Question: Do you think there’s value in undertaking 360 degree annual reviews? I’m always looking for new ways of increasing morale and productivity in our call centre, and having read a couple of articles recently on 360 degree reviews, I’m wondering whether they could work effectively in our business too.
I manage the HR department of a 110-seat outsourced call centre. We already have a robust annual review policy, and our team managers also engage in quarterly mini performance reviews for each of the staff. What I’m wondering, though, is whether we might get a better idea of the areas of agent dissatisfaction if they have the opportunity to review both their immediate manager and their peers as well as being reviewed themselves. Are 360 degree reviews a good way of finding out where problems exist, or can they end up creating more problems by what they uncover?
Courtesy of Barclay Rae, professional services director at Help Desk Institute (HDI) Europe
The traditional definition of 360 degree reviews was simply that, during your annual appraisal, your manager gave you the opportunity to give feedback on their style, performance and approach. In many cases this still works quite well as a way of picking up some low level issues, but is usually of no use in weeding out difficult problems – particularly if the manager is actually the problem and doesn’t know it, or is not approachable.
Let’s face it: no one is going to criticise their manager openly if there’s a problem between them anyway, and their salary is up for grabs. Technology provides the opportunity to do this properly and confidentially, and many organisations have picked this up as a good way of motivating their managers to perform effectively and ethically. It is also a good staff motivator, as each individual feels that their voice is heard and that they can have some influence in difficult situations.
360 degree reviews can work well both for the employer and the employee, but, like any of these HR-engagement schemes, they must be done properly and fairly. From experience, they should not be used for things like salary and remuneration reviews as this can be open to abuse if some people know that they have power over others’ pay increases. Rather, they are best used only for feedback on work performance.
The ideal approach is for one or more staff and peers to provide confidential feedback as input to the person’s appraisal with their boss. This gives consistency and can highlight any personal issues although, in reality, most people comment that the consistency of the feedback is always surprisingly accurate.
360s require some existing confidence and maturity in the organisations’ existing appraisal process and should really be seen as a logical extension of this rather than some faddish new approach that is landed on people. If staff do not have faith in the process itself then it will fail or will provide confusing and perhaps misleading information. There must be clear guidelines, training and support to managers on how to implement and use this system in order for a consistent and open implementation across the organisation.
Other than approach and readiness, the downside of this is simply the overhead of doing it. Many users complain about the amount of work required to compile and write up these reviews, so any system that minimises this is helpful.
Overall, my view is that 360s are a sign of real maturity in an organisation. It highlights an organisation’s determination to consistently improve its levels of success and quality, as well an ability to take practical steps to continually improve through its people. However, this needs to be done in the right context and for the right reasons, which will inevitably involve some additional work for managers.
Courtesy of Nigel Webb, head of consultancy at Procter (www.procter.co.uk)
In our experience 360 degree reviews have certainly earned some of their recent good press. Managed well, they create a more accurate view of performance than traditional one-to-one appraisals. They are therefore good at recognising and rewarding individual success, identifying challenges and creating development plans.
However, their success is entirely dependant on a high level of buy-in and resulting openness from the people taking part. This means you need to think about the culture you’re rolling them out in. Is there an existing culture of healthy discussion around performance? Is frank, two-way communication the norm?
If you can say yes, then there’s every chance that formalising the approach through 360 degree feedback will add value, drill a bit deeper and provide you with a more accurate picture of performance.
It’s hard to judge; however, from your question it sounds like this is where you have a challenge on your hands. You mention areas of agent dissatisfaction and make clear your goal is finding out where problems might exist.
Our concern is if your people aren’t comfortable sharing this kind of feedback right now, then it’s unlikely a new appraisal technique alone will change the status quo. Let’s be frank – your managers and agents should have the opportunity to, and want to, share challenges that impact on their morale and productivity without waiting for an additional annual appraisal.
It’s worth asking how close you and your senior management are to the day-to-day running of your contact centre? Can you or they walk round it, listen, observe and ask questions? If there are performance gaps, would you have the opportunity to hear about them first hand?
After all, it’s well reported that it is this kind of hands-on approach that has helped the high profile leaders of our industry achieve the high staff morale and productivity we all aspire to.
In summary, it’s true that 360 degree reviews have a proven track record of success helping HR professionals like yourself support individuals (managers in particular) to move their performance up a gear. In our experience, however, their strength is not in uncovering previously hidden causes of team dissatisfaction or low morale.
If you don’t have the right kind of open culture right now, then there’s a wealth of more appropriate, more straightforward and less risky techniques to explore that will help you to achieve it.
Of course the good news is if you do have the right culture, your management team should already know about problems. Ask for their input and you can shift your focus to finding solutions.
The following comments have been posted relating to this article:
I loved 360 degree appraisals as they would always give a better picture of how an individual was performing. It was always nice to see feedback from other members of the team, rather than just from the team leader. The challenge is that it does take more time to get this feedback and not everybody is comfortable with it. It is also often difficult to get feedback from the one thing that really matters – from customers.