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360-Degree Evaluations

To grow personally and professionally, we need an accurate picture of our strengths and weaknesses. But how well do any of us know ourselves? That's when a well-implemented 360-degree evaluation can be constructive.

In a ¿360,¿ four to eight individuals who work with you give you feedback on your job performance. The group will typically include your boss and a selection of peers, subordinates and, sometimes, customers.
Organizations use these popular, though often controversial, feedback programs to improve employee performance. The controversy surrounds the purpose of the programs and the inconsistent way they can be conducted. When done right, a 360 can be a useful career-development tool. Done wrong -- or for the wrong reason -- a 360 may cause lasting fear and anxiety among employees and create an atmosphere of distrust in the organization.

What to Watch For

Not all 360s are created equal. How you respond to your 360 and how you evaluate others could well depend on the following:
  • Purpose: The 360 should be implemented as a performance-improvement and career-development tool only. For instance, data gathered in a 360 conducted as part of an annual salary review or in any other way that's not developmental can be used against you, such as to support a termination. If you find yourself in this situation, you and your colleagues will likely rate each other less constructively.
  • Anonymity: Comments in your 360 should be anonymous. If they're not, the raters may not have felt free to say what they wanted. On the other hand, if you're giving feedback, you will need to balance being constructive with caution. Remember, you still have to work with these people tomorrow.
  • Confidentiality: Data gathered in your 360 should be shared between you and the one person in the organization charged with helping you create a developmental plan. Without confidentiality, evaluators may provide less-genuine feedback and those being evaluated may not take the process as seriously. Depending on where you work, you may be able to request confidentiality.
  • Follow-up: A well-implemented 360 program will assign a trained 360 coach to help you understand your feedback and develop an action plan based on it. This is a wonderful opportunity, so take advantage of it. If this support is not available, ask your manager to help you work out a plan. Without organized, constructive follow-up, the process can leave a trail of bad feelings and cynicism as well as undermine your confidence.
How to Benefit from a 360-Degree Evaluation

If your turn in the 360-degree hot seat is coming up, how can you get the most from the experience? Here are some tips:
  • Ask for Honest Feedback: If you are serious about your development and the 360 has been implemented properly, consider asking trusted team members to be as honest as possible when they evaluate you. Reassure them that you won't hold anything they say against them.
  • Don't Negate the Negative: The best feedback honestly highlights what you are doing well and what you need to improve. In this context, negative feedback is a good thing. Without it, the process is useless. Therefore, don't be defensive.
  • Determine the Validity of the Information: While you should be open to negative feedback, do a gut check on the comments that don't feel right to you. Because some evaluators may have less working knowledge of you than others, their comments may reflect an inaccurate picture. Others may use the 360 to push their own agendas. Consider asking a trusted colleague if he thinks the feedback you're questioning is accurate.
  • Take Action: The data you'll receive will fall into three categories: things you can change, things you can't change and things you could change with difficulty and at personal cost. Don't worry as much about the things that are only marginally related to your career. Focus instead on those that may kill your chances for advancement if you don't improve them. Invest the time to develop a realistic action plan to address those areas that are essential to your career success.
With a clearer picture of your performance that a well-implemented 360 delivers, you are in a stronger position to take action on your career development.

[Ian Christie founded BoldCareer.com to help individuals build bold, fulfilling careers and help organizations attract, develop and retain talent. A career coach, consultant, three-time entrepreneur, former senior director at Monster and former retained executive search consultant, Ian Christie is an expert in the fields of careers and recruitment. He believes career management is a central theme to both personal and organizational effectiveness. BoldCareer.com offers career services to companies and individuals as well as free career resources.]

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