Tips for Improving and Increasing Responses to your 360 Degree Feedback projects
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!
A big issue in implementing 360 degree feedback is often that the level of engagement with the process, by both participants and their raters, 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.
PARTICIPANT ENGAGEMENT IS KEY
Engaging with the Self-review
First, participants 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/her 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 one of the most common reasons was just practical one (for example, they had been off sick or had signed themselves off the development programme without notifying their manager). Alternatively, non-engagement sometimes 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, uncertainty about their career or concerns about their own performance.
Communicate on a personal level
However the main reason for non-engagement can simply be due to the wrong messages being sent to the participants from the organisation – or no message at all (in advance of the kick-off email). 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 participants, there must be crystal clear communication, from the organisation and on a personal level, 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 employees, the prospect of reflecting on one’s own skills objectively, asking work colleagues for feedback, and potentially discovering some new and unexpected insights can be challenging enough. But if someone is unclear on how the feedback will be used (‘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?), they will be reluctant and unwilling to be involved in the process - and if forced, they will engage at a very basic, tick-box level.
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 they have worked with on a specific project? And how many people should they ask?
So to summarise, to generate a high rate of response and engagement from participants (or 'ratees'), it is important to ensure that participants have the chance to complete self reviews and choose their raters, by giving the feedback process enough time, i.e. between 2 and 4 weeks. This will allow you to build in time for holidays, sickness, and heavy workloads.
360 Degree Feedback is a positive activity
As far as possible, 360 feedback participants should be involved positively in the feedback process - this means that where individuals are in toxic working relationships or actively in dispute with the organisation, they should not be included in 360. This type of exercise requires trust and goodwill on both the individual and their colleagues' sides; it should not be used to gather evidence for poor performance or to let the manager off the hook in giving difficult messages. Communicate to participants, openly and honestly, about the reasons, and the outcomes, of the 360 feedback process. Provide clear guidelines on the process, what will happen, when and how, and what the 360 system or the 360 feedback software will help them to do.
RATERS NEED TO BE ENGAGED TOO
Communicate clearly to raters and potential raters
Some organisations spend less time briefing 360 Degree Feedback raters for two reasons. First, it seems less of a priority, surely all they have to do is answer a simple questionnaire? Second, how can we brief people if the raters are being chosen by the participants, and where in theory anyone in the organisation could be a rater? In answer to the first question, raters need briefing in the same way that participants do;they’re not simply filling out a questionnaire about a nameless process or organisation…they’re being asked to rate and comment on someone who may be a friend or a boss, someone with whom they have a relationship of some kind, and which could be affected positively or otherwise by this process. So there will be an element of emotional risk involved. Additionally, their colleague’s future career could be at stake, based on the feedback they give (or at least that may be how they see it). It’s therefore important to think about how to brief raters and potential raters.So how to do this? Well, some of our clients brief raters 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, usually to almost 100%.
Provide a communications pack
Where this is impractical, we have found that a ‘raters’ 360 guidance pack is a good idea. This is a pack of information that answers the questions that raters would ask. It should be delivered personally to raters, 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 is the most effective way of briefing larger numbers of raters, ensuring a consistent and clear message goes to everyone. Do note that this does require a good understanding of the materials by the presenter. 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.
PROGRESS CHECKING AND FOLLOW-UP
Finally you should be prepared to monitor progress regularly during the process, and to intervene 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!). 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.
In conclusion, with good briefing, clear communications and proactive encouragement, you can achieve high rates of completion and engagement for your 360 Degree Feedback programme, and consequently more rich and meaningful feedback for your participants.
Everyone’s looking for a way to build a thriving and enjoyable workplace, where employees are engaged, fulfilled and committed. There isn’t one magic answer, but I believe strongly in the power of communication, and specifically, feedback.
I work with my team – alongside our client organisations – to put in place the mindsets, habits...