There are more and more articles focussed on the new generation of graduates and school leavers entering work, often termed ‘Generation Y’ employees, and the implications on Performance Appraisals and Performance Management.
Despite making me feel very old, although falling somewhere just within the ‘Gen X’ bracket, the article did make some interesting points that highlight how a convergence of familiarity with technology coupled with a desire to have regular feedback, means that ‘Gen-Y’ers’ will expect a very different kind of management in the future.
It will become less and less acceptable to sit down at the end of the year and conduct a single ‘Annual Appraisal’; already we are seeing our clients implementing ‘Interim Reviews’, ‘Project Reviews’ and alike, which happen throughout the year.
The transition to online performance review systems will make this process infinitely more easy than a paper-based process, and employees will expect this to become the norm, especially when technology is so prevalent in other areas of their life.
Taking this further, the ability to have web-based applications accessible from anywhere, is leading our performance appraisal solutions to now offer a ‘Performance Journal’ or ‘Activity Log’ which acts as a simple open document which both an individual and their line manager can complete throughout the year.
They add activities, acheivements, thoughts, apsirations, so that when they come to complete the necessary annual appraisal form, it is no longer a chore but simply an opportunity to reflect and easily consolidate into a better representation of their work during the year.
Gen-Y’ers will help line managers re-evaluate how they should properly performance manage for organisational success.
I recently compiled this list on the basis of my experience with a few clients we have successfully supported in getting their own 360 degree feedback programme underway:
- Support the Process with Trained People
An area where I often see 360 degree feedback, and other forms of appraisal, fall over is when the process is not fully supported. The most successful are when the raters, recipients and debriefers all receive training on the role that they need to play..
- If it’s Complicated They Won’t Do It
Implementing any new process in an organisation is fundamentally a ‘change initiative’ and as such you need to take all possible steps to make the process easy for people to adopt. To overcome this, tailor the system as much as possible to the organisation, including not too many questions, wording that the user can relate to and plenty of opportunity for free-text replies. But most of all, make it self explanatory and the system very easy to use.
- The Aim is to Move Forwards – Not Just Find Out Where You Are
Always remember why you are doing a 360 degree feedback. At the end of the day, it is to use the information to develop individuals so that tangible improvements can be made to business performance.
The best way to do this is to repeat the cycle after the training, coaching or other such intervention, so that you can accurately assess the change, improvement and impact of the process.
- Follow Through
Some companies conduct 360 degree appraisals and but do nothing with the results. Success is created by reacting quickly to the training needs, publishing clear learning and development plans and, put quite simply, getting on with making improvements as soon as you have the results.
If nothing happens staff engagement will decrease next time. Do something positive and the benefit of appraisals will soon gather momentum across the whole organisation.
- Tell Everyone What’s Going On
When you introduce or move to an online 360 degree system it can raise questions in people’s minds. Why is our company deciding to do it this way? What’s changed? How’s this going to affect me personally?
Have a plan for clear, regular communication and open channels for everyone to ask their questions. It will improve the overall success and the benefits you enjoy as a business.
A brief one today pointing to Seth Godin’s recent post about filling in forms; it made me think about how when designing performance appraisal forms, we need to give careful thought as to how we lay them out online, what sections we include, what we make free text and what we make tick box or drop downs, etc.
You have an opportunity to signal what is important; if you value a meaningful conversation around someone’s career aspirations then make it a large, free text box!
I recently ran our training programme with a client, "How to conduct effective 360 degree feedback debriefs", where we train internal HR and other staff how to share a report with the recipient of 360 feedback.
Fundamentally, we see the primary aim is to ensure the recipient understands what the feedback is saying; thereafter it is necessary to get a degree of acceptance from them before helping them determine what actions they wish/need to take as a result of the is feedback i.e. Changes in day-to-day behaviours or undertaking some other focused development activity.
As a consequence of these aims, it places the ‘debriefer’ firmly in the role of someone trying to ‘explore’ the report with the recipient.
Very often I see delegates on the programme, who ask evaluative questions during the role-played debrief sessions, rather than exploratory ones:
"Do you think you are a good leader?"
"Do you feel that you should do this rather than that?"
These questions forgo the chance to review the feedback itself, which is the main aim; better questions are more inquistive in nature:
"Have you had this type of feedback before?"
"What might have prompted someone to give you this feedback, do you think?"
The latter encourage more reflection and help the individual absorb the feedback more readily.
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.
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.
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.
As we speak to many of our clients, there is very often a discussion around their current performance appraisl form and whether it if ‘fit for purpose’.
They will sometimes be unsure of the form because they feel it doesn’t capture the information they need it to and ask if we have examples of other forms to show them.
However, it is very rare that we have to provide alternative examples, because instinctively they do know what their form should contain; they just need to remind themselves of the purpose of the appraisal.
- It should review the current year objectives, because we need to ‘appraise’ performance against these objectives…did they complete the objective and to what degree?
- It should reflect on whether they were any obstacles that may have contributed to a failure to meet objectives; systems, processes, organisational factors, etc
- It should set the forthcoming year objectives, to provide clear direction going forward. These should be set against the usual criteria of being SMART where appropriate.
- It should capture the agree training & development needs for the individual; this might be structured training programmes, coaching or on-the-job mentoring.
These are 4 things a performance appraisal process or form should achieve; it may be that career aspirations, competency assessment (as with 360 degree appraisal) and an overall performance grade are also added as the form evolves.
