The Value of 360 Reviews: Why Many Voices Are Better Than One
What is a 360 Review?
Exactly as it sounds, a 360 performance review is a holistic review process that has people in your core work circle weighing in on your performance — from direct reports, to your peers, and those you report to. It can also include customers, clients, suppliers, vendors and partners with whom you work on a regular basis.
And if it sounds scary (wait, 10+ people are going to share their thoughts on my performance…WHAT?!), well yes, anytime you open yourself up to getting feedback, it’s a vulnerable place to be. However, as Brene Brown has wisely said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Opening yourself up to the feedback that comes through a comprehensive 360 review can be a catalyst in driving real and lasting behavioural change. As you can imagine, 360 reviews work particularly well in organizations where trust and psychological safety are high, and there is a culture of focusing on continual growth and development.
If you’re over the fear factor but now thinking that it sounds expensive and time consuming to gather such extensive data and information for a performance review, you would have a point. They definitely do require more resources and coordination than a single rater performance review. Why then would organizations choose to use this process? The bottom line — 360 reviews have significant benefits compared to other performance appraisal approaches.
Why Use a 360 Review?
1. Context is (Almost) Everything
If you’re like most, you recognize that you likely show up in different ways depending on who you are working, playing or living with. Our context can often drive our behaviours. In a work context, we may shift our style when we are working with a Board of Directors, our direct reports or our customers. As a result, hearing from the various groups of people we work with allows for a broader perspective of how we are being perceived in these various contexts. With a single rater approach to a performance review, we only hear about what our direct manager sees of us in a particular context. They may have little to no insight on how well you are leading people on your team, managing relationships with clients or collaborating with your peer group.
2. Increase Self-Awareness
We each have varying degrees of accuracy of being able to assess our own strengths and areas of development. Self-awareness is a key driver in being able to measurably improve our leadership skills and performance. Simply put, we can’t fix it if we don’t know it’s not working. The more feedback we can gather from a range of individuals, the easier it becomes for us to be able to get a clear sense of where our strengths and opportunities lie. 360 reviews provide for some real “aha!” moments that allow us to self-reflect, which can then be the gateway to change and growth.
3. Minimize Biases
As more organizations work today to remove unconscious biases from their people practices (including performance management, succession planning and compensation decisions) — 360 reviews offer a viable solution. One of the most common form of biases is the “affinity bias,” otherwise known as similarity bias. This type of bias is borne from the fact that we tend to like and trust people we believe are similar to us. What if you and your manager are both hockey parents? Fine food aficionados? Book club members? You may receive higher performance ratings as a result. Please don’t read this as a suggestion to start a new hobby based on what your manager enjoys doing. Rather, the recommendation is to implement 360 reviews. When there are multiple raters from across the organization, rather than a single rater, it is more likely that the overall results will be less biased.
4. Motivator for Enhanced Performance
If you were to receive feedback from one person that your verbal communication isn’t clear, you may be able to shrug it off or even justify that the person giving you that feedback doesn’t have an accurate take on you. What about if you heard that feedback from nine different people? Well, it becomes much harder to ignore. It also can provide an impetus to want to change. Providing annual 360 reviews is a big motivator for enhancing performance, as individuals will likely want to achieve better results year over year.
Further, there is an excellent opportunity to leverage strengths that come up as clear themes in the review. It is very motivating to hear what we are doing well, and it is often easier to build on existing strengths than it is to shore up areas of weakness. For example, if you receive feedback that you are an excellent presenter, you can leverage that feedback by thinking of new ways to wow in your presentations with funny anecdotes or compelling stories.
What Should Be Considered When Rolling Out a 360?
If your organization plans to undertake the time and financial investment into 360 reviews, then it is certainly important to make sure they are being done right. There are a few best practices that are recommended to bring forward the benefits of 360 reviews.
As with all HR practices, communicating clearly about the purpose and benefits of a new process is imperative. Engage with the leaders who will be receiving the 360 review to answer questions and address any concerns they may have. As well, invite them to participate in the 360 process through a self-assessment and gather their input on who they believe should be involved as participants in their review. Once all participants have been decided upon and invited to participate, it is wise to hold a brief training for them explaining their role and how to give effective feedback.
A 360 should ideally take no longer than 20 minutes to complete, or there is a risk of low participation in completing the review. It is also recommended to have at least seven participants at a minimum to protect anonymity of the respondents. Some 360 reports will provide themes back to the leader rather than all the written comments to further preserve anonymity.
Finally, a key best practice is to encourage the individual receiving 360 feedback to prepare a personal development plan based on the main themes that were highlighted by the review. Using 360 results is an excellent foundation for developing a measurable performance plan and generating real improvements. A personal development plan provides the opportunity for a leader to set goals, identify activities to support goals, determine resources needed to be successful in goal attainment (such as courses, mentorship or coaching), as well as set target dates to monitor progress. Providing a 360 report to a leader and not having any concrete performance plan or follow up is like giving someone driving directions who has no vehicle. They may know where they are supposed to be but have no way to get there.
According to management consultant and author Ken Blanchard, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” If that is indeed the case, then why not treat yourself and your team members to a 360 breakfast buffet?
Robin Turnill, FCPHR, has 20 years of leadership and consulting experience in the public and private sectors. She is the founder of Pivot HR Services, a firm that provides strategic HR services to many local clients.
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