They say that less is more. That simplicity and clarity equals good design. Well, this certainly appears true of 360 degree feedback where there’s a growing demand for shorter questionnaires and ‘always on’ feedback platforms to gather ad hoc feedback. So, what’s behind this shift and what do such programmes look like?
Business drivers behind feedback changes
A significant driver of this shift is businesses wanting to embed a strong feedback culture. Companies are waking up to the importance of employees at all levels receiving regular feedback to aid their development (and performance) on an on-going basis.
Big recent changes in the workplace such as a rise in employees working remotely or cross-functionally could be another factor. Among the implications of these changes is an increased need for employees to seek feedback from multiple sources. This is due to the fact that, in many cases, employees can’t rely solely upon a line manager who may not directly observe them day to day.
Examples of how feedback is changing
Among the companies we partner with on multi-rater feedback, a number have sought changes to feedback programmes in line with those described above. We look at the key considerations around these trends, exploring best practice, the importance of context and organisational resources in several case study examples.
Case study 1: Using a short/qualitative-based questionnaire
A specialist insurer we partner with wanted a much shorter, more concise and qualitative-based 360 questionnaire. Their employees felt that much of the value of the 360 report came from the qualitative comments so, they want to make the 360 process much simpler and quicker, whilst not compromising on quality and the value of the outputs.
In adopting such a shift though, there are a number of considerations:
Communication/employee voice: where the new questionnaire or approach has been partly driven by feedback from employees, it’s important to communicate this change back to them, so they know they’ve been heard. Employees could even be involved in the design of the new process using focus groups to devise questionnaire content or employee validation panels to sense check the questionnaire.
Content: It can be tricky to decide on what to include in a shorter questionnaire – you don’t want to miss measuring important behaviours. A simple but effective approach can be to first nail down the purpose of the 360 process and begin by asking yourself:
- Why are you running a 360 process for this population?
- What do you want to achieve through the 360 programme?
- What will success look like off the back of it?
- Which behaviours really align with the strategy and will take the business forward?
Quality of feedback: with fewer questions and a qualitative focus to the questionnaire, it’s crucial that feedback providers are clear on how to give quality written feedback. For your part, offer support on how to write meaningful and constructive feedback before the programme is launched.
Best practice: you need to ensure that all of the quantitative question items reflect single, observable behaviours, and are actionable. The qualitative questions should encourage feedback providers to give actual examples to back up their feedback.
Case study 2: Project-based feedback
A global financial services business we work with has a very matrixed organisation, which is heavily project based. They were keen to run a project-based online feedback programme. The process involved inviting all managers and heads to provide feedback on the team they’ve worked with on a project, within four weeks of it ending.
When introducing a similar feedback programme, considerations might include:
Rater fatigue: you’ll want to manage how many 360 surveys are sent out in any given period to avoid ‘survey over-load’ for employees. Systems can be set up to limit this, where required to.
Process initiation: consider how this ‘on demand’ service will fit into the existing project management cycle and who’ll be responsible for initiating the feedback process at the end of it. Communications to those involved around this are critical, particularly to avoid responsibility sitting with the HR or project team, if this isn’t a desirable option.
Data: think about how the ad hoc 360 data will feed into the appraisal process and existing reports. You’ll want to strike a balance between having the trend data over time and regular feedback, and not overloading employees with information. Establish how the ad hoc data will be presented to employees and when.
Communication and support: it’s so important you keep employees informed and provide clarity on what happens with the feedback. Consider who’ll be available to help employees digest the regular feedback, when and how. Having an aligned approach will mean that employees know what to expect and see the value in contributing their feedback.
Culture/feedback maturity: Having a strong feedback culture in place is fundamental to the success of this type of approach to achieve the necessary buy-in and uptake. If there’s a culture where employees don’t feel that they want to/can sit down with their team and talk about how projects went, it’s unlikely they’ll take the time to log onto a system to give this feedback either.
Case study 3: unsolicited feedback to leaders
The same global financial services business also runs a programme where, at any time, an employee can elect to give unsolicited upward feedback to their leaders. This isn’t linked to a specific project but can be initiated if they have worked directly with that leader or had exposure to them. Leaders receive a report on a quarterly basis allowing them to see feedback and trends over time. They can then communicate feedback themes and how they plan to act on it.
While still early days with employees getting used to the system and process, this programme is part of a bigger cultural change which feeds into leadership development.
Case study 4: ‘Always on’ feedback approach
AkzoNobel, a global manufacturing client we work with identified a need for an ‘always on’ assessment system that would better stimulate personal development and employee learning on a self-initiated basis. The functional competency assessments platform we created is accessible to 50,000 employees across 150 sites worldwide.
This has quickly become a key tool for employees to assess themselves against their current or future job roles and to inform personal development plans. It includes the option to run a self-assessment, 180-degree or 360-degree assessments, on demand. It also enables ‘push’ assessments that can be initiated by management or central teams.