Notwithstanding all of this, it should be remembered that the appraisal form is a means to an end, so the most important thing a performance appraisal should do is stimulate a meaningful conversation between an individual and their line manager.
I had a conversation recently with a company MD and he asked what we did; I explained about how we help organisations get feedback on individuals to help them develop and modify their behaviours through on-line 360 degree appraisal solutions.
He commented that he had already conducted a Myers Briggs (MBTI) analysis of the senior management team, citing strengths and weaknesses, so didn’t have any need to run a 360 process.
I can appreciate the comment, but it made me realise that there is still perhaps some confusion as to the place of these assessments and that of a 360 degree feedback process.
MBTI in my mind, is a great tool in providing an insight into the personality of an individual; their preferences, something of how they should interact with the world and others.
However, just because that is their designated ‘profile’, it doesn’t necessarily translate into actual behaviour; who they ‘are’ may not give us what they ‘do’.
360 degree feedback is all about what an individual does, day-to-day, and what the impact is of those behaviours and actions on those around them.
It allows an individual to see how others perceive them and make a decision as to what they wish to modify in their behaviour and what they are happy with.
So, I think personality assessments are a neat way to raise self-awareness, but nothing quite hits home the way feedback does from your colleagues, direct reports and boss.
A recent project had me very closely involved in not only the design and introduction of an online 360 degree feedback solution, but also in advising the client as to how such a system should be talked about with their employees.
We are very passionate about the fact that introducing 360 degree feedback as a process or even migrating a performance review system on-line will only succeed if you manage to communicate the benefits and allay the concerns of your staff.
Implementing these new processes constitutes a significant change for many people, and as with any change in an organisation, it has to be well managed.
That means you need to consistently, clearly and regularly communicate the change; why it is happening, how it will happen, and what the benefits are to both the individual, the line manager and the company as a whole.
As soon as you look at introducing on-line 360 degree feedback and performance appraisals in this way, you are already well on your way to having a successful launch that will ensure the organisation reaps the most from the practice.
Sometimes when we are asked to participate in a tender process for an on-line performance appraisal or 360 degree feedback solution, we usually have a list of ‘essential requirements’ and ‘desirable requirements’.
Recently, I was responding to one of these and saw to my dismay that on the list of ‘essentials’ was the need to provide a ‘Profanity Filter’ – I understand that no organisation wishes to have a 360 degree appraisal process undermined by people using bad language or writing insulting personal statements of dubious nature, but to try and have the system police that is the proverbial sledghammer to a nut.
In our experience, the use of bad language in 360 feedback is all but non-existent, and by the time you have successfully communicated the fact that a respondents comments are going to be displayed ‘verbatim’ to the intended recipient, any last chance that someone will swear or label someone inappropriately, disappears.
If there really is a fear that users will use bad language in this way, there is surely a bigger issue at hand; one that no online appraisal system can remedy.
I have just returned from a holiday and have been musing on what I think is a common scenario when meeting people abroad, or come to that in any social situation.
The opening question is often ‘And what do you do?’…..as with many people, I waiver between having a ‘Elevator Pitch’ response to hand, which is slick and short, and trying something more elaborate and descriptive.
"We are a provider of online solutions to HR departments" went one response….then "We are a leading provider of tailored on-line performance appraisal and 360 Degree Feedback systems"….they didn’t feel right…
So I thought some more, and considered the analogy of the man who goes into the hardware shop to buy a drill…..he doesn’ t want a drill, he wants to make a hole in the wall…furthermore, he doesn’t just want a hole in the wall, he wants to put a nail in the wall so he can hang a beautiful picture….
Likewise, our clients don’t want a 360 degree appraisal system….they want to get feedback on employees….furthermore, they don’t just want the feedback for the employee, they want the employee to use the feedback to have a conversation with their line manager or coach to decide what they can do differently or skills they can develop….and finally they want that development to help the organisation perform better as a whole….
So, what do we do? We help organisations perform to the best of their ability by helping them develop their people in the right way…..now that’s a picture worth painting…..
I caught sight of another recent survey which was looking at successful initiatives within organisations which were believed to boost productivity.
Training for Managers was highest on the list, closely followed by performance management - this is a theme I have seen emerge in many surveys, and again highlights the critcial role of this managerial practice as a means of ensuring employees work to the best of their ability.
As with 360 degree feedback though, doing it is one thing, doing it efficiently through the use of web-based technology is another, but doing it effectively requires a mindset whereby managers realise that good performance management isn’t just an annual review, or a form filing exercise, but rather a series of meaningful conversations with their team members that allow them to explore how they could improve, change and develop to maximise their contribution.
A recent article from the Geelong Advertiser in Australia is a prime example of where the concept of 360 degree feedback conducted inappropriately can create real problems.
As part of a team building programme, delegates were allegedly made to sit down in a circle and say what people liked and didn’t like about fellow team members; seemingly chaos ensued, tears flowed, egos were bruised and anger followed.
With the little amount of information in this report, I would still argue this isn’t really 360 degree feedback; yes, some elements suggest that it is providing feedback from a variety of sources, but the process is much more than just that.
360 feedback should centre on behaviours and their impact; not likes and dislikes as reported here.
Consideration of when feedback should be given, by whom and through what medium i.e. face-to-face, online, anonymised, etc, is critical.
Finally, having a suitable support mechanism or process in place to help an individual come away with a healthy, balanced view of their feedback which aids their development is everything.
What one doesn’t need is ‘X-Factor’ style with ‘Let me tell you what I think’ type comments.
Whatever happened here, it isn’t 360 degree feedback which should come away with a bad name.