All 360-degree feedback projects need to start with a detailed scoping discussion so that we can understand what it is you are trying to achieve with 360 feedback and what might potentially get in the way. Whatever your circumstances and whoever you partner with over the 360 application, you should go through this same process.
We already covered the importance of separating 360 degree feedback from the performance appraisal so that the focus of the 360 is on the development, rather than the assessment, of your people. That way you are likely to get more honest feedback because no-one’s remuneration or career progression is likely to be influenced directly by the outcome of their 360. As well, please banish any thoughts you may have about using 360 feedback to ‘fix’ any of your people that have performance issues. 360 feedback is purely about helping your people to be the best they can be.
In setting up your 360 project, we recommend checking out the ‘6 Cs’:
- Computer technology
By Context we mean that the 360 objectives must be completely in sync with your organisational strategy, challenges and priorities to ensure that the 360 implementation has a direct line of sight to the strategy and so that your investment can be linked, directly or indirectly, to some commercial or even cultural return. You should ask “To what problem is 360 feedback the solution?” or “What do you want to see happening as a result of the 360 that isn’t happening now?” Simply put, know what is the job you’re trying to get done with 360. Key stakeholders will always pay more attention when there is a clear return on the investment.
Another way of looking at this stage is to consider the alternative…not drawing a line of sight to the organisational strategy. Why put the organisation through the effort, the likely disruption and the cost of a 360, if you’re not prepared to measure the outcomes? There are many measures (both hard and soft) that we use to measure effectiveness, why not try matching one or more measures with your own strategic objectives?
Of course, it may not be possible to pinpoint exactly where the 360 will make its mark and you will also need to consider how to isolate the impact of the 360 intervention from everything and anything else that was going on at that time, but by aligning the 360 result to one or more strategic objectives at this stage – effectively the planning and set-up stage – you are building a strong business case for the intervention and will more likely win over any resistant stakeholders. Additionally, you will end up with hard and soft data that will validate your 360 project and make you a hero inside your organisation.
Competence, Commitment and Capacity
Three more things we recommend you look at are Competence, Commitment and Capacity. You need to determine the likely ‘receptivity’ to 360 feedback from the organisation as a whole, and especially from prospective participants and raters (we give the name ‘participant’ to those people at the centre of the 360, the ones getting the report at the end; the term ‘rater’ refers to any person nominated by the participant to provide them with feedback. Please note that in our click-360 application you can change these labels to be whatever you want).
As part of this step therefore we need to understand whether 360 degree feedback has ever been used before and if yes, what were the outcomes? Not all 360 experiences have been good in the past. Participants and raters may have been poorly selected, briefings poor or non-existent and a common finding is that participants often haven’t received any guidance from an experienced ‘coach’ on how to interpret their 360 report and – more importantly – build a development action plan from it. Alternatively, while your organisation may not have experienced 360 in the past, remember that some of the individuals earmarked for this project may have experienced it with a previous employer.
We ask whether the previous experience was generally well received? Importantly, what changes were attributed specifically to the 360 project(s)? Ultimately, whether or not the previous experience was considered successful, a key question is what lessons were learned and therefore what needs to be different this time?
Timing is a key issue to explore. Not just the timing of the 360 implementation plan but timing in relation to Commitment and Capacity? For example, is the organisation expanding (growing), static or shrinking? Is it in the process of merging or acquiring? Is it downsizing (or ‘rightsizing’)? Is there a major re-organisation going on or about to start? As you can imagine, trying to successfully introduce 360 degree feedback into a climate of fear or uncertainty is a complete no-no. Because your people have so many – to them much more important – concerns going on, they are unlikely to devote sufficient time and effort to engaging with the 360. Even if they do complete questionnaires, how accurate will their data be? How much of their current anxiety or frustration will colour their scores and the comments they write?
The above also impacts the Capacity that people have, simply to engage with the process. As well, there may be other training initiatives running alongside the planned 360 project which may push them from stretch to ‘twang’.
There’s a lot been written about Culture in management and leadership text books. What does yours look like? What are the cultural norms around your place? Is it more hierarchical, based on command and control, where you just do what the guy ahead of you did, keep your head below the parapet? Or is it more democratic like an Apple or a Google (do what you damn well please but be prepared to accept the consequences)?
