Full-circle feedback: 360-degree performance reviews

Written by Sue Bowness

When Erik Djukastein first learned about “360-degree” performance app-raisals, he was so convinced of their benefits that he immediately set the wheels in motion to conduct them in his own company. Djukastein figured this new breed of performance review might identify the trouble spots at his Victoria, B.C.-based firm, Contech Electronics, at which employee morale was low and a general malaise permeated the workday. But Djukastein didn’t stop with his 20 employees-he also included himself in the process.

Through written questionnaires, Djukastein’s managers and subordinates reviewed his performance anonymously. “It was illuminating and scary looking at the results-when your staff say you don’t follow through on your commitments, that hurts,” he says. “I was terrible at delivering so many things that a conscientious worker needs, such as regular performance reviews and wage reviews.

I had a bad habit of doing things impulsively.”

The news wasn’t all bad, though. Djukastein did learn that his staff considered him a great guy to work for, and the feedback ultimately provided him with the motivation to change.

Indeed, 360 degree reviews-whereby a worker’s performance is evaluated by peers, bosses, subordinates and even clients-are an increasingly popular way to evaluate employee performance. Unfortunately, they’re still a rarity at the top. Discovering what your staff really think of your leadership abilities and just how you impact others is an essential step in building on your strengths and improving on your weaknesses. And the pain may be worth it.

Also known as “multi-rater reviews,” 360-degree performance appraisals can help you identify your so-called blind spots, where your self-perceptions don’t match the perceptions of those around you. “It’s lonely at the top,” says Allen Hirsh, a partner with organizational consultancy Mercer Delta in Toronto. “Who is giving you honest feedback? It’s hard to find trusted advisors, so the 360 is a good way of reaching out and connecting with other people.”

Still, it’s not easy to hear what others think of you. “There was an overwhelming sensation of ‘Omigod, they see the emperor doesn’t have any clothes’,” says Djukastein. “But the good news is that it enabled me to open my eyes to things that were instrumental in changing my mental attitude.”

For starters, Djukastein invited his staff to call him on any commitments he didn’t deliver on, and he hired a coach to facilitate regular meetings with employees and help him work on his managerial skills. Today, the company is embarking on an ambitious expansion plan-and Djukastein has hired a CEO to help facilitate that growth.

Implementing a 360 program is fairly easy. You’ll want to choose an HR or consulting firm with experience in administering 360 reviews, which will create customized questionnaires (to be completed on paper or online), tally and interpret results, develop an action plan for follow-through and ensure anonymity. Items for exploration should centre around specific job competencies such as managerial skills, teamwork and communication. Typically, participants are asked to agree or disagree with descriptive statements, such as “Joe Boss provides clear direction to staff about the organization’s needs and expectations”; unstructured comments are also accommodated. Completing a survey typically takes about 30 minutes. And from start to finish, the process can take as little as a few weeks, including meetings with individual employees to discuss results.

For best effect, your evaluation should include all direct reports and those who work closely with you. The more, the better. “If the CEO has 10 direct reports, then I would want to talk to all 10,”

says Marlene Durrell, a consultant with Walmsley Group in Toronto. “Never less than four, because there would be a worry about confidentiality.”

While any leader can benefit from a 360 performance appraisals, growth-company leaders may gain the most from one, says Scott Borland, president of Cygnus Management Consultants Inc., a Toronto firm that facilitates 360 reviews: “Entrepreneurs are going so fast and furious they don’t take time to get their bearings,” says Borland. “They tend to rely on the same strengths they used as the business started.”

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com