Revamping the Performance Appraisal Process

There are lots of criticisms of the traditional annual performance appraisal process. One of the most significant shortcomings of this process is that it relies on only one rater, usually the manager, which opens the door to bias and subjectivity. Even as a once a year event, it is a reasonably time consuming process, and it can become something of a tick box exercise to complete in order to make the case for a promotion or pay rise. It isn’t providing the feedback or change that it originally set out to.

Those criticisms are hard to dispute. Like many things in life, when performance appraisals are poorly designed, they can be a waste of time and it’s easy to conclude the entire process is too flawed to be valuable. However, when designed properly, they can be a valuable tool. Remember, for employees, the intended goal of performance appraisals is to give feedback on their performance so that they can improve the work they do, build the skills required to progress and motivate them to keep up the good work. From an HR perspective, the process can provide the data needed for decision making around pay and reward, training needs, succession planning, workforce planning and overall performance levels.

How Does 360° Feedback Fit In?

360° feedback is an extension of the traditional one-way, manager review of employee performance. Instead, it looks to gather feedback from all types of stakeholders that work with an employee, from their manager and subordinates (so above and below the individual), to clients/customers and peers (alongside the individual, inside and outside the organisation). Due to the variety of raters who feed back during the process, the issue of bias and subjectivity from just one rater (manager) is reduced, but it also gathers input from all of the stakeholders who have to work with an individual, whose needs and experiences may differ.

360° feedback can be done via an online or paper survey, as well as through phone interviews hosted by a facilitator or line manager.

When Does 360° Feedback Work Well?

360° feedback doesn’t work in every organisation or industry. It can be even more administratively challenging than traditional manager feedback without the right software, and it requires a level of constructive honesty and openness (to give and receive feedback) that won’t apply everywhere. There are naturally some situations where it works particularly well, whether done at a certain point in time or used as part of continuous improvement cultures. These include:

  • Senior manager and leader development – in these roles, feedback from more senior and more junior team members becomes particularly important. There is also likely to be greater financial investment in their development, making 360° feedback more viable
  • Before and after development programmes – at these critical points in an employee’s career, being able to get a more rounded view of where an individual is succeeding and where there is room for improvement can help them focus their training needs and get more out of the programme
  • End of project feedback – in an organisation with clearly defined start and end dates for projects, 360° feedback can be gathered in a really timely fashion at the end of each project, from all stakeholders
  • End of probation feedback – as an employee approaches their probationary review, this is a good opportunity to gather feedback from the entire spectrum of people they work with. As it’s still early in their time with the organisation, any behaviours and approaches won’t be fully cemented yet, giving the feedback a good chance of correcting any behaviour that doesn’t fit your culture

360° feedback typically works best in culturally mature organisations where values and expected behaviours are clear and there is a high level of trust. Anonymity and confidentiality need to be carefully managed to ensure that feedback given is geniune and respectful. It also needs the internal or external customers and clients to be invested in the organisation, otherwise they are unlikely to engage with the process. Most importantly, it only works where all the stakeholders involved have proper visibility of the individual’s work. If the employee very rarely works with particular customer or client for example, the process may be better off without their input.

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Tool Like SurveyOptic to Roll Out 360° Feedback?

One of the immediate advantages of an online survey tool is confidentiality and anonymity. It’s entirely possible to set the system up in a way where it’s impossible to tell who has submitted what feedback about the recipient. That of course has positive and negative consequences, but in a culture where feedback is given in the right way, this can enable more honest feedback, for example where a more junior member of staff has valid feedback but is concerned about raising it given the natural complexities of their position.

You can also reduce any bias from interviewers by delivering the survey online. One of the alternative ways to collect 360° feedback is by having an interviewer call all relevant respondents in order to collect their feedback. They’re likely to have some flexibility in probing topics that come up and this flexibility opens them up to all sorts of issues, from simply consciously or subconsciously following threads they want to, or falling foul of confirmation bias by ‘hearing’ comments that confirm their current thoughts and ‘missing’ comments that refute their current thoughts. Delivering a survey online means the questions are more likely to be standardised, with analysis done automatically, reducing any potential for human bias to unfairly shape the feedback.

