360 Degree Assessments :
Curse or Praise?
Looking back, we’ll see that the concept of the “360” was already around in the 1950’s and in fact, while the labelling has changed, the notion of multi-faceted ratings to analyse work behaviour is older yet again in the field of I/O Psychology.
If we extend our thinking using the notions of rating others, it incorporates another area or label covering one of the most used terms in working environments today, i.e., Teams.
The basis of a 360 is in the feedback or perceptions that we can uncover from relevant others in relation to a person of interest, most commonly that person who is part of that same team, or at least, on the same reporting line.
360’s have their limitations, and as always, there are those who feel that the 360 process is disruptive to the spirit of progress.
We’d like to suggest that, if used correctly, it is in fact a good foundation to not only derive useful information, but to gather evidence of distinctive value which can then be used in progressively restorative ways in proper coaching programs by experienced, trained professionals.
A well organised 360 program begins well before the introduction of surveys to raters.
The methodology would include an introductory process which is critical to the rollout of a program. What is said before is crucial to the success of the program aims.
Who are the participants? How are they relevant to the rater? Is there a good representation of raters, i.e., are these raters fundamental to the team’s outputs, and what is the reciprocal emotional investment between rater and ratee?
The survey itself needs to be of sufficient content validity as to apply effectively to what it needs to deliver. Our own 360’s do not attempt to spread too wide a net in one sitting. We like raters to think about a more narrow area of focus and provide their ratings thoughtfully, rather than risking careless or “shotgun” responses. Trying to cover too wide an area is, in our opinion, a shortcoming of many well intentioned broad 360 degree questionnaires or training programs.
Finally, a well qualified interpreter and coach (may sometimes be two different people) need to assimilate the outputs, understand the information trends, and transfer this information in one form or another to an overall summary. This in turn gets relayed to the client through a verbal and/or written brief. Most importantly of course, an action plan needs to be drafted or communicated well to the person of interest and relevant others.
Sometimes a provider will also have the resources to provide what we refer to as a “Cohort Report”. This is a useful compilation report which accumulates the data, especially for larger projects involving multiple individuals. In this way, one is able to obtain a unique “helicopter” view of key employee views with snapshot ease.
The reason we feel that 360’s can provide valuable information, is that unfortunately, the old fashioned way of just talking out your thoughts at the water fountain or in the tea room doesn’t appear to apply as much anymore. Yes, you can try to invite someone to a coffee at the café venue around the corner for a “chat”, but we’re finding more often than not, that it inevitably doesn’t quite have the desired effect for either.
Political correctness, ethical process, “due diligence” (can’t say I like that term!) has, in our opinion, hindered the way we openly and gladly share information with our managers and other colleagues.
The 360 is at least one way, we are “more allowed” to share the way we really feel without overstepping any “invisible boundaries”, especially to those who are understandably scared stiff about what can and cannot be said, in what some regard as, traditional ways.
The 360 can be riddled with problems, but it can also be one currently well accepted way of enabling us to get closer to assisting under-performing, or even average performing teams, to not only work more effectively, but enjoy the experience while doing so.
Contributor: Richard Want, Partner, Kendall Want Associates