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Clinton Wingrove

Pilat HR Solutions

Principal Consultant

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Assessment or not Assessment: What would the Bard make of it?


Clinton Wingrove calls upon our Bill to see whether all organisations are suited to 360 feedback tools.
Humankind has struggled with the issue of assessment since its earliest days. How do we decide who is good; who is bad; who has performed and who has demanded; who should assess and who should assess whom? There appears to be no simple solution. Yet, we yearn for one so strongly that we often jump out of the frying pan into the fire. I believe that Shakespeare himself had something to say on the subject.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
So it is with 360 Degree tools. Should they be reserved merely for development; should they be used for assessment? One camp argues that gaining a wide range of perceptions is critically important for supporting personal development and that any attempt to use such information for assessment would damage it beyond usefulness. The other camp argues that if multiple perceptions are so valuable, then they have to be used for assessment; that if, when learning how the data will be used, the providers seize the moment, then so be it – that is powerful assessment data.

Once 360 Degree tools have been used for assessment, irrespective of whether the outcome was the dream solution expected or the lingering death feared, there is no going back. There are certain corporate cultures, those that are far more used to the whips and scourges of objective measurement and feedback, where it has been proven to operate effectively; certain roles and levels in financial services (now quite used to criticism and assessment); organisations with high performance cultures (e.g., where forced ranking is used). If your organisation has these characteristics, then perhaps its use would not be considered foolhardy.

"Once 360 Degree tools have been used for assessment, irrespective of whether the outcome was the dream solution expected or the lingering death feared, there is no going back."
Working with many global organisations since 1984 with multi-rater tools, I have increasingly come to the conclusion that, while there are no perfect solutions to most people challenges, there are always some bad ones and often some good ones. And, I believe that there is a good solution to the '360 – Assessment or Not Assessment?' question. We neither need to be cowards, nor grunt and sweat to make a bad process work.
Here is a quick summary of a process that I have seen work, work well and achieve significant impact.
  1. Deploy the 360 Degree Feedback as a development tool which has management support.
  2. Deploy 50 to 75% through the annual performance cycle; far enough away from assessment but not too far*.
  3. Ensure that the content of the tool addresses the behaviours required for excellent on-job performance, couched in clear, almost vernacular, terms that people would use every day.
  4. Brief the intended recipients and the planned providers. The former need to understand the potential value to themselves – enhancing capability, guided by feedback from a wide range of informed observers is one of the easiest ways to advance in any organisation. The latter need to understand their responsibility for providing quality assessments (comprehensive, valid, reliable, differentiating, useful and defensible – this is not a cheap magazine quiz!).
  5. Enable the intended recipients of the feedback (the subjects) to choose** the feedback providers but require them each to discuss those with their immediate manager/supervisor. Advise the