Before deciding to use a 360 evaluation as part of your performance management process or before choosing a 360 provider, I recommend managers and HR follow these 5 steps:

  1. Why 360?  What do you expect to happen after an individual receives his feedback?  The right answer is simple:  An effective multi-rater evaluation process begins with a 360 tool that starts a conversation about performance, not ends it. Too often, management expects the 360 evaluation to serve as a “wake-up” call.  They hope that theegocentric superstar or the underperforming employee will see the light upon getting low ratings or negative comments in writing and change their ways. That leads me to recommendation #2.
  2. Select the right assessment.  A Google search for “360 evaluation” deliver over 36 million results.  There are thousands of tools claiming to be the best. How do you choose? In the perfect world, no assessment would be needed because managers, peers, and direct reports alike would be able to offer verbal and written feedback on a continuous, unfiltered basis.  But that’s not happening nor is it likely to happen anytime soon.  The right 360 evaluation questionnaire then is one that jump starts the conversation. No 360 evaluation system should be selected that does not allow for open-ended comments in addition to whatever other system is used to rate individuals.  Without the ability of raters to offer comments, the 360 becomes no more than a report card. The best choice will depend on your culture, your sophistication, and your budget.  What is best for your organization might not be the shortest or the cheapest.  And then again it might be. 
  3. Keep it simple. 360s aren’t rocket science.  Consultants often times overcomplicate the process.  If the report is too difficult for the target and supervising manager to understand, it’s the wrong choice.  The results should be transparent.  The individual and his manager should be able to look at the report and quickly identify strengths, weaknesses, and the most critical performance challenges. If its interpretation requires ongoing support from a consultant and extensive training to deliver the results, implementation will be slow and arduous, if it ever happens at all. The best implementation of multi-rater evaluations are driven and supported internally.  A 360 evaluation system is merely the vehicle. How smooth the ride will depend on the driver and passengers.
  4. One size doesn’t fit all. The 360 evaluation system that works for senior management might not work for middle managers, supervisors, and hourly workers.  Not all systems are created equal.  When considering the right system, make sure you consider how easy the system and process will be accepted and implemented at lower levels in the organization.  360 feedback is an invaluable performance asset when implemented enterprise wide.  But most systems are designed with the senior leader in mind and then adapted for lower level managers and hourly workers. Don’t assume that what works at the top will work flow down seamlessly.
  5. Select the right partner.  This might read like a contradiction of what I said in #3 but it’s not.  The consultant or 360 provider shouldn’t be the leader who drives implementation. Most companies will require some support and guidance, especially for those organizations using 360 evaluation for the first time.  Select a 360 partner that understands your culture and is as willing to turn-key implementation as well as provide full service.  The right partner should be your eyes and ears and protective guardian.  They should provide you technical and administrative support. They should offer training and on-demand support about how to interpret reports.  But implementation of the process shouldn’t be dependent upon their hands-on, on-site involvement.

The best 360 evaluation process for your company is the one that raises awareness of individual performance and gets employees talking and behaving in a positive way. Whether it comes from single scaledual-scale, or what one group calls “semi-ipsative” evaluation models doesn’t really matter. If an employee can’t take his results, write a development plan, and work toward improving his performance without an extensive learning, the format of the report is meaningless and the process will fail under its own weight.