Multi-rater or 360-degree assessment is a type of assessment that provides a 360-degree perspective for the person being assessed. The perspectives typically included are: self, managers, peers, direct reports, and others (often customers, for example). Feedback is collected from all of these perspectives regarding a person’s effectiveness related to various competencies and behaviors. All of this information is collated into a report that gives a person a 360-degree view of how others perceive their effectiveness in the competencies and behaviors assessed.
In the business world, 360 assessment was introduced in the 1950s, by The Esso Research and Engineering Group (now ExxonMobil). Later, Jack Welsh, then the CEO of General Electric, was one of the first to use 360s for appraisals, in which he used the results to justify firing the bottom 10% of workers in every feedback cycle. Since then, the application of 360s has evolved from Jack Welch’s streamlining process to more of a focus on development. Companies of all sizes moved on to use feedback to help employees identify and leverage their strengths and work on improving their development areas.
Today, while it is difficult to know the exact numbers, most large companies do use 360 assessment in some way. Often, it is for the purpose of individual development. When this is the case, there are a number of best practices. These include:
- Build the 360 based on the company’s own competency framework if it has one - If the company has it’s own competency framework, build the 360 based on this framework. This ensures that the assessment and feedback is as relevant to the organization as possible, helps to align individuals in the organization around its important competencies and behavior, and uses language that resonates with the organization. If the company does not have it’s own competency framework, then using 360 assessments built around well-researched frameworks will provide many powerful outcomes as well.
- Identify process for before, during and after a 360 assessment - Have processes in place for prior to, during, and after the feedback reports are completed. Identify steps to support launching a 360, supporting a group when they are completing a 360, and transforming insight into action once 360 feedback is received. The processes do not have to be complex, but should be clear and identified early.
- Make sure that there is strong communication and training that goes along with the rollout of a 360 assessment process - For example, people who will be completing the process need to understand how to choose the best raters. They will also need help understanding how to read and interpret the 360 assessment feedback. Human Resource Business Partners (HRBPs) will often need to go through training to help facilitate the process of reading and interpreting a 360 assessment feedback report.
- Provide people with assistance in reading and understanding their individual feedback reports - Sometimes this is done through group sessions in which a facilitator goes through a sample report and teaches the group how to read and interpret it, including how to identify important themes and translate the feedback into development action plans.
- Consider external coaches for one-on-one feedback/coaching sessions with senior leaders - Often, for senior leaders, companies will enlist external coaches for a one-on-one feedback/coaching session with each leader. There may be one session or several. To assist the leader in putting together strong development action plans and following through on those plans, more than a single meeting is needed.
- Pay special attention to the process that should happen after 360 feedback is received - For example, once a person receives their feedback, is there a standard development plan they should use to translate their insight into action? How does the manager work with the person on this? What resources do people have to help them develop their plans (e.g., suggestions for development)? Often, companies pay more attention to the launch of a 360 assessment than what happens afterwards, and this approach really minimizes the possible positive impact and outcomes associated with a 360 process.
- Provide guidance, support, and resources to help a person and their manager stay engaged in development discussions after a 360 assessment is completed. For example, the company might have a guide that prompts the timing, content, and flow of development discussions. The company may prompt individuals to upload development action plans into the system of record or Learning Management system, and let employees know that these plans are referred to in performance and succession-related meetings.
- Implement a follow-up 360 assessment - Another way to help a person and their manager stay engaged in development discussions is by implementing a second 360 measure at a later time to assess if improvement is being noticed by others. Sometimes, companies do this by using the same 360 assessment at Time 1 and then at Time 2, and incorporate a comparison measure. Other times, companies use a streamlined 360 in which a person targets a small number of behaviors that they have been working on improving. This streamlined 360 goes to the same raters as the original 360 and generally collects ratings of improvement noticed. This streamlined 360 method is a quick way to get feedback for a person.