The other advantage of using an online tool like SurveyOptic is that reports can be created instantaneously, without the need for a human to sit and compile the results. This could be quantitative analysis or it could be thematic analysis of more qualitative questions like ‘How would you describe working with …’. With this analysis, it is possible to deliver reports to the end recipient through the platform, further streamlining the process, and reducing admin.

There are some other administrative advantages too when using an online survey tool for 360° feedback. For example, it’s incredibly quick to provide individualised survey links relating to each person receiving 360° feedback. Individualised survey links aren’t always quick and easy to do with online survey platforms, either because pricing is based on the number of surveys live which would add up very quickly if you’re running 360° feedback on hundreds of employees, or because it requires the survey administrator to duplicate a survey and rephrase for each feedback recipient. Unlike other tools, this is something we can do really quickly and easily within SurveyOptic because we automate the workflows with our integrated email sending, you can also send out invite emails directly from the platform, and schedule follow-ups to ensure the response rate is as high as possible and that emails are sent to the right individuals.

Overall, delivering 360° feedback through an online survey can save both time and money, whilst reducing some of the issues like bias. It doesn’t solve every problem, for example, on its own, there is limited opportunity to probe respondents’ answers, which can give an incomplete picture of the feedback subject, or risk misinterpretation of the feedback given. Some online surveys typically focus more on quantitative questions which are of course valuable, but can lead recipients to focus on their ‘score’ more than the actual feedback, and potentially miss out on collecting some rich qualitative feedback about recipients. This isn’t a limitation of surveys, but is a design issue.

The Keys to a Successful 360° process

An online 360° feedback process can be a great way to collect feedback about team members, when done right. Here are our top tips for designing a positive, effective online 360° feedback survey process:

  • Clear and open communication is critical to any survey project. It’s even more important in a 360° feedback process. You need to be communicate strongly with those receiving feedback so they understand how the feedback has been collected, whose feedback was gathered, and what’s going to be done with the feedback e.g. inputted to the performance appraisal process. On the other side of the process, you need to communicate clearly with those providing feedback so they understand how their feedback is being treated with regards to anonymity/confidentiality and what they can expect will happen with their feedback once it’s been shared with the recipient
  • Provide advice on what good feedback looks like. This could be with a PDF or web link in the actual survey, or even providing some webinars in the lead up to a launch date. Open text questions are really important for gathering detailed feedback about people, but it’s only helpful when it’s good feedback, and that means supporting people to provide good feedback
  • Relate the questions to your organisational success factors and culture. It’s encouraging to see companies using standardised question sets to ensure questions are well designed and possibly even comparable with external benchmarks. However, your organisation has its own culture, with its own expected and acceptable ways of working. It’s really important that you capture how someone’s behaviour compares to the expectations set in your organisation
  • Combine quantitative and qualitative question types to ensure you capture as complete an image as possible of the person’s performance. You can achieve this by asking a set of quantitative questions on a particular topic such as leadership, with a Likert response scale, and then end the section with an open text question along the lines of ‘Is there any other feedback you’d like to give on the topic of leadership?’ or ‘Are there any other leadership strengths this person has?’
  • Use a facilitator to interpret and feed back the report. It’s entirely possible to design a feedback report with reflective questions and introductory messages to help someone self-reflect on their feedback. However, it can be incredibly valuable for someone to be guided through that process by a professional facilitator who can help the individual take the relevant feedback, challenge them if necessary, and create an action plan based on the entirety of the feedback and not just the areas they want to deal with

If you are new to the progress, or are not acheiving the impact you would like to see, then opt for a fully managed service with a company like SurveyOptic, or employ an external survey design agency, so they can use their expertise with survey design to help you build a strong question set, that can be used year-to-year, in order to successfully gather respondent feedback.

Reflecting on 360’s

A 360° feedback survey is a great way to gather feedback from the full range of stakeholders who work with an individual. It’s not a magic bullet, but it can overcome many of the criticisms of traditional performance review processes and even a 360° feedback interviews. It’s entirely possible to use it with all employees, but there are certain situations when it works particularly well, for example with more senior team members or colleagues beginning a development programme. Overall, a well designed 360° feedback survey is a fantastic tool for HR teams and individuals in assessing and developing their skills. With SurveyOptic, you’re able to design and administer your own 360° feedback surveys, or if you need a helping hand, our team can support you in designing an effective survey. For a demo on the platform, you can book online and a member of the team will show you around.