So you’ve finally pulled together your 360 degree feedback framework: you’ve built your customised questionnaire, ratings scales and reporting templates, and you’ve had the go-ahead from the budget holder to get started! All you need to do now is pick a start date, a finish date, press the big red ‘GO’ button, and all will be well. Right? Wrong!
What’s the issue?
A big issue in implementing 360 degree feedback is often that the level of engagement with the process, by both participants and their respondents, can be lower than expected. We’ve often found that even in organisations where people are champing at the bit to get going on their 360s, the response rate can be effected by many unforeseen factors.
Why does it matter?
There are good reasons why it’s preferable to get a high rate of response in a 360 appraisal.
- Leaders and managers get more rich and varied feedback from more colleagues and have more information to work with
- Participants feel that their colleagues want to get involved and help them
- There is more team and organisational data which makes it more meaningful and useful
- More engagement with the feedback process, means a more positive attitude to feedback and the activities the 360 review supports
Why do participants not always engage?
First, participants (those receiving feedback) need to complete a Self-review. This is a key element of the 360 and important as it provides the participant with an indication of the gaps between his perceptions of his own behaviours and those of his colleagues. We find that in most organisations, there is usually a group of participants, around 5% of the total, who do not complete a Self review.
When we investigated this group, we found that the most common reason was that there was either a practical reason for this (for example, they had been off sick or had signed off the development programme without notifying their manager). Alternatively, non-engagement turned out to be indicative of a deeper underlying issue with that individual: a problem with their relationship with their manager, some tension with their colleagues…Certainly if there is no obvious reason why they have not logged in to complete a Self-review, or have not requested feedback from their colleagues, it is worth having a conversation with the individual to find out if there are any deeper issues that may need to be resolved.
A low response rate from participants can also stem from the wrong messages being sent to the participants too – or no message at all. It is always surprising how much work organisations put into the design of 360 Degree Feedback, only to undo all their good work with unclear or insufficient briefing in advance of the 360 process.
For all participants, there must be crystal clear communication about the purpose and the outcome of the 360 exercise, not just an outline of the process. Even for the most enlightened and self-aware of people, the prospect of assessing one’s own skills objectively, asking work colleagues for feedback, and finding some new and unexpected insights can be challenging enough. But not being clear on how feedback will be used may make them even more apprehensive . They will be asking themselves ‘will this be just for me, or will my manager see it? And if my manager sees it, could it affect my appraisal, my promotion, my bonus? And what if my feedback scores are less favourable than those of my colleagues? Will that effect my career?’. Therefore, you should take as much time, using as many different media and communication channels as possible, to properly brief participants.
It’s also critical to be clear about who they should who they should ask for feedback from: what working relationships, including customers or not, from how long ago: up to a year ago? In the past 6 months? Or only people you’ve worked with on a specific project? And how many people should you ask?
Why might respondents be reluctant to get involved?
Some organisations spend little or no time briefing the people who will be asked for feedback (respondents). In a busy workplace, it seems less of a priority, after all, surely all they have to do is answer a simple questionnaire? Second, how can we brief people if the respondents are being chosen by the participants, and where in theory anyone in the organisation could be a respondent?
In answer to the first question, respondents are not all able, or confident enough, to give good feedback to their colleagues. Although it seems simple, giving ratings and commentary on a colleague can be difficult for some people, and they can struggle with the tension between honest feedback and the right language in which to express it. Therefore some simple guidelines on how to make observations, give ratings and provide honest feedback in a constructive way, will help respondents a great deal.
People who may be asked to give feedback need to be briefed too. They are not simply filling out a questionnaire about a nameless person, or even the organisation. In 360, they are being asked to rate and comment on someone who may be a friend, a boss, a team-mate, that is someone with whom they have a relationship of some kind. They need to know if their feedback could affect the participant positively or otherwise by this process. So there will be an element of emotional risk involved, even for respondents. It’s therefore important to think about how to brief respondents and potential respondents.
So how to do this? Well, some of our clients brief respondents individually before they start the feedback process. This does take a lot of time and effort, but if does dramatically raise the rate of engagement and completion.
Where this is impractical, we recommend that a ‘respondents’ 360 guidance pack is created. This is a pack of information that answers the questions that respondents would ask. It should be delivered personally to respondents, in settings such as team meetings, rather than by email. This gives them the opportunity to interact with their manager and team to understand the 360 more fully, and to cover any concerns they may have. This does require a good understanding of the materials by the presenter.
Another option that we have provided some clients with is to include some short, embedded videos in the respondents’ emails that give them hints and tips on giving feedback. This is the most effective way of briefing larger numbers of respondents, ensuring a consistent and clear message is going to them.
More common communications such as newsletters, learning portals and emails can of course be used to reinforce the 360 messages before and during the process. Personal endorsement of the 360, and strong encouragement from leaders and influencers also has a positive effect on engagement with the 360.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
To get a high response rate, you should be prepared to monitor progress regularly during the process, and to intervene one to one if necessary. Most 360 degree feedback systems and tools provide a facility for regular reminder emails to be sent (but only to people who haven’t completed – bulk emails to people who have actually completed the feedback are extremely annoying!).
Regular follow up and chasing during the 360 process is essential
However, no matter how thoroughly you prepare, there will always be a small proportion (5-10%) who will need to be contacted personally to encourage completion of the feedback, especially if they are in line manager roles where their feedback is critical.
With good briefing, clear communications and proactive encouragement, you can achieve high rates of completion and engagement for your 360 programme – although 100% is pretty ambitious! The key is that participants have a positive experience and more rich and meaningful feedback to help them develop. There is also the need for quality feedback, as well as quantity, which we’ll cover in another blog.