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By Tracy Maylett and Juan Riboldi, 360o circle represents those that surround

DecisionWise, Inc. you—bosses, peers, subordinates,

customers, etc. A 360o assessment
4 Ways to Ensure involves a “full-circle” appraisal, where
feedback is gathered from multiple
Your 360o Process sources. Surveys are completed in a
variety of formats, including on paper,
is a Success electronically,
or through
As Robert Burns wrote assessments
in the eighteenth can be
century, what a gift it either at the
would be “to see individual level
ourselves as others see or on a team
us!” level, with the
team in the center of the circle in the case
One of the biggest challenges facing of the latter.
managers and team members today is to Sounds simple—find a survey,
understand how their actions impact administer it, hand out the results. Right?
others. Done correctly, 360о feedback Surprisingly, our research has shown that
assessments (also known as multi-rater many organizations give it about that
assessments) are a proven method for much thought. For many organizations
gathering important information on how that use 360s effectively, these
behaviors are perceived in the workplace. assessments can provide powerful results.
However, some organizations have found By comparing self-ratings with feedback
that 360о assessments have not proven to from other raters, participants are able to
be the remedy for management woes they identify clear strengths, under-utilized
had anticipated. Even worse, they may strengths, and areas for growth. On a
have found the results disastrous. personal level, an effective 360 provides a
What makes the difference clear report that allows an individual to
between a successful 360o feedback understand where they are and where they
program and a miserable failure? The key need to focus. On a team level, groups
lies in several factors that every come together on common goals, with the
organization should consider prior to instrument providing a safe environment
using a 360o feedback instrument. in which to surface the “undisscussables.”
First, let’s understand a little about However, done incorrectly, a 360o
360s. These instruments can be very feedback process has the potential to
effectively used in a variety of ways, virtually shut down the feedback process
including coaching and development, entirely.
talent management, performance In our research and experience, we
assessment and improvement, team have found that the difference between
building, career development, and training those organizations that effectively utilize
needs identification. Picture in your mind 360o assessments and those that do more
a circle, with yourself in the center. The harm than good boils down to four critical
factors. We have found these to be the

Copyright 2007, DecisionWise, Inc. 1-800-830-8086 1
“make-it or break-its”—the difference advertising agency, it may not be high on
between truly turning feedback into this list for employees working on a
results and spending a great deal of effort nuclear reactor. Similarly, advertising
recovering from what can be a disaster. executives are seldom called on to display
their nuclear physics prowess. We have
yet to see an effective 360o survey that
4 Ways to Ensure your 360o translates across organizations without
missing some key measurements.
Process is a Success Customized assessments, on one
1. Select the right instrument. hand, provide the opportunity to match
A stethoscope comes in handy your instrument to those competencies
when you’re checking for a heartbeat, but you identify as most important. Designed
is not much good when you need to check correctly, customized surveys provide
the air pressure in your tires. As logical as information that is more relevant and,
this might appear, many organizations consequently, actionable. Valuable
don’t apply the same reasoning to their surveys are linked to strategic direction
360o assessment process. What are you and needs of the organization. On the
trying to measure? How do you intend to other hand, many customized assessments
use the results? Answering these two do not provide valid measurements,
simple questions will save a good deal of particularly if not properly designed.
heartache down the road. Secondly, customized instruments that are
There is certainly no shortage of not developed in-house can be more
“off-the-shelf” survey instruments costly than standard instruments, although
available. A well-designed off-the-shelf not always the case. Be aware that
survey (notice that we said “well- customized assessments typically do not
designed”…most are not!) can provide provide normative data.
several advantages. First, a credible Our experience tells us that
standard survey has been time-tested and effective 360o processes take advantage of
validated. They can often provide the best that both worlds have to offer.
normative or benchmarking data as well. However, you may soon realize that most
Some standard instruments also offer survey companies offering standard
support material, training, and external assessments are not willing to adjust their
assistance, which can be very helpful. surveys. A good survey will take
Depending on the instrument source, advantage of 60-80% standardized
these surveys may be based on significant questions, while allowing for
research. customization of the remaining 20-40%.
There are also disadvantages to We have found this mix is quite effective
standard surveys. Perhaps the greatest of for most organizations. Another factor
these is that most organizations find that that should be considered is the ability to
these surveys do not measure many of provide written comments. Written
those elements most critical to their comments allow raters to add additional
success. Each organization is unique. information and clarification that may be
Essential competencies in one appropriate.
organization (team, position, division…
you name it) may not match those
elements that are most important in 2. Support and communicate.
another. While “ability to think Contrary to what we find in the
creatively” may be important to an movie “A Field of Dreams,” just because

