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The Big Picture

by Ricci Shryock
Local companies are looking to 360-degree reviews as a more accurate gauge of employee performance.

Although Susan Rowand has been a human resources administration assistant at Protocall Staffing in Cherry Hill for 10 years, this year was different.

When it came time for employee reviews, this year her company took a different approach: considering input from supervisors, peers and subordinates.

“I have been reviewed in the past, but this one was different, because I do work for several different people, so it wasn’t just input from my direct supervisor, but all the people I work for,” Rowand says. “I work in the human resources department, and I am also the assistant to the president and I help out with some of the other owners of the company, so that was nice because you get to see what their opinion of your work is.”

There’s a term in the HR glossary for what Rowand experienced: a 360-degree review. And it’s becoming an increasingly popular practice among companies looking to obtain a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of an employee’s performance and overall impact on the company. More than 90 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies have already brought such a multi-source review process into practice according to the International Personnel Management Association, but for smaller businesses it’s a relatively new addition to the management arsenal.

Carol Asselta, a managing partner at AKziom Consulting in Newfield, Gloucester County, and an adjunct professor of performance management at Burlington County College, says 360-degree reviews allow managers to collect feedback that might not otherwise have access to. “It enables the individual and/or their supervisor to understand how various groups—such as subordinates, co-workers, superiors, customers, vendors—see them,” she explains.

As head of Protocall’s human resources department, Lisa Warech says her company decided to instigate 360-degree feedback in order to get a broader picture of what employees were doing within the business. “You’re able to get a different perspective,” she says. “I’m finding we get a lot better quality reviews, and I think it’s much more fair.”

The process varies from place to place, but in general, the employee will suggest anywhere from six to 12 colleagues, supervisors, clients and subordinates who know his or her work well enough to offer feedback. Respondents anonymously offer feedback via a questionnaire covering a broad range of metrics, and results are then analyzed and summarized in a report. Employee and manager review the report together, then formulate a plan to implement any required improvements.

Asselta says it’s well worth the effort, noting that the 360-degree review can “uncover hidden issues that have an effect on the business and other employees.”

She gives the example of a manager who always exceeds or meets his performance goals and is given a high performance rating, but who “leaves dead bodies in his path, as he does not care or focus on [his] impact on others or teamwork. Although meeting his goals helps the business, his behaviors may have a very negative impact and cost as employees decide to leave the company or cannot meet their goals due to his actions,” she says.

A review based on the worker’s ability to meet quotas would have missed this behavior, whereas a 360-degree review would be certain to catch it.

Deborah Daleus, who has been an accounting supervisor with Protocall Staffing for nearly 10 years, says that it can also help a manager better understand the demands on a given worker.

“One of the employees I had done it for, I had seen what she does on a daily basis, but then when I got input from other people, I saw examples of how that person was going above and beyond, and things that I was not seeing,” she says. “In some instances the individuals do more than you’re giving them credit for. I found it to be a lot more informative.”

Rowand says that, in her case, it was an opportunity for her supervisor to understand the full scope of her responsibilities, including additional work she undertakes for one of the company’s owners.

Lynn Irving, human resources manager at Robert Michael Communications, Inc., also says that 360-degree reviews, which her company implemented last year, can provide a powerful motivational tool as well as surprising insights. “Anything that [colleagues feel a worker is] doing really well, they can be aware of that, and continue or improve upon on it. Or there maybe some things they need to improve upon that they didn’t realize,” Irving says.

She said that Robert Michael Communications has 38 employees, but she thinks 360-degree reviews are a good fit for any size of business. However, it is important to administer such a program with ample care. Irving’s company purchased a software program that allows colleagues to submit their feedback anonymously, a key factor in the success of the initiative.

“Because it’s candid and anonymous, there are comments you might not normally get from the performance review,” she says. And she’s found that, so far, no one has taken advantage of the anonymity to advance grudges or unfair gripes.

“The most important thing,” she adds, “is a good design, an implementation process and strong sponsorship from senior management.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 9 (September, 2011).
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