourage constructive feedback, and clarify roles.

Role of the Participant

The participant is the person receiving feedback from raters. Typically, the participant identifies the stakeholders with whom s/he works directly, and is encouraged to invite as many as possible. Naturally the more responses received the richer and more insightful the information in the report is likely to be. However, care should be taken not to include raters who do not know the participants well, as their responses will dilute the more useful feedback of those who do know them well. Along with gathering feedback from others, the participants complete the questionnaire themselves, which can help show their blind spots (where they rate themselves significantly higher than they are rated by others) and strengths that can be leveraged (where others perceive them as much stronger than they think they are).

Role and selection of the Raters

Raters are key to the success of a 360° feedback process because they see the leaders in action on a daily basis, and as a result they provide the most useful and reliable feedback. Raters can include the participant’s manager, peers, direct reports, and even external stakeholders such as customers, suppliers and board members. The role of raters is to provide honest and constructive feedback on the participant’s behaviour. Raters should feel they can provide honest feedback without fear of identification or retaliation. The knowledge that their identity is confidential allows raters to focus on each question and think about specific work-related examples to justify ratings.

When the participant is involved in selecting his or her raters, the participant feels more invested in the process and accepting of the results. Ideally, the participant meets with his or her manager to come up with a list of raters, with the manager providing final approval. If the participant is not involved when selecting raters, s/he is more likely to discount the results.

At Thornhill, we recommend selecting between 8 to 15 raters, with a minimum of 3 in each rater category. It is best to select people whom you believe will provide honest and constructive feedback, and who ultimately have the participant’s best interests at heart. Try to select a range of people whose views will represent various different, but frequent,interactions and experiences with the participant.

Anonymity and confidentiality

Anonymity and confidentiality are vital components of the 360 process. The company needs to inform the employees that the 360 process is implemented by an external service provider that provides systematic methods for maintaining anonymity of raters and confidentiality of results. In other words, no matter how the raters answer the questions, it will not threaten their jobs.

Important steps for maintaining anonymity and confidentiality:

  • Response rate

Participants should be rated by his/her manager, at least three peers, and at least three direct reports. If the response rate is low, data should be combined in a way that prevents the participant from identifying raters. In order to preserve anonymity, reports should only generate if at least three raters (excluding the participant) have submitted feedback. If three or more raters from a specific category (e.g. peers) have submitted feedback, the average score for raters in this category can be displayed separately in the report, provided this does not jeopardise the anonymity of another rater. If fewer respond and raters cannot be displayed in their respective categories, these raters should be grouped together in a “Combined” category in the report.

  • Administrative access

Administrative access is provided to a designated company HR person, who signs a confidentiality clause. This allows control over the process so the HR person can monitor progress, personally remind those who do not respond, and generate and print the reports when ready. This is for admin purposes only, and this person shouldn’t have access to individual raters’ responses. In some cases, a summary can be provided to a manager, however it should not identify any individual responses.

  • Open-ended comments

If raters are concerned about anonymity while making comments in the open-ended questions, they can word their answers in a way that avoids identifying themselves. Comments should also be reported in random order.

  • Maintain raters’ anonymity

If the participant tries to reach out to raters to find out more information, they run the risk of harming the 360 process. Participants should respect their raters’ anonymity and make no effort to identify individual feedback.

How to get the most out of your 360 process?

The idea behind 360° feedback is to gather information from different key stakeholders who can share their observations about one’s behaviour. This information can be compared to the participant’s own self-rating and used for personal developmental planning purposes.

There are many features that describe 360° feedback:

  • It measures specific behaviours and competencies associated with job performance and success – it should be comprehensive and behaviourally focused
  • It provides a confidential process for obtaining feedback from others who work closely with the participant
  • It focuses on observed behaviours that can be modified
  • It provides both quantitative (graphical, numerical) and qualitative (open-ended) information to be used for developmental purposes in the form of a feedback report
  • It provides clarity about one’s strengths and insight into potential development areas
  • It provides a process for improving individual performance, especially when there is ongoing feedback through administering the questionnaire continually over time
  • It typically has a development focus without being used for personnel decisions
  • Feedback is always anonymous, except for the manager
  • Feedback assesses perceptions and not reality
  • Opens a dialogue (“curious conversation”) between the participant and his or her manager
  • Is more likely to be accepted because it is coming from many different sources.

The company considering implementing a 360° feedback process needs to have a clear understanding of the purpose with distinct alignment to company objectives, and a transparent commitment to how data will be used. Ensure your organisation is ready to use 360° feedback and this process is introduced at a time when it would be successful. For example, it is not recommended to introduce a 360° feedback process in the middle of a large organisational change. However, if the time is right and the foundational groundwork has been carefully considered, the benefits of 360° feedback can be significant for both the participant and the organisation.

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