Being able to express feedback to a colleague in a way that is constructive and hearable is not easy to do…given that the outcome is anonymised, will there be a propensity for negative comments that could leave people feeling bruised and wounded? In this context we mean that you should understand your organisation’s culture (existing and desired) and how well it might support, or get in the way of, a successful 360 degree feedback implementation. Plan how to overcome any potential obstacles that may arise. Finally, give some thought to how the internal systems and processes support the leadership culture you want to create.
For example, if you are aiming to promote collaboration and team work yet your reward system favours individual contributors, the two things are not compatible. If your organisation continually promotes ‘diversity and equality’ through its values, published statements, website, etc. and yet the gender pay gap is still very wide or women are very poorly represented in senior management positions, then clearly those two things are incompatible. If you claim the 360 is driven by the need to develop leaders, placing the implementation shortly before the annual appraisal is likely to raise alarm bells – the inference is that its part of an assessment process. You’ll need to look at all these things and consider your positioning.
Then there’s the timing of the project implementation…is sufficient time available for the model process to be followed thoroughly? Here’s our recommended implementation plan:
You can see from the above that 360 is a long and thorough process…to follow our guide above would take at least 15 weeks.
As well during the scoping discussion we determine which questionnaire would be most suitable or whether we will need to co-create something bespoke. We discuss numbers of participants, whether or not they will all be in one cohort or several cohorts spread out over time and which rater categories would be relevant to the implementation. Remember, a successful 360 implementation relies on raters having enough experience (and therefore data) of working with individuals before they can possibly contribute meaningful inputs.
Is the 360 degree feedback project stand-alone, or planned as part of a wider initiative, such as a leadership or management development programme? Where there is a group of aspiring future leaders (‘high potentials’/ ’high flyers’/ ‘fast-trackers’) in place, we recommend starting there simply because these individuals are usually more ‘hungry’ for development.
Finally, you should consider the Computer technology requirements for your 360 implementation. On the surface it may seem fairly obvious, but as our click-360 questionnaire interface and report are online resources, both participants and raters should have reliable access to the internet. As well as that, consider that while participants (who are probably managers or leaders) will doubtless have work-based internet access and work devices, some raters may not - especially where those raters are at the sharp end of the business, for example in retail sales or on a factory shop floor. Here, raters may not have their own computers and access to the internet could be restricted. It is important that alternative methods be found.
When it comes to the IT requirements for our click-360 tool, we recommend the following minimum requirements:
click-360 is a web-based system. For users to be able to interact with the system they will need a computer or hand-held mobile device equipped with an email client and web browser that is ideally no more than 6 years old. They will also need a valid and unique email address (preferably a work one, but if not, and with their prior agreement, you might be able to use a personal one). You should check with your 360 supplier what are their exact specification requirements and then run that past your internal IT support people.
A word of caution: as cyber security ramps up all over the world, you may experience difficulties with getting invitation and reminder emails past your internal firewalls. In addition, as most 360 systems are designed with the ability to send emails from the organisation's domain, it may be required to white-list your supplier’s mail server IP address, or add/edit the SPF record for the domain so that it includes a statement to say your supplier’s mail server's IP address is a legitimate mail sender for the domain. This can be assessed during a testing phase.
In summary then, during the scoping discussion we recommend that you check out the 6 Cs’:
- Computer technology
Whatever the size and scope of your 360 degree feedback implementation and the subsequent impact on the organisation, it is important that you understand whether the whole of your organisational ‘system’, and any or all of the elements within it, are ready for the change.
For your 360 degree feedback implementation to create meaningful and lasting change you’ll need to look at all the sections in this article. By understanding the readiness of the different parts of the system and managing your key stakeholder relationships, you will be able to design one or more successful 360 projects that are bespoke to your organisation and its needs. There will always be an element of the unexpected and a need to cope with a level of ambiguity. However, with the insights from assessing your contextual factors of change, you will be able to anticipate what others won’t consider until it’s too late.
If you would like to know more we’d love to hear from you so please call Colin Newbold on +44 (0) 845 313 3357 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or look at other related articles and Blogs.