Trust and Transparency Are Keys to 360 Success

transparency1Multi-rater feedback, commonly known as a 360 review, is a behavioral survey frequently used by companies to assist employees and leaders to assess themselves in the eyes of their subordinates, customers, peers and superiors.  Hence the term "360 review," as it provides a snapshot of the subject's behavior through the eyes of the people that surround him at various levels and in various roles. Often used for leadership development efforts, the survey asks participants to anonymously rate the subject's performance in a number of areas and solicits text comments as well as numeric ratings on a scale.

When used effectively, the 360 review can be a powerful leadership developmental tool, having a positive impact on individual and organizational improvement.  When used improperly, it can waste time and money, damage morale, become a deterrent to transparency, and, as research conducted by Watson Wyatt suggested, actually have a negative impact on company market value.

On its surface the 360 review makes sense, giving the subject an accurate view of herself through the eyes of important stakeholders and the encouragement to continue effective behaviors and focus improvement efforts.  So, where can it go wrong?

Lack of Trust Sabotages the Effort
In a dysfunctional organization, any solicitation of personal opinion about something as important and delicate as another employee's behavior or performance ranges from useless to potentially dangerous.  Here are some potential pitfalls:

  • The survey can be seen as another "flavor of the month" initiative that will ultimately not be used to effect any real change or improvement.  In this case, employees won't take the time and effort (which can be considerable) to provide reasoned, objective, honest and actionable feedback.

  • Where trust is lacking, employees can doubt the anonymity of the exercise and give only artificially positive feedback.

  • Where speaking up is not valued, disgruntled employees may take the opportunity to take out their negative feelings about the company or management on the test subject, blasting them with inappropriate, demoralizing or inaccurate ratings and comments.

Transparency Sets the Stage
A 360 review is only valuable if it collects relevant, accurate and honest information.  It is important to establish an expectation of transparency and trust well before the survey is implemented so those who are asked to complete one will want to take the time to provide thoughtful and honest feedback.  If leaders are open to receiving and acting on feedback throughout the year, when 360 review-time comes, employees will know that their thoughts will be welcomed and taken seriously and they will be encouraged to participate.

A 360 review is only valuable if the information collected is actually used by the subject to create and implement improvement plans.  If employees see that the process is taken seriously and improves leader and organizational behavior, they will value the exercise themselves and make the effort to provide prompt and useful feedback in future surveys.  This accountability can have a positive impact beyond the 360 review on the way feedback is valued and used throughout the year, increasing trust and transparency across the organization.

Action Points for Using Transparency and Accountability to Enhance Review Effectiveness:

  • Communicate in advance the department or organization-wide review process, its purpose and goals, encouraging participants to provide with thoughtful, open and honest feedback.
  • Use an outside firm to administer the 360 review process to help participants trust that their feedback will be anonymous.
  • Use the 360 review at the highest levels of the organization with C-level leaders sharing elements of their findings and action plans across the organization.
  • Provide time for reviewers to complete surveys and be clear that they are expected to do so.
  • Hold review subjects accountable for developing an action plan from their survey results.
  • Have leaders share summaries of their review findings and action plans with their teams.
  • Thank reviewers for their participation.
  • Foster an ongoing atmosphere of transparency by welcoming and acting on feedback.

When trust and transparency are established during the 360 survey process, participants will be more likely to give honest feedback that is valuable to the organization.  Without this, the investment your organization has made in a leadership development assessment like a 360 review will be wasted.

Click here for more information on Revolution 360TM and Check-Up 360TM.


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Transformational leaders come in many forms and they may not be whom you expect them to be. Uncovering who they are, what are their strengths and how you can help them improve, is an important process that substantially contributes to an organization’s bottom line success. Utilizing the Work Effects Revolution 360TM survey assessment, clients have a proven tool to get the most out of their current and future leaders.

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