Get a 360 Degree Look at Your Employees: Using 360 Surveys to Develop Your People

This person…Negotiates for ways to overcome obstacles for completing work on time.
This person…Shares information openly and as early and thoroughly as possible.

Insights improve performance. 360 surveys gather feedback from multiple sources to provide individuals with a holistic account of how they are performing in their roles. Asking yourself questions like, “Do I confront difficult issues and delivers bad news early on in a professional way?” is well and good. But combining your answers with those of your leaders, direct-reports, peers, and even customers, unearths a wealth of information – actionable insights that you can leverage to grow and develop.

A 360 View

These surveys measure behavior and competencies; moreover they offer feedback on how others perceive a particular individual. Rather than focusing on objective evaluations (e.g. how many days in the last month was Joe tardy?), they concentrate on subjective areas, such as listening, interactions, planning, and teamwork.

Customizable for your organization, 360 surveys can be done for individuals at any level and include a wide range of participants. They are completely anonymous, which encourages responders to provide honest feedback.

But what practical purpose do they hold? What can they do for businesses – and when should they be used?

  • General career development. As part of a routine or annual evaluation process, 360s can help identify strengths and weaknesses. This information can be used to provide training or to develop an individual development plan.

    You might, for instance, identify leadership potential in someone and take steps to strengthen those competencies. On the other hand, you might find that someone in a leadership position lacks skills in this area and needs to develop further. Either way, it’s useful data that can further careers and improve the overall strength of your organization.

  • Targeted interventions. Someone in your organization going off the rails? Or is about to? These surveys can foster self-awareness in employees who may be getting off track from a career perspective. This way, they can receive additional training or coaching to address areas of need.

“This Person is Difficult to Work With”

In one company, a 360 survey of a manager seemed to reveal troubling information. People were leaving the organization, complaining that this person was “difficult to work with,” that she “never gave feedback”, or when she did, she was “rude or blunt.” If you’re a CEO facing this situation, you’d better start worrying. You can’t put up with a manager who drives employees away.

Fire her, right? Well, not so fast. Remember, this is a 360 survey: you have to look at all of the results. In this case, about 85% of the response was extremely positive. Only a small number of people reported that this manager was so bad she forced them from the company. But did she?

As it turned out, the manager was extraordinarily blunt. She never minced words or sugar-coated. This rubbed some people the wrong way – and those were the individuals who were, essentially, making a mountain out of a molehill.

At the same time, though, there was great value in their responses for the manager. They provided her with insight and self-awareness about how she was handling people. With some coaching, she changed her style and became more pleasant to work with. Coaching, or some sort of follow-up, is key. Otherwise you might as well use those forms to make paper airplanes. It’s about as productive.

I’m not saying that everyone who leaves an organization because of a manager is exaggerating or overreacting: in fact, there are sometimes valid reasons. In this case, though, her “difficult” personality ended up being more hype than reality.

But therein lays the value of 360s: they are designed to solicit this type of feedback. It was useful for this particular manager to realize what people thought of her and consider a change in approach. She could see areas of weakness and strength. More importantly, she was able to leverage that insight into improvement.

With the insights gathered from individuals and those within their work circles, employees at all levels – from the very top down – can improve their performance. 360 surveys provide an invaluable opportunity for growth.