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SUPERVISORY MANAGEMENT

360-degree assessment tools are widely used but do they help or hinder employee performance?

Supervisory ManagementSupervisory Management requires that you understand Leadership and Coaching. The first step is knowing what to coach, and then you need the skills to follow through.

Working with employees to improve their performance can make a difference. However, it’s my experience, and might be yours as well, that such efforts can fail. A 360-degree assessment is a useful tool to help you pinpoint a performance issue, but not a guarantee of success. Success or failure has to do with how you use the tool.

360-degree assessment is a tool that provides feedback from multiple colleagues

You’re in good company when you consider a 360-degree assessment. Over 33 percent of U.S. companies report using some form of 360-degree feedback, though some claim the number is closer to 90 percent. Various types of assessment techniques are available, some automated, which simplifies the process, and you may hear names such as 360-degree feedback, 360-degreee multi-rater assessment, and 36-degree tools or techniques.

The purpose of a 360 assessment is to do an employee review where several colleagues provide feedback to the employee concerning aspects of performance. Typically, the employee is in a leadership position, such as a project leader or a functional manager. Or the employee might be under consideration for a leadership position.

Studies indicate that 360-degree feedback assists in improving employee performance because it helps the person being assessed see their performance from different perspectives. On the flipside, when results could impact pay and promotion opportunities, 360 feedback can be dangerous to use and potentially destructive.

Studies show that 360-degree feedback may be indicative of future performance. After getting feedback, about 84 percent of those evaluated demonstrate some type of change. Factors affecting behavioral change include how raters are selected, manager approval, and the quality of the method. However, from personal experience, it’s also true that employees must be ready and willing to accept constructive criticism, which is not easy for any of us.

Accuracy depends somewhat on time

In my experience, and according to a recent Society for Human Resource Management article (SHRM. 2021), 360-degree assessments come with pros and some cons in addition to how useful a review might be when pay is involved, and in addition to knowing if the employee is open to constructive criticism.

Human resource professionals caution organizations to carefully consider the use of a multi-rater 360-degree feedback tool because the assessment is a tool and like any tool, how you use it will make the difference. The execution is key.

If you want to do a 360 assessment, start by reviewing the pros and cons with your HR department. Following are some general tips about the time the reviewers have known the employee being reviewed.

The accuracy of an assessment typically improves with the length of time a rater has known the assessed individual. Most practitioners regard this as the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree assessment.

The most successful assessments come when raters have known individuals for one to three years. Interestingly, assessments conducted where the rater has known the assessed less than a year are, on average, more accurate than those where the raters have known the assessed for three to five years, with the least accurate where the rater has known the assessed longer than five years. The reasoning is that one to three years is enough time to move past first impressions but not enough time for favoritism.

The most successful assessments come when raters have known individuals for one to three years. Interestingly, assessments conducted where the rater has known the assessed less than a year are, on average, more accurate than those where the raters have known the assessed for three to five years, with the least accurate where the rater has known the assessed longer than five years. The reasoning for this is one to three years is enough time to move past first impressions but not enough time to reach the stage of favoritism.

Your best chance to resolve a performance issue: use training and coaching together (but you need to know how)

It may be the case that the most effective use of a 360-assessment is when it is part of a leadership development and coaching initiative. Leadership coaches report that 360-degree feedback is most effective when focused on competencies and skills relevant to the employee’s job.

But be aware that training can increase productivity by over 20 percent, while training and coaching combined can result in over an 80 percent increase in work performance (as cited in TCS, 2017). Do send employees for training. But also step up your coaching game and use those skills to augment professional development.

Build Your Competency: Consider 360 assessments to identify what needs attention and also polish your coaching skills

    • Learn more about the use of 360-multi-rater assessments.
    • Show support and respect to others when they seek your advice about their work. If you have anything negative to say, do it in private and do not share the information with others.
    • Enhance your coaching skills by attending a workshop or course or read a book and practice what you learn. 

Leadership coaches report that 360-degree feedback is most effective when focused on needed competencies and skills. Potential factors affecting behavior change include how raters are selected, manager approval, and instrument quality. However, from personal experience, employees have to be ready and willing to accept constructive criticism which is not easy for any of us.  

Tools for Developing Employee Skills and Performance 

The Centrestar’s Leadership Competency Inventory™ (LCI) can be used as a development tool to provide ratings across many behaviors. The 35 competency assessment has been used as a 360 degree multi-rater tool for a variety of applications from coaching initiatives to an aid for selecting participants for an organization’s high-potential leadership development program. 

What To Do: Actions You Can Take Now

      • Learn more about the use of 360-multi-rater assessments.
      • Show support and respect to others when they seek your advice about their work. If you have anything negative to say, do it in private and do not share the information with others.
      • Enhance your coaching skills by attending a workshop or course or read a book and practice what you learn.

To learn more about the pros and cons of multi-rater assessments, check out: "Assess Pros and Cons of 360-Degree Performance Appraisal” by Steve Taylor, Contributor for SHRM, at: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/360degreeperformance.aspx

Centrestar, the organization I lead, offers a Leadership Competency Inventory™. You can use it as a development tool to provide ratings across many behaviors. Our 35 competency assessment has been used as a 360 degree multi-rater tool in a variety of applications from coaching to helping select participants for leadership development.

For more information, please contact me. I’d be happy to review your assessment goals and discuss how you might benefit from using the inventory in your organization.


About Dr. Wesley Donahue

dr wesley donahue centrestar online ceu hours and coursesI’m Wes Donahue, President of Centrestar, Inc. and I also lead the online graduate program in Organization Development and Change at Penn State University.

Centrestar is a training organization that helps people identify and use the 35 competencies needed to succeed in any industry or profession. Learn more about us at www.centrestar.com

For more information about the 35 competencies, see my book Building Leadership Competence: A Competency-Based Approach to Building Leadership Ability.

Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..