360 Degree Feedback (also known as Multi-Rater Assessments) are in style. All the major HR journals have had one or more articles on the topic. However, we suggest you examine what you read critically. For example, an article in Personnel Journal (Nov., 94, p.99) advocated using 360 degree feedback from subordinates and peers as part of the annual performance appraisal for managers. In our opinion, this is dangerous since more popular managers will get better reviews than less popular, but possibly more effective managers. In addition, we have found that raters will pull their punches when they know that the manager’s career may depend on their assessments.
Nevertheless, as a company that has advocated 360 degree feedback long before it became fashionable, we certainly believe the process is extremely valuable when done properly. Most companies that use 360 degree feedback surveys, do not use the results as part of a performance appraisal, but rather to allow managers to obtain insight which cannot be obtained in any other way. For example, Chrysler has put in place a system to ensure that managers at all levels get the feedback they need (Personnel Journal, May, 92 – Rating the Boss at Chrysler).
At General Electric a number of areas encourage managers to use, on a voluntary basis, a software package called MSAT (now called Survey Tools for Windows) to obtain feedback from subordinates and colleagues.
The following is a brief outline of the model that we recommend for obtaining 360 Degree Feedback (The complete model is described in the Survey Tools for Windows manual.):
1. Create a survey and administer it to your employees as one group and your colleagues as a second group. Choose about 15 topics (e.g. Leadership, Appearance, Listening Ability, Team Development, Decision Making, Etc.). Include three or four questions per topic for a total of 50-60 questions. Try to include about one third topics where you suspect you are weak, one third where you think you are strong and one third where you are unsure. Do not worry that you have not included all topics that may be of interest. A survey that is too long will not get the attention that it deserves. If you conduct these surveys at regular intervals (as you should), you will gradually change the content of the survey and eventually all areas will be covered.
2. Before giving the survey to your subordinates and colleagues, answer the questions yourself so that you will be able to compare your self-perceptions to those of your respondents. This is a good reality check. Be sure to explain to your respondents why you are conducting the survey (to get the insight you need to do a better job). Use a process for collecting data that will guarantee anonymity. You could have your employees complete the survey at a meeting and drop the completed questionnaires in a box. You should not be present. Your colleagues could return the questionnaire to a neutral secretary in a sealed envelope. Other methods such as web surveys or LAN based surveys can also be used. Survey Tools for Windows permits these and other survey administration methods.
3. After you get back the results, tabulate the scores both by topic and individual question for your subordinates and colleagues separately. Based on the scores, make an action plan consisting of ways in which you will try to modify your behavior in various situations. You may also wish to take some training programs which may be offered by your organization.
4. Implement your action plan.
5. Six months later repeat the survey process. At this time you may wish to drop some topics where you were strong and replace them where you feel you may be strong or where you are uncertain. By comparing the results of this survey to those of the previous one you will be able to track your progress and determine where more work is required.
Over time, as you become a better manager, strong topics will be dropped and replaced from an ever dwindling pool of weaker ones. And you will be a rising star in your organization because you will have found a way to know your weaknesses and to correct them.