Before You Launch a 360 Survey… Read This!


A word of caution here: questions about implementing 360° feedback (360 survey) are easy to ask but not so to answer. Often times, management assumes the answers but does not openly discuss them, resulting in much chaos and confusion down the road.

An Exceptional Tool for New Managers CASE STUDY:

Based in Montreal Canada, a leading software firm servicing the aerospace industry continued to struggle as it tried to find the “right” management talent for its fast growing and highly technical cadre of programmers. The organization was faced with the classic make or buy conundrum. Should it bring professional managers in from the outside or should it develop from within?

To keep up with the growth, the human resource department first brought professional managers in from the outside, only to learn that to be successful in the organization managers had to have “grown up” within the industry and more specifically, the company. The products, services and client relationships were too complex for a new, albeit capable professional, to learn the ropes in a reasonable time frame.

After a number of fits and starts the human resource team decided to look for the missing talent from within by promoting individual contributors to team leaders. These new “managers” were smart and supremely technical but few, if any, had experience managing direct reports and interfacing with senior management. To help the new managers adapt to their new role the human resource team turned to a behavioral based 360-degree feedback process.

The process allowed for increased awareness of interpersonal and relationship skills which are needed in the new job. It also opened the door for the new managers to engage in people and relationship focused discussions among some very hard-core computer jocks.

In this case, the 360-degree process turned out to be an exceptional tool to integrate new managers into their role by simultaneously teaching them about expectations while greasing the wheel for important dialogue between the manager, his/her boss and his/her direct reports.

  1. In what context are you conducting the 360° feedback?It is important to understand the larger organizational framework. Is a specific change in strategy needed? Is succession planning an emerging issue?
  2. How ready is your organization to handle 360° feedback? Often times, organizations may be willing to pay consultants to assist them in implementing such a system, but the organization needs to be prepared. At times, “soft skills” training in communication, leadership, management style, meeting management etc. is useful in preparing management. Team building activities might also be useful, as well as a general organizational climate survey to determine the context of implementation and find any additional issues beyond management style that might be a problem.
  3. Who will lead the process? Who will be the decision-making body about 360° feedback? Will it be the head of the organization or Human Resources or a cross-section of employees?
  4. Who will be involved? Which managers or employees are to be the focus of the 360° feedback, and who will provide the tool to them?
  5. Is this voluntary or mandatory? Will some employees be offered the “opportunity” to receive this feedback? Will everyone receive it, or will just management receive the feedback?
  6. How will the respondents be chosen? A big challenge lies in choosing the respondents (those who rate the 360 survey participant). In some organizations, it is a joint effort between the 360 survey participants and his/her boss while in other organizations the participant is free to choose.
  7. To what extent will the data be collected anonymously and/or confidentially? While the intent may be to keep the survey data anonymous, if written comments or interview data are also included, the data may have to be altered to avoid making obvious conclusions about who communicated what.
  8. What information will be public? At first blush, you might think that all data will be private, but does that mean that one’s own supervisor can’t see the data and the report? Will group and company averages be made public without them being broken down into individual scores?
  9. What logistics and support will be necessary to make this successful? To what extent will the data be collected electronically (via the Web or Intranet) or on paper? What administrative and technical support will be necessary?
  10. How will the 360 survey participants be supported after the assessment? Will they receive additional coaching and counseling or training? Will participants be sent on management development workshops or will they be conducted in-house?
  11. What system changes will accompany this organizational change? As stated before providing feedback on management style in and of itself can only be part of organizational change and can rarely stand on its own. As a result, one must ask how and when will 360° feedback be incorporated into the changing and improving leadership abilities?

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