The Way I See It... 360-Degree Profiling - Is it Still Effective?

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Alan Rands, CEO of HRworkbench, looks at why 360-degree profiles don't always deliver the results they promise.

Around 16 years ago, I first experienced the power of 360-degree profiling in raising self-awareness of exhibited behaviour in the workplace. This was a quantum leap in thinking about performance. At last we dared to ask the people around us, not just our own manager, how they viewed our performance in a variety of areas.

In the early years there were raging successes, and dismal failures. The shame is that there are still many dismal failures all these years later. The failures were all about inappropriate process, the method of implementation, the timing, the motive, and the “after sales care” in what to do after the 360-degree profile was on the table.

One of the biggest problems is the use of this valuable tool is the belief that it is a panacea, a solution in its own right. This belief will lead straight down the path of disaster.

The 360-degree profiling process should include:
* Agreement on why the 360-degree profiling process is to be used. Is it awareness, part of a development intervention, as a component of salary review, as a contributor to a succession planning process?
* Determining what the job needs in terms of behaviours, or competence.
* Development of a profiling questionnaire to measure those behaviours, or competencies.
* An analysis of the current organisational climate to ensure that the questionnaire both measures what it should and does not raise concerns about improper usage of the results.
* Engagement of the person being profiled, and the raters, to ensure that the expectations for gathering quality data are set.
* Deployment of the questionnaire to gather both qualitative and quantitative data.
* Pre-feedback preparation of the individuals to be subjected to feedback to put them into a positive frame of mind so that they are looking for solutions, not automatically going into a defensive position.
* Presentation of the data in a format that the individual can readily understand.
* Provision of individual feedback sessions with a skilled facilitator to ensure engagement and assist the individual to identify with the scores and supporting data. They need to be assisted to identify examples of behaviours, things they do that they exhibit in the workplace that would lead their raters to score them the way they have done.
* The individual needs to construct a full development plan based on the results of the feedback, and their analysis of their own behaviours that may need modification.
* The individual needs to share the content of their development plan to create a commitment to delivering change.
* The development plan needs to be implemented by the individual.
* The individual needs to be encouraged to seek immediate feedback from those around them to ensure that the changes they trying to make, are visible, and are in line with the expectations of others.
* There needs to be a second, and third, measurement based on the same criteria at intervals of not less that six months but not more than 12 months.

Follow the process and the results will be positive.

In their shoes
Think about a manager in the workplace who really does want to be the best at what they do. Put yourself inside their mind for a while and consider this scenario:

The HR department announces it is doing a 360-degree profile on all managers. The measures are published and the process begins. The manager sees this as an opportunity to improve, through analysing the feedback and trying to change the way they work.

They are very motivated by the fact that they have the opportunity to “improve their performance” and embrace the process enthusiastically. After the feedback sessions, there is no more engagement from the HR department for 12 months, then an announcement is made: “We are doing a 360 degree profile on all managers.”

The measures are published, and they are different from last year. The HR department’s view this as “an improvement” to the process.

The manager is left wondering. They wonder whether the work they did last year trying to improve, actually worked. There is no way of comparing this year’s results with last year. The measures are different. Were my efforts of last year a waste of time?

Faith
Issues like these cut right to the heart of the success rate of implementing 360 degree profiling processes.

After two or three attempts at the process where the measures shift, the manager will lose faith in the process because they cannot “get a consistent handle” on whether the effort they are expensing is actually showing up on the measures. Are the perceptions of the raters changing based on the changes they are making to what they do?

Measurement is most effective when the measures are well researched, and applied consistently over time. If we are really serious about performance in the workplace, we must give people consistent measures on which to base their judgements.

The fact that the measures are changed is usually justified by statements like “our environment is always changing”. What is really happening is that “we got the first measures wrong”, or “we are not serious about performance, just need to be doing exciting things”.

Give people a real chance to gauge their performance, and their attempts to improve that performance by developing and agreeing consistent measures that can be assessed over time to give valid comparison.

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