There is no doubt that the everyday workplace is challenging and changing. Company culture is influenced by a wide variety of new needs and expectations, all of which affect performance and profitability. Younger workers appreciate and expect relevant feedback, in lieu of or in addition to annual performance reviews. Interaction with co-workers as well as with supervisors is more personal and more demanding.
This new direction has been termed 360 degree employee feedback or, for short, the 360 review, and signals an emphasis on skills development, ongoing training and frequent, insightful evaluation as a path to better performance. Feedback also contributes to increased employee satisfaction and is touted as a way to instill loyalty, even without accompanying pay increases and more perks.
Millennials may take some credit for the changing emphasis. But, it is also viewed as a natural progression within the business community, signifying a healthy forward-looking orientation designed to stimulate growth, foster innovation, and establish a more creative, inclusionary business atmosphere.
This new way of doing business was described in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore as “the Experience Economy.” Their thoughts then were, in many ways, prescient.
Designing a 360 Employee Engagement Program
First, feedback is a necessary component of the experiential workplace. An employee survey provides the necessary framework for gathering needed information. Before allocating funds, however, or eliminating the familiar annual review in favor of 360° feedback surveys, there are some important initial steps to take:
- Clarify Your Objectives: Get a “buy in” from employees as well as from management, and be clear about what you intend to accomplish through the 360 review. Setting specific objectives is a necessary first step in defining and formulating the proper questions to ask.
- Explain the Reasoning, and State the Purpose: Both managers and line workers may be hesitant initially unless they know how the survey will affect them personally. If the 360 review will influence advancement, be up front about it.
- Use Professional Resources: Ideally, a company will seek input from many sources before embarking on this type of review. There is excellent 360° Survey Software available that can help to eliminate missteps.
- Disclose Details: Will survey responses be anonymous or attributed? Who will see the responses? How will they be compiled and used? Will comments become part of the personnel file? While there is no “right way,” it is vital that the procedure be well-defined and followed.
- Honestly Address Questions to Ensure Success: An open forum for discussion will help to alleviate stress and dispel anxiety. A final debriefing, with input from all participants, is also valuable, another way to assess the benefit of the survey and to determine whether it becomes an annual review.
While it is not necessary that an end-of-year 360 program entirely eliminate a formal review process, there is every reason to use it to expand and supplement such annual reviews. It should, ideally, provide much pertinent documentation that can be used to focus on skills development, target any potential problems, minimize personality conflict and address non-quantifiable weaknesses.
Staff development is an important ingredient of profitable operation, and 360 degree assessments are valuable tools for identifying talent and fostering employee growth and retention.
While 360 surveys have sometimes been limited to upper management, a newer trend is to expand 360 feedback resources to other levels. Younger employees, Millennials in particular, are open to this type of evaluation, and supportive of corporate efforts that offer expanded opportunities for training, mentorship and lateral learning, even for entry-level employees.
If it is meant to supplement rather than eliminate formal reviews, interactive feedback such as a 360 degree survey requires a commitment and a basic shift in perceptions. It is a transformational experience, and it will reshape the company culture.