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Dear Workforce How Do We Answer Questions of Unfairness With 360 Reviews?

When conducting a 360 review, is it fair to withhold which employee gets what say on the review? The manager and I have jointly identified the top eight employees who interact most with individuals. Based on their levels of interaction or reporting lines (supervisor, subordinates), we assign a weighted average to each person. Although the feedback from the reviews is positive, questions have arisen as to the fairness of this arrangement. Our office is close-knit, and we want to avoid opening up “negotiations” on this. What do you suggest we do?
September 7, 2011
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Related Topics: Career Development, Performance Appraisals, Employee Career Development, Dear Workforce
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Dear Not Negotiable:

Although it is common for companies to set up raters assigned by management, it sounds like your employees are feeling skittish about the process and may not be as ready for 360-degree feedback as you think. I suggest you listen closely to their concerns.

It seems that you may have stepped into a hornet's nest by overengineering your 360-feedback process, putting too much stock in contrived "weighted numbers" but not enough emphasis on the candor and quality of the feedback—or the buy-in of the employees and the confidentiality of the process. And while you haven't said so, it appears you might be planning to use the "weighted numbers" as the basis of the employee's performance review—a practice that raises legitimate concerns about fairness.

It also appears that, instead of hiring an outside expert who can guide you in the design and administration of your 360-feedback process, you are trying to go it alone and administer the process internally. This approach tends to dilute the quality of the feedback because people are skittish about being candid. If your office was close-knit before, your 360-feedback approach has the potential to damage that closeness by putting people on guard. I hear those hornets buzzing.

I strongly recommend that you contact a 360-feedback expert for help in designing the feedback survey and administering the process in a way that helps you salvage the group's morale.

In general, when you are considering introducing 360-feedback to your organization, you should keep in mind the following best practices:

Prepare your organization carefully for 360. Be clear about why you are introducing the 360 feedback. Set reasonable goals for the assessment process and communicate them. Assess the readiness of your group beforehand and honor their concerns. Because trust is an essential ingredient in 360-feedback programs, be cautious to avoid doing anything that damages trust; take all the steps you can to enhance a sense of confidence.

Construct survey items carefully. Consider your goals for using 360, and keep the survey focused on them. Don't try to achieve more than is reasonable.

Protect confidentiality. To dispel any doubts about the wall of privacy around the survey data, outsource administration of the survey.

Separate pay and personnel decisions from development feedback. There's much to be gained from candid feedback from a development standpoint. Don't compromise your results by using the ratings for pay decisions.

Use skilled coach facilitators. Don't underestimate the value of outside professionals when it comes to helping participants interpret the feedback and apply the insights.

Provide support for development activities. Getting the 360-feedback reports is just the start. Once people know what they need to address, be sure you provide them with training or ongoing development experiences to build new strengths and minimize weaknesses.

SOURCE: Patsy Svare, managing director, Chatfield Group, Northbrook, Illinois

LEARN MORE: Please read "When Should Organizations Use 360-Degree Feedback?" for additional information.

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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