Copyright 2007, DecisionWise, Inc. 1-800-830-8086 2
we “build it” doesn’t necessarily mean it.” Expectations and outcomes must be
they will come. Many organizations clear for raters, ratees, managers, and
expect that they have merely to introduce coaches. Raters must also feel confident
a survey and support will follow. that their honest responses will remain
However, this level of feedback is often confidential.
foreign to organizations. Even if the Essential to 360о rollout is a good
concept is not new to the organization, it communication plan. This plan should
is likely a new experience for many include education around 360о
individuals. assessments in general, the purpose, and
Especially when used as part of a the methodology. This can effectively be
performance appraisal system, many communicated in group meetings or one-
people may have a negative perception of on-ones, but seldom through a quick
360о assessments—or feedback in general, memo from Human Resources.
for that matter. This is especially
common if individuals and organizations
have had a poor experience with 360s, 3. Make the process administratively
performance appraisal systems, or simple.
feedback in the past. In cases where 360о Many organizations mistakenly
feedback is a new concept for the underestimate the extent of logistical
organization (or when the organization issues inherent with 360о surveys. Not
has had a negative experience in the past), only can it be an administrative nightmare
it is generally best not to use the for those responsible for developing,
instrument in conjunction with distributing, gathering, tallying, analyzing,
performance appraisals on the first go- and reporting, it can sometimes be a
round. A year of successfully burden for those participating in the
administering 360s for developmental survey as well. As most managers (and
purposes prior to using them for appraisal non-managers, for that matter) are tight
is often enough to clear a negative on time, ensuring ease of administration is
perception. a prime consideration will greatly increase
Much of this negative perception participation and effectiveness of the
can be overcome if the organization has a survey.
clear understanding of the purpose of the Now, a word or two on
survey, and that purpose is clearly outsourcing the survey process versus
communicated by “360о champions.” developing and administering a survey in-
These champions or sponsor groups are house. Both have their pros and cons.
also essential in identifying up-front what Let’s look first at developing a survey in-
competencies will be measured and why. house.
The make-up of Champion Groups varies, Surveys developed in-house
but should generally consist of at least one provide several advantages, provided the
or two representatives from the top of the expertise and resources exist within the
organization or teams being assessed. organization to develop and administer an
We often run into survey effective survey. First of all, it provides
participants (or those asked to provide near-complete flexibility in designing the
feedback for others) who had no survey. The surveys are generally tailored
knowledge they were being asked to to meet the specific needs of the
participate. Even more common are organization. Secondly, there may be less
those individuals who have “heard up-front development costs, although this
something, but don’t know much about cost savings is quickly negated if you

