Best Practices in 360 Degree Feedback
The design and implementation of the 360 degree feedback system requires thoughtful planning. Are the employees accepting the system? Are the goals, procedures and benefits of the system clearly defined? Is the rating instrument relevant, valid and reliable? Please carefully review the recommendations made in this article that have been derived from extensive research on how to ensure the success of the 360 degree feedback system.
Critical Factors for Success
In order for the 360 degree feedback system to be successful there must be employee acceptance of the system. Both perceived accuracy and justice are considered critical factors for system acceptance. If the system is unjust or has errors, it will be dismissed for obvious reasons. Fortunately, reputable providers of 360 degree feedback have often delivered hundreds of thousands of ratings, and are experienced in maximizing the likelihood of system acceptance. There are three key steps to using the 360 degree feedback system successfully:
- make it fit into the organization;
- make it psychometrically sound;
- use with care.
Make it Fit
Try to make the 360 feedback fit into the culture of the organization. In doing so it will appear less threatening and more fair.
Increase Employee Participation
To increase the perception of justice, employees should be encouraged to be active participants in the evaluation. A multiple source feedback works best in an environment that is team-oriented and cooperative. Giving individuals the opportunity to voice their opinions about the system's construction, process, and results will increase employee buy-in, acceptance, and will yield useful suggestions.
Train Feedback Providers
It is also important to train the feedback providers to be sensitive, respectful and polite. Treating employees in a friendly and respectful manner, and offering constructive advice will make them more open to accepting the performance appraisal system.
Communication is Key
People tend to be suspicious of things they do not understand. Thus, it is important to communicate to the employees the precise way in which ratings are to be combined, as well as the purpose, benefits and procedures of the 360 degree feedback system. It is particularly important to communicate the intended uses of the information.
Make it Psychometrically Sound
Ensure that the Instrument is Applicable
A good assessment should be reliable and valid. It must measure what it proposes to measure, consistently and accurately. The 360 degree feedback system only works effectively if it measures the relevant job performance, knowledge, skills, abilities and personality characteristics necessary for high levels of job performance. Thus, the first step is to identify, define, and incorporate these job performance behaviors, knowledge, and skills into the appraisal system.
Increase Rater Familiarity
Select raters who are well acquainted with the employee. Rater familiarity is linked to accuracy and fairness in performance ratings. To evaluate rater familiarity, some 360 degree feedback systems include a rating for familiarity and provide the option of indicating "inadequate opportunity to observe" for performance characteristics. To increase reliability and decrease the impact of individual biases a large sample of raters should be selected. Reliability continues to increase when up to twenty raters are included, but adequate reliability can be obtained using 6 or more raters.
Promote Rater Accuracy
Both 'self' and 'other' appraisal accuracy should be promoted and rewarded. The nature of the 360 degree feedback system should reduce the problem of rater accuracy, as the use of multiple raters will average out individual biases. Furthermore, there is an apparent tradeoff when using either 'self' or 'other' ratings. Other-ratings are perceived to be more accurate, however, they may also be perceived by the employee to be less fair. The inverse is true for self-ratings. Clearly, both rating methods have advantages and disadvantages; thus, a performance appraisal system that combines both 'self' and 'other' ratings will be the most beneficial.
Use with Care
When implementing the 360 degree feedback system it is important to be consistent across employees (all of the employees should have an equal opportunity to participate in the system), and administered frequently. A consistent system will be perceived as more accurate and fair. A one-time 360 feedback exercise is not recommended — they are best when at least a three to five term is planned. Furthermore, evaluating performance over time provides employees with benchmarks for development.
When implementing the 360 degree feedback system it is imperative to gain employee acceptance at the outset. The following guidelines will help make the system fair and accurate:
- ensure that the 360 degree feedback system is consistent with the culture of the organization and the expectations of the employees;
- conduct an information campaign that highlights the benefits and fairness of 360 feedback, and outline the process in some detail.
- ensure that the rating instruments are relevant, valid, and reliable;
- emphasize the importance of the raters being familiar with the employee's performance and provide raters the opportunity of "opting out" if they are not;
- encourage and train raters on how to provide accurate ratings;
- promote a participative environment where individual feedback is rewarded;
- administer the performance appraisal system regularly and consistently;
- continue to communicate information about the 360 degree feedback system;
- treat employees with sensitivity and respect;
- ensure that offensive or actionable coworker feedback is not returned to an employee.
Douglas N. Jackson, Julie M. McCarthy, and Carrie Pollard contributed to these recommendations