- Prepare leaders for having strong development discussions and continuing to engage employees - Understand that many leaders feel at a loss when it comes to helping the people on their team go from the insight they gain through a 360 to action related to development and growth. Leaders need communication, training, and support in terms of learning how to have strong ongoing development discussions and continuing to engage employees.
- Understand the many other ways that 360 assessments can be used, even when the primary purpose for the company may be individual development – More information on the other purposes for using 360 assessments is provided in the following section.
Purposes of Using 360 Assessments Beyond Individual Development
- Access and apply group-level and organizational-level data for group and organizational development – If the company uses 360 assessments for individual development, they have the opportunity (when there is enough data) to pool all of the data for group and organization-wide aggregate reports. This is something a company should always do, if they have the option. It provides for identifying competency, skill, and behavioral patterns and trends across the organization or within and across organizational groups (such as functions or geographies). These trends can be used in training needs analysis to support learning and development efforts needed across the organization or in specific areas of the organization. The trends can also provide information about general organizational effectiveness dimensions, such as skills or styles.
- Facilitate business transformations and organizational alignment - If a company is making a major strategic shift, or if engaged in a merger or acquisition, 360 assessments help the organization to: reinforce the competencies, skills and behaviors that are important to it; align employees and leaders in their understanding of this; and determine themes from aggregate comparison data on the competencies, skills and behaviors that require development in various areas of an organization or across two merging organizations.
- Demonstrate the organization’s commitment to learning and development - If the organization promotes broad employee and leader development through well-rounded and holistic views of your people, a 360-degree assessment tool is a first step in uncovering what a learning path should include. A comprehensive development program will shape your organization’s leadership.
- Reinforce a culture of continuous improvement - If your organization is working to constantly evolve and improve, aggregate 360 assessments results are useful to gauging progress over time. The data can help determine if and how much strategic competencies have improved. A key benefit of the 360 assessment process is the ability to continually measure the organization’s capabilities and target your development initiatives.
- Demonstrate that development is important for all levels, including C-suite – Organizations often implement 360 assessments, but do not include C-suite leaders in the process or EVP level leaders in this process. This is a mistake and missed opportunity. C-suite leaders need feedback and ongoing means of assessment as much as, and even more than, other leaders and employees. There is more at stake so leaders at this level should want this type of feedback. It can be an opportunity to get feedback from direct reports and peers, but also from very important stakeholder groups such as customers and board members.
- Contribute to a positive employer brand – An organization’s brand is very evident and transparent in today’s world in which top talent can access all sorts of information about a company online. If a company espouses to care about employee growth and development, the practices the organization has in place should support and facilitate this, including assessment practices.
- Uncover insights about organizational dynamics - 360 assessments reveal more than competency levels and gaps. For example, certain 360 assessments ask managers and selves to rate the importance of all of the competencies. Aggregate reports will reveal the ranking of competencies by managers and by selves, allowing organizations to understand if managers are sending the right and consistent messages and if employees are receiving these messages consistently.
- Support succession management processes – When used carefully and based on clear principles and oversight, 360 degree assessment results can contribute important information to succession management processes. 360 results can help to clarify the strengths and development needs of employees and leaders and contribute to strong action plans to develop talent in the succession pools.
- Help to keep employees engaged – Especially in today’s challenging pandemic and remote environment situations, it is important to let employees know that the company values them and cares about their engagement and development, and provides opportunities to help employees grow their skillsets.
- Combat the attrition of top talent – The talent marketplace has changed, and today, top talent has many employment options and expectations of top employers. Top talent expects employers to give them opportunities and options to grow.
Any company not using 360 assessments for individual development should further consider the benefits realized from this process. Companies using 360 assessment for individual development should ensure they are attending to best practices in doing so. They should also understand all of the objectives that can be accomplished in implementing a 360 assessment process that go beyond individual development and prioritizes those that are most important to the company.
360 assessments are individual-level assessments, but also have the power to be used as group/team and organizational assessments. This is a power that should not be underestimated, and should certainly be leveraged.