The Purpose of Peer Reviews in 360s
The 360 peer review is a professional feedback process that invites a group of coworkers to provide feedback about a fellow employee's job performance. It can be described as a type of appraisal that offers a unique perspective on the person’s skills, competencies, and even their personal temperament.
Similar to other types of review systems, the objective of a 360 peer review stays the same; to measure an employee’s work performance. However, this type of feedback also results in giving employees a better understanding of how their work is viewed in the total organization.
360 degree feedback is not limited to a standard rater setup, such as your direct report. Instead, it allows you to use multiple raters such as peers, supervisors, subordinates and external raters like clients or vendors, to leave feedback on an employee.
What Purpose do Peer Reviews Serve in Performance Management?
You may ask yourself “but why bother gathering all the extra data?” Put into practice by many well-known companies, 360 peer reviews can be quite useful if implemented correctly. Here’s a breakdown of how they can help:
1. Professional Growth
After bringing together the group ratings, an employee or management can identify a starting point for development of new skills. The 360 feedback is often used as a benchmark within the employee's development plan.
It can be used in addition to an annual performance review or upon request when looking to cross-train, transfer, promote, etc. Ultimately, the employee being rated discovers their potential to perform at a higher level as well as opportunities to grow professionally for future assignments.
While professional growth is most important to the employees themselves, employers are responsible for providing an environment in which employees are encouraged and supported in their growth needs. Multi-rater feedback can provide excellent information to an individual about what they can do to enhance their career.
2. Personal Development
Depending on how you coordinate 360 peer reviews, the results can often help identify personal blind spots of an employee’s behavior and the impact they might have but never notice. While the results are designed to assess broader strengths and weaknesses, they also let the employee know how his/her coworkers view the significance of their performance.
The combined reviews create a balance among all the different perspectives (instead of getting only the manager’s point of view) which gives an employee a better idea about their behavior and talent.
This new, improved perspective is valuable enough on its own, but a great 360 review will also combine the feedback with the employee’s goals in order to create a road map for self-development.
3. Team Development
A 360 peer review is an approach that can help team members work more effectively together. Understanding how others view your strengths and weaknesses not only creates an awareness of how to best work with others, but it also improves communication among team members.
Furthermore, because teams know more about how their own members are performing, a 360 peer review makes the employees more accountable to each other. They will eventually have to share the input provided on each members’ performance which is central to team development.
4. Improved Customer Service
Probably one of the most important uses for a 360 peer review, is to improve your customer service. Here, an employee receives valuable feedback about the quality of their product or service, usually in a process that involves an internal or external customer. This type of feedback is used to enhance the quality of the employee’s output and reliability of his or her service or product.
5. Performance Reviews
Lastly, 360 peer reviews come in handy during annual evaluations. This purpose is mostly administrative as the results of the feedback are used for performance management. The reviews are generally shorter and focus mostly on competence and skills for an employee's current job.
Several studies have shown that the use of 360 degree feedback has helped improve performance because the employee being reviewed gains a different perspective of their work. This makes sense because, unlike technical skills, business skills lack immediate, built-in feedback. It is difficult to know if you’re succeeding without input from other sources.
What are the Pros and Cons?
The two most popular arguments in favor of 360 peer reviews are increased self-awareness and freedom from the views of your boss.
Taking a look at the several purposes of 360, it is easy to see that one of the greatest benefits overall is an increased self-awareness. It is a perfect design for a company with a growth mindset and strong teams. With the added benefit of being valued across a larger organization, employees can really begin to take ownership of their performance, career paths, and goals.
The two most argued disadvantages are the potential for unreliable data and the focus on employee weaknesses versus strengths.
Especially in large companies, 360 survey participants responsible for providing feedback can be on completely different pages when it comes to evaluating the performance or behavior. While one rater thinks a great job is a 5, another rater could consider a great job a 4, but they both agree that the job done was “great”. This presents a challenge to the employer trying to develop performance standards.
Secondly, are the raters rating someone they’ve worked with for many years, or their brand new boss? Are they trained, knowledgeable, or experienced at rating performance? Are the reviewers venting frustration or providing inappropriate commentary? Even if such cracks are not present in the system, there might be highly specialized skills that raters do not understand. It is difficult in this scenario to gain a full picture of performance.
When it comes to highlighting an employee’s weaknesses more so than their strengths, one can easily create a negative culture. Due to the nature of 360 feedback, managers and executives are often forced to examine an employee’s weaknesses more closely than their strengths. This quickly creates a great deal of resentment on the job and it’s a downward spiral from there.
Who Benefits Most from 360 Peer Reviews?
It is clear that individual employees reap the greatest reward from a peer review undertaking. Not only does it help them to grow in different ways, it helps them to work better across the organization and with others. However, the added time and documentation required to support a survey-like assessment can require extra planning and resources.
We recommend that somewhere between 12 to 24 month intervals are most appropriate for repeating a 360-degree feedback process. This allows people to work through their development and action plans to create change.
Keep in mind that 360-degree feedback is not equally useful in all types of organizations with all types of jobs. Using this as a tool for appraisals is not always job based, and will eventually require education and training. Seeing as 360’s are extremely effective when used as a development tool, consider using it at the end of a project or if you want to provide coaching or succession planning.