Business owners are regularly urged to “see the big picture.” In many cases, this imperative applies to a pricing adjustment or some other strategic planning idea. However, seeing the big picture also matters when it comes to managing the performance of your staff.
Perhaps the best way to get a fully rounded perspective on how all your employees are performing is through a 360-degree feedback program. Under such an initiative, feedback is gathered from not only supervisors rating employees, but also from employees rating supervisors and employees rating each other. Sometimes even customers or vendors are asked to contribute.
Designing a survey
As you might have guessed, a critical element of a 360-degree feedback program is the written survey that you distribute to participants when gathering feedback. You can inadvertently sabotage the entire effort early on if this survey is poorly written or difficult to complete.
For starters, keep it as brief as possible. Generally, a participant should be able to fill out the survey in about 15 to 20 minutes. Ask concise questions that have a clear point. Be sure the language is unbiased; avoid words such as “excellent” or “always.” Ensure the questions and performance criteria are job-related and not personal in nature.
If using a rating scale, offer seven to 10 points that ask to what extent the person being rated exhibits a given behavior, rather than how often. It’s a good idea to use a dual-rating scale that includes both quantitative and qualitative performance questions.
Another good question is: To what extent should the person exhibit the behavior described, given his or her job role? By comparing the answers, you basically perform a gap analysis that helps interpret the results and reduces a rater’s bias to score consistently high or low.
To optimize the statistical validity of 360-degree feedback results, you need the largest sample size possible. Tell feedback providers how you’ll analyze their input, assuring them that their time will be well spent.
Also, emphasize the importance of being objective and avoiding invalid observations that might arise from their own prejudices. Ask providers to comment only on aspects of the subject employee’s performance that they’ve been able to observe.
Even with anonymous feedback, you should require some accountability. Incorporate a mechanism that would enable someone other than the subject of the evaluation — for instance, a senior HR manager — to address any abuse of the program. And, of course, ensure that subjects of the feedback process can work with their supervisors to act on the input they receive.
Taking it slowly
If a 360-degree feedback program sounds like something that could genuinely help your business, don’t rush into it. Discuss the idea with your leadership team and take the time to design a program with strong odds of success. Finally, bear in mind that you’ll likely have to fine-tune the program in years ahead to get the most useful data.