Employers that dump their 360-degree and similar feedback programs to concentrate on other issues during the economic downturn risk losing their talent and putting a dent in their succession plans, according to Chandler Macleod Consulting's executive GM, David Reynolds.
"This is the time you need your best talent," Reynolds told HR Daily.
A 360-degree feedback program, he says, is an invaluable tool for identifying and improving employee competencies and developing future leaders - and, ultimately, improving customer service.
Just over a year ago, Reynolds warned that although an increasing number of Australian organisations were using some form of 360-degree or multi-rater feedback process, most were falling short of realising its value.
In some cases, he said at the time, imprudent use of the process was wreaking havoc on individual and organisational morale.
He says that over the last 12 months the number of organisations using the tool has continued to grow - although he remains "unconvinced" it is being used effectively - but that growth has now been stymied by the downturn.
"A number of organisations have put such things on hold," Reynolds says. However, smart employers are still "looking to maintain their talent stream".
Through a well-designed and carefully implemented 360-degree feedback process, he says, employers can strengthen their:
talent management strategy, by identifying strengths and areas for improvement and contributing to annual performance reviews;
succession plan, by assessing leadership capability and potential. How people are perceived by their leaders, peers and subordinates is an invaluable tool for determining an individual's leadership capacity and the areas he or she needs to develop;
organisation culture, by identifying, supporting and reinforcing desired values and behaviour.
The DOs and DON'Ts
Reynolds outlines a number of DOs and DON'Ts for developing an effective 360-degree feedback process and ensuring return on investment.
Employers, he says, should:
narrow the scope of the process by determining at the outset the behavioural changes or values needed to support the business strategy;
provide training to those giving, receiving and facilitating feedback, including advice on how to be objective and constructive and how best to accept and use input. It must be clear that feedback is a "tool for encouraging discussion", as opposed to a device for making "black and white" decisions;
employ an independent party to make sense of results and to accurately interpret "messages" embedded in the data;
be wary of peer feedback, as it often proves less reliable or useful than subordinate or management feedback. Peer feedback must be evaluated in the context of what is happening in the workplace at the time, and not necessarily taken at face value; and
implement development plans to ensure that staff act on feedback results, and provide the necessary support and resources to allow them to do so. Utilise feedback to "map careers".
Employers, Reynolds says, should not:
rely too heavily on generic 360-degree tools and competency frameworks. They probably won't align with the business's unique needs, and they won't give the company an advantage over competitors using the same tools;
use the same questionnaire for both development planning and appraisal assessments, as employees tend to approach the two with very different mindsets;
use the process as a conflict resolution tool, because results "cannot be presumed to be true";
bombard respondents with lengthy, convoluted reports on the results. Keep reports focused and user-friendly;
wait a year to undertake 360-degree feedback again. Conduct a shortened version within one or two months to see if behaviour change is on track; and
underestimate the importance of taking the time and care to develop a strategically conceptualised program, and of ensuring that senior management is involved from the outset.
Flight Centre has been using 360-degree leadership evaluations on and off for more than a decade, says its executive GM of peopleworks, Michael Murphy.
"We design our [feedback] questions so that they reflect our unique structure, lean management layers and performance-based culture," he says. "We find that online survey responses combined with verbal one-on-one feedback through direct reports and peers is the best form of leadership feedback."
The feedback is used to identify and improve individual leadership skills and to establish "common areas for leadership development".
Feedback comments are often powerful and personal, Murphy says, but workplace division is averted by concentrating on the "underlying themes".
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