Copyright 2007, DecisionWise, Inc. 1-800-830-8086 3
purchase a software package to design and have often found that outsourcing the
administer the survey. Also remember to 360о process relieves most of the
take into account the cost of labor administrative burden, provides a better
involved in developing and administering instrument, and is generally more cost-
a survey in-house. Finally, another effective than internal administration.
advantage is that the in-house survey can
be administered as often as you chose at
very low cost. However, once again, keep 4. Debrief and coach on the results.
in mind the labor costs involved in Okay… so you’ve designed an
administering the survey. Remember that effective survey, it has been administered,
this process is often time-consuming as you have the
well. results in a report Would you put an
We generally find that most format that is easy air traffic controller
organizations do not have the resources to understand… in front of a radar
or expertise internally to develop a proper now what? screen without
360о survey instrument. We are often Simple… you give
called in to work with organizations that each person their
t raining and tell
have pieced together an ineffective 360о report and tell him, “good luck?”
survey, and have consequently suffered them to “get back Yet we are willing to
the results. Developing a proper with you” if there put a 360 in front of
instrument involves both art and science, are any questions. a manager and walk
including a solid understanding of Right? away.
psychology, statistics, and psychometrics. Surprisingly again,
We have found that most in-house most “coaching”
surveys are lacking in these areas and, as a processes are simply variations on this
result, produce surveys that cannot be theme. Yet this is perhaps the most
translated into action plans. important part of the feedback process—
Outsourcing a 360о process interpreting, coaching, and action
provides several advantages. When done planning.
correctly, it typically provides a survey that Imagine an air traffic controller
is better designed. The entire process is reporting to his first day of work with no
generally much faster than the in-house training. His boss sits him down in front
process, which also adds to the of an instrument panel. She tells him that
effectiveness of the survey. Keep in mind he is to give direction to the aircraft that
that data reported months after the fact is are in the area, and that his job is critical
much less effective than “fresh” data. to the safety of the thousands of people
Using an outside provider also provides a landing and taking off that day. She
sense (both perceived and real) that the points out some of the readouts in front
feedback is anonymous. Ensuring of him, and then points to the radar
anonymity is critical to an effective survey. screen. She says, “this will tell you all you
The main disadvantage to need to know.” She then walks away with
outsourcing the 360о process is up-front no further instruction. The controller is
cost. However, most organizations soon left to figure out on his own how to
realize that any up-front cost savings are interpret the data in front of him, and is
immediately lost when it comes to the then required to make decisions for others
amount of time spent in administering the based on his interpretation. While this
survey, not to mention the possible sounds a bit far-fetched (we hope!), most
ineffectiveness of the survey itself. We organizations do something similar in

Copyright 2007, DecisionWise, Inc. 1-800-830-8086 4
their 360 debrief process. Not only do process. Skimping on this step has the
they not offer support in interpreting the potential to not only detract severely from
data, they do not provide proper coaching the effectiveness of the 360о process, but
in what to do with the data once they have actually cause damage to the participant as
it. Consequently, data does not become well.
information. Information does not We surveyed a group of 222
become action. The organization spent managers that had been through several
thousands of dollars on a 360о feedback years of the 360 feedback process. We
process, and gets a zero return on their asked these managers whether or not they
investment. Worst yet, what happens had received sufficient coaching. Of those
when the “air traffic controller” makes indicating they had not, just one-third
poor choices based on poor coaching and responded that they felt the overall 360
misinterpretation of the data? process was effective. Similarly, less than
At the core of an effective 360о half of those who had not received
process is coaching. We have found that coaching set any goals based on the
effective coaching involves taking feedback. Conversely, 94% of those who
participants through a process in which received formal coaching and set goals
they openly reported that they felt that overall the 360
Consequently, data listen to the feedback process was valuable.
does not become feedback, Ask yourself whether or not you
information. interpret the have given this “air traffic controller”
Information does not feedback, (read “manager”) enough understanding
decide which of the instrument that you would want
become action. The pieces are him responsible for the “safe flight” of
organization spent most critical, your employees and customers.
thousands of dollars and then An effective 360о feedback process
on the 360 feedback
о develop has the ability to dramatically change an
process, and gets a specific organization. Equally as important is the
zero return on their action plans. impact this process can have on an
Additionally, individual. Following these four critical
investment. the coach elements can mean the difference between
(and team) a 360 failure and an overwhelming
creates an element of accountability. success.
Although many of the
organizations we work with prefer the _______________________________
one-on-one coaching method, a number DecisionWise, Inc. is a consulting firm
of organizations have successfully trained specializing in Talent Management and
a group of internal coaches who are able Organization Development. Our focus is on
to effectively work with others in turning feedback into results.
interpreting results and creating action
plans. Be aware that coaching does not
come naturally for most people.
However, with a bit of training and a very
clear process, an organization can develop
a group of highly effective internal
coaches. 1-800-830-8086
We have found that coaching is info@decwise.com
the most often-missed step in the 360о www.decwise.com

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