Many employers struggle with the risks and efficacy of employee performance evaluations. In some cases, there’s so much room for subjectivity that conflicts arise. In others, the entire process gets short shrift as supervisors are too busy to fully commit to it.

One solution that many organizations have considered is 360-degree feedback. Under this model, an employee is evaluated by not only his or her supervisor but also direct reports (if applicable) and peers — sometimes even vendors or customers. If you’ve been looking for a more expansive view of your workforce, you might want to check it out.

Limits of tradition

First, consider the limitations of the traditional supervisor-only evaluation — particularly for employees who work in teams or who have subordinates of their own. In this environment, direct supervisors often:

• Find it hard to give critical feedback to employees they’ve become close to over the years,
• Hold biases that unduly influence their assessments one way or another, and
• Don’t fully understand how colleagues, subordinates, and others may perceive the employee..

As a result, good employees may not receive the full credit they deserve for their work. Or, perhaps worse, bad employees may fly under the radar for long periods.

Cautious climb

A 360-degree feedback system can help you overcome those obstacles. The process may fill in the gaps between what a supervisor sees and what an employee does. It can reveal important interactions that either strengthen or weaken the worker’s case for a positive performance evaluation.

Undertake the climb toward 360-degree feedback carefully, however. It’s typically prudent to integrate it slowly in conjunction with an ongoing development process. For example, you may want to first use 360-feedback to only pinpoint areas where an employee might benefit from additional training. Why? Doing so allows you to gain confidence in your ability to evaluate the feedback you get from the process.

With some experience, you should be able to sidestep comments that amount to complaints from disgruntled subordinates or colleagues. Also, employees are more likely to buy into the process if they know that you’re giving it a trial run. Keep in mind, too, that people ideally need at least six months of working with a person to be able to make valid evaluations.

Pilot project

If your organization is large enough, you might consider starting off with a 360-degree-feedback pilot project in one department or division before launching the program companywide. Again, the view can be spectacular, but you’ll need to exercise patience in getting there. Give us a call for more information or additional ideas.