Don’t Fear the 360-Degree Assessment

April 10, 2018

If you’ve spent any time in corporate America, you’ve probably heard of the 360-degree assessment.

If the phrase brings to mind an episode of The Office, let’s set the record straight. In the right hands, no one should fear a 360-degree assessment. In fact, you should embrace it.

It’s the most commonly administered psychometric test for professional and leadership development. But the 360 is frequently misused and misunderstood. Many incorrectly associate the 360 with a performance evaluation, which is why they don’t respond positively to the news they’re about to be “tested.”

You may have heard stories from colleagues who’ve been personally involved in assessments that were mismanaged, produced no lasting results, or even led to someone leaving the company. But with the right preparation, 360-degree assessments can provide valuable insights that help individuals and groups push forward to what’s next.

If you’re looking for a way to bring fresh energy and direction to your team, these tips can help you get the most out of 360 assessments.

Who Is Assessed and How?

The name 360-degree refers to its scope.

The supervisor of the person being assessed is involved, but so are colleagues and subordinates, as well as customers and other contacts outside the organization. Hence, the test yields a 360-degree view of the individual.

360-degree assessments are most useful when administered to a group, not just an individual or select members of a team. As a team assessment, it’s clear the goal is to help the team collaborate better, not to find fault with one or two individuals. And the shared experience can make a group more cohesive by improving collaboration and honest communication.

Since teams always know more about each member’s performance than a supervisor ever could, coworkers become more accountable to each other. As each person evaluates his or her colleagues, knowing they’re also being evaluated should minimize any petty competitiveness.

A 360-degree assessment of an individual alone can be beneficial, but it’s not ideal in a corporate setting. Anyone who feels singled out is unlikely to be receptive to the findings. One of the method’s greatest strengths is the way it depersonalizes feedback that might be hard to hear.

Those filling out the assessment’s feedback comments should remain anonymous and should number between 15-20 raters for each person being evaluated. That’s enough people to produce meaningful results while obscuring the source of any observation.

It’s critically important that the assessment is conducted by a certified external facilitator, never by the individual’s direct supervisor or someone too close to the team.

Is Assessment Just Performance Evaluation with a Different Name?

The 360-degree assessments and performance appraisals are designed to produce completely different outcomes.

The 360 is part of a process of leadership development and change management that ideally never ends. Performance evaluations are usually comparisons of an employee’s achievements to a set of numerical goals at a specific point in time, and they are often tied to compensation or opportunities for growth.

Can a 360 Have a Negative Effect?

Improperly administered, the 360-degree can negatively affect job performance. Some people can’t accept the gap between their self-image and others’ perceptions.

Employees are more likely to be demoralized by assessments when managers try to use them like evaluations and connect them to compensation.

What Will the Assessment Produce?

Don’t forget that 360-degree assessments are designed to identify and reinforce areas of strong performance as well as bring attention to areas that need improvement. Good managers are able to capitalize on employees’ strengths and manage their weaknesses. And since our individual capacity for change is limited by human nature, managers are wise to create situations that maximize individual strengths and improve or mitigate weaknesses.

That’s not an argument against the method, though. Incremental change by all of the members of a group can have an exponentially positive effect on the organization as a whole.

Summary: A Full View

By combining information from supervisors, colleagues, peers, direct reports, and external contacts, the 360-degree assessment offers a unique perspective. To make the most of its results, managers must ensure that everyone involved understands its purpose.

  • It is designed to be administered to groups to improve collective performance.
  • It should never be used to supplement or substitute for performance evaluations, as they have different objectives.
  • Any type of psychometric assessment, including the 360, should be paired with an International Coaching Federation-trained or certified coach. People with development plans need support during their change journey.
  • As supervisors, respondents, and subjects prepare to participate in 360-degree assessments, it’s unlikely they will need to be reminded that a primary goal is identifying weaknesses and enhancing collective performance. But remind them that the assessment is also meant to illuminate individual strengths that contribute to group success.

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