How 360-Degree Feedback Improves Performance:

3 Ways to 360-Degree Feedback can do it

With good information comes good decisions. And information gathered for the purpose of raising the talent bar within an organization is no different. Talent development managers typically use 360-degree feedback in order to develop employees, appraise them or both. What sometimes gets lost in the 360-degree feedback process is that when done correctly, it can be a great way to drive performance. When it comes to developmental purposes, 360-degree feedback can most certainly be used to increase overall performance of the focal participant, thereby increasing the capabilities of the entire organization.

Not all 360s are the same; content matters, process matters, and accountability matters. In order to get the maximum return on investment for your 360 project there are 3 key tips for driving performance improvement:

1. Content Matters:

One challenge of 360s in the past has been the accuracy of data collected. And, getting accurate data always starts with good content. Don’t discount the need to have good survey content. You may have heard the term “garbage in – garbage out” and survey content is no different. With content that is difficult to understand, or too general for accurate ratings, raters will simply rate the participant based on how well they like the individual versus the real performance level of a specific behavior. In fact, many times with “bad” content participants feel like the 360 is simply an exercise in “likability.” In other words, participants get their friends to give them good ratings in exchange for good ratings back. With good behaviorally-based content this is much less likely to occur. Good content also allows the person to better understand exactly what needs to be developed. It allows the employee to build a quality development plan that focuses on true developmental needs.

2. Process Matters:

The process of completing the 360 ratings can make a difference in how much performance can improve. Once quality content is developed there are a number of other factors that will increase the probability of achieving significant performance improvement. One such factor is ensuring that raters remain anonymous. If raters are comfortable that they won’t be identified as the one giving harsh ratings they are more likely to answer honestly. When more people answer honestly it may actually cause the focal participant to pay more attention to the ratings. Also, if multiple groups are all saying that a specific competency is in need of development then the participant may actually give that more serious consideration.

Surveys need to be easy to complete. Surveys can’t take more than 15-20 minutes to complete. Remember, in a 360 project some raters may have 10 or more surveys to complete and we want to ensure that survey fatigue doesn’t set in as this will reduce the accuracy of the ratings. And again, with more accurate data comes more accurate results, and with more accurate results comes a greater likelihood of relevant performance improvement.

Lastly, someone (or some system) needs to keep on top of completion rates. Reminders should be sent to those who haven’t completed their surveys. Focal participants that have not completed their own self-ratings need to be “hounded” until they do. So, find a system or process that makes this an easy (or automated) task. Because again, without good data going into the system, accurate results can’t be obtained.

3. Accountability Matters:

Once a focal participant gets their report and has a good understanding of their results the hard work starts. To get set up, collect the ratings, and print reports is usually done within 2-3 weeks. Actually seeing performance improvement on the job takes 3-6 months.

Achieving performance improvement starts with a quality development plan. Without a plan in place developmental activities will not take place. And being able to create a quality individual development plan (IDP) starts with a full understanding of the feedback report. Many companies simply distribute the report to participants and leave them on their own to read and understand the data. Best practices dictate that someone trained in understanding the results actually sit down with the participant to help them “dig deep” into the results and understand the underlying causes behind their data. Only once this is done can a high quality IDP be created.

While a high quality IDP is a prerequisite for performance improvement it by no means ensures that improvement. True performance improvement will come through holding a person accountable for executing their development plan. In other words, what gets measured gets paid attention to. Someone in (or outside) the organization (i.e., manager, coach, mentor, peer, etc.) needs to hold an individual accountable for executing their development plan. One easy way to do this is to make “development” part of every individuals’ performance appraisal.

The role of coach is an important one. Research has shown that performance improves on average 22% without a coach involved in development. However, with a coach involved performance can improve on average over 500%. So, if nothing else, the manager can play the role of coach and hold the person accountable for executing their plan by simply checking in with them on a periodic basis. Of course, the more active the manager/coach is the more performance will improve. A good article in Forbes covers the importance of coaching when doing 360-degree feedback can be found here.

As you can see, when done right, the 360-feedback process is one of the most effective ways to drive change and performance at an organization. As with any development process, it is important to go into a 360-feedback project with everyone on board. Many times, organizations treat these projects as an event and simply file away the feedback report and don’t get the full benefit of doing it in the first place. Remember to use the development plan as a way to drive employee behavior change which ultimately leads to better performance. You may be surprised at how a little coaching and focus can lead to significant gains for everyone involved. Even a few of these ideas will create a win-win situation for both the employee and the organization.

These are only a few of the concepts that can be put in place to drive performance improvement through the use of 360-feedback processes. In order to help, we put together a complete guide to 360-degree feedback that can be found here.  Good luck on your journey to using 360 feedback to improve your organization and let us know if you need some help along the way.