360 degree appraisal: the planning phase

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In my recent post on the 360 degree feedback process I identified that I would work my way through our standard approach to a 360 project.
The first stage is the plan.

I don’t need to run through how to manage a project or how GANTT charts work but I would like to emphasise the need for a plan.  A 360 degree appraisal project is a concerted effort over a reasonable period of time.  For organisations introducing 360 degree appraisals for the first time then it requires a significant investment in communication, training, and coordination.

I will assume that we are working with a client that is introducing a 360 degree appraisal system for the first time.  Elements of the plan are

  • Gain strategic direction on purpose and intent from senior management
  • Identify any technical requirements and alert IT departments to these requirements  as they may have lead times (not applicable for our system but may be for others)
  • Run a short workshop with all stakeholders which makes key decisions for the project (e.g. anonymity, who picks raters)
  • Develop a communication programme and plan in
  • Determine training requirements and plan in
  • Design competency framework with the strategic intent and eventual reporting in mind
  • Build the questionnaire and reporting that work with the competency framework and strategic purpose
  • Plan any administrative resources that are required and begin to fix the implementation timetable
  • Train raters and recipients directly or through communication plan
  • Start process
  • Remind / chase
  • Train debriefers
  • Debrief recipients
  • Run a review of the whole process including all parties who have been involved

We recommend that you allow a minimum of 3 weeks for people to complete feedback and that things are a lot less tense if you leave 5 weeks.

No matter what role we are playing with a client Bowland Solutions will always emphasise the need to create a simple plan of action for the project.

In my next post I will turn my attention to how you design the framework, questions, and system to meet your specific requirements.


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Performance Appraisals – Good Practice in making them work

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We recently completed a project with a client who had implemented our online performance appraisal system for the first time.

The success of the project, measured by near 100% completion rates within the given time period, was naturally due to many factors; a simple to use system interface, well designed forms that worked well online and an overseeing & dedicated administrator to maintain the momentum.

It will probably come as no surprise that it is this latter factor that still plays a very important role in the success of any appraisal process – the system cannot be expected to drive the process, it is simply there as an enabler.

It is important to communicate the benefits of the new system, to post notices through the different channels available reminding people to complete their appraisals, to offer helpdesk support, to engage with both line managers and employees alike to want to to complete the task.

As Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Man needs more to be reminded than instructed”..and I think this holds true for performance appraisals – a nudge here and there go a long way.


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360 Degree Feedback in the bigger picture

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As part of my ongoing postings with regard to 360 degree feedback and performance appraisals, I want to try and keep these practices within the wider context of ‘Talent Management’.

Much has been said around this term, and there are numerous intrepretations of what it means – not unsuprisingly, it varies from one organisation to another as they attempt to firstly define what ‘talent’ means to them, and secondly as they agree what ‘managing’ this pool of talent actually entails.

Without veering off into too much detail at this stage, two elements that we feel are essential within any talent management initiative, are that of performance appraisals and 360 degree feedback; in effect, a measure of ‘what’ someone does and ‘how’ someone does it.

These processes sit within a talent management cycle of attraction/recruitment, management, development, and retention.

Performance Appraisals and 360 degree feedback fundamentally underpin both management and development, but naturally feed into a sensible recruitment policy and retention strategies too.

Properly attended to, these core processes create a virtuous circle of better retention through higher levels of engagement as individuals feel invested in and cared for, thereby reducing attrition and offering better visibility of an organisations’s talent, leading to reduced recruitment costs as internal staff are effectively moved around and ‘up’ the hierarchy.

This is a very broad and high level view, with other benefits to be discussed, but for now it serves to simplify what has often become seen as a very complicated process.


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360 degree appraisal: the process

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We recently launched Bowland Solutions‘ new website.  Within the site we refer to our approach to 360 degree feedback.  Together with how we implement a system we draw out the stages we believe lead to a successful implementation. 

We use the graphic below

360 degree feedback process

As part of our  website it clearly has an element of a sales pitch!  It does however nicely illustrate that the 360 degree appraisal system has to be placed in a broader context. 

