Review your review process: 360-degree surveys can give you the whole picture

Karen is always willing to lend a hand and patiently share the tips and tricks she’s amassed after years on the job. In fact, in the past year, she’s been so willing to help new employees that she’s frequently fallen behind on her own workload.

During her recent performance review, her boss mentioned some missed deadlines, and Karen got a less-than-stellar review. She couldn’t really articulate why she was not able to keep up with her workload.

This is a problem of perspective; Karen and her boss cannot see the whole picture. They have blind spots when it comes to Karen’s job performance.

Karen’s co-workers, however, could probably shed light on the situation by explaining how much coaching of others Karen has undertaken at the sacrifice of her own work. With that perspective, Karen and her boss might have been able to come up with a plan to utilize Karen’s training skills while minimizing the impact on department output.

Without the perspective of others, however, Karen and her boss may continue to be frustrated.

Shedding some light on the subject

All employees have blind spots — characteristics about themselves they just can’t see. It’s possible their direct supervisors can’t see the full picture either. That’s where 360-degree surveys can help.

A 360-degree survey process is a methodical way of gaining insight, through feedback, into how others in the workforce view an employee. Unlike traditional performance reviews, the feedback in a 360-degree survey comes from a variety of people who are familiar with an employee’s work — not just the employee’s immediate supervisor.

Using sources who provide a full circle of information — thus, the 360-degree designation — provides a wider view of how an employee functions. Not only do you get information on whether or not the employee completes his or her work, but how well he or she interacts with co-workers, other departments, outside vendors, and/or clients. The feedback comes from those above, below, and beside the employee, providing a fuller, more complete picture.



The process of 360-degree surveys

There are six steps to a 360-degree survey:

  • Decide who to invite to participate in the survey;
  • Anonymously survey those invited people — managers, co-workers, subordinates, and perhaps customers — about the employee’s work;
  • Receive the surveys from invited people;
  • Tabulate the survey information and develop a report;
  • Provide this report to the employee featured in the survey; and
  • Have a follow-up meeting with the employee to discuss the results and set goals.

Putting the results to work

The benefits of 360-degree surveys include:

  • Improved self-awareness for those being reviewed;
  • Identification of specific strengths and weaknesses to help formulate achievable goals;
  • Identification of realistic employee contributions; and
  • Alignment of employee goals and abilities to corporate strategies, leading to greater productivity.

Most employers choose to keep performance evaluations and 360-degree survey results separate, using the 360-degree information only for employee development. For such surveys to be useful, goals should be clarified before the process begins. That means holding an orientation meeting to review the process, discussing which skills and competencies will be evaluated, and teaching employees being reviewed how to put the both positive and negative information to constructive use.

Judy Kneiszel is an associate editor with J. J. Keller & Associates. Kneiszel specializes in business topics such as recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, team building, employee retention, and labor relations. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s SUPER adVISOR newsletter and Essentials of Employee Relations manual.

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