Over the coming weeks, I will draw out each of these phases and discuss what we see as best practice in each area.


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360 in the cold light of day

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As part of the 360 degree feedback process, there is always a ‘debrief’, the moment when ideally an external party sits down with the recipient and hands over the report for them to digest their feedback for the first time.

This is the most critical part of the process, as we have said many times before; without a clear understanding of the feedback, the ability for the person to really identify  what it is they need to change in their behaviour, is severely hampered.

This mis-understanding or missed understanding can be triggered by an emotional response to what has been said. I recently had a client being debriefed by an internal coach who was so incensed by what their Line Manager had said, that they discounted the report entirely.

It became clear that in the debrief, the atmosphere had become so charged that every comment from the line manager was attributed to a ‘poor relationship’ that existed; with the internal coach being drawn into this fruitless assessment.

However, when the internal coach read through the report again, in the cold light of day, as they say, it became clear that actually the Line Manager had been both perceptive and balanced in their feedback.

This ability to step back and have a detached view of the feedback is an essential skill for any internal coach; they cannot afford to be drawn into the emotion of the moment – consequently, we advise coaches to frame the feedback to the recipient in different ways to diffuse this emotion.

Great ways to do this might be to ask what the individual would make of the feedback if it was someone else? Or if the person giving the supposed ‘negative’ comments was their best friend?

360 degree feedback is challenging at times, but with a skilled detached debrief the true value can emerge.


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Percentages in 360 degree appraisal feedback

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Forewarned : this is a topic that bothers me more than it should.  I was reading an article on team 360 degree surveys.  Very interesting – an area we are looking at.  I then followed the link in the article to the company that was offering the service.  I looked at the report the software produced and the first table was a set of percentage “scores” for self compared to others.

You just can’t use percentages like that!

Let’s see if I can explain without becoming too nerdy.

On one competency, the “self” will have rated themselves, let’s say 4 times.  Let’s assume the rating scale was Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, Strongly Agree.  Typically we get asked to score this as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

So, if the self scores the 4 behaviours on a particular competency as Agree twice, and Strongly Agree twice then you sometimes see a “score” of 4.5.  Now, that is bad practice in itself – for reasons I’ll explain another time.  But to say they scored 90% is shocking.

Percentage is scoring out of 100.  If I score 943 out of 1000 shots, then 94.3% is accurate because it is fair to say that on balance you will get 94 and a bit goals every 100 shots.  But if I shoot 4 times and score 3 of them, it might be mathematically 75% but none of us would feel confident that if I shot another 96 times I’d score 72 more goals.  I am reminded of the mathematical oddity of saying that Jesus was betrayed by 8% of his disciples.  It just isn’t what you are supposed to use percentages for and they don’t work very well when you do.

So, what is a reasonable use of percentages.

Well, over the whole of a 360 you can reasonably say something like “The direct reports rated ‘strongly agree’ 40% of the time”.  When Bowland Solutions suggests its 360 degree appraisal reports it often recommends a table that reflects the percentage frequency of responses from each group as a handy summary.

If a 360 degree appraisal software provider is recommending to you a report that has percentages within the main body of the report – be careful.


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Forward thinking competency framework

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I mentioned in a previous post that I am working on a presentation to a client outlining the benefits of a competency framework to their organisation and discussing how to put one into practice.

They are likely to use the framework as part of their performance review process.  In ensuring that Bowland Solutions current thinking is up to date with developments I have been doing some research.

The noise in the journals is around a criticism that competency frameworks can be backward looking – they describe what the organisation has done rather than what it should do.  This isn’t new in academic literature but is beginning to show up in industry references.

The gist of the recommendations is not overly different from what we would have considered good practice anyway.  In developing your framework you should look heavily at what the company needs to do effectively in the future.  You use the organisational strategy to influence the design of the framework.  Another useful area for some companies would be to model the best performing competitors and determine which behaviours are leading to their success.

If you are going to use a competency framework in 360 degree feedback or as part of an appraisal form then it is clearly in your interest that the behaviours you are seeking are those that are going to drive your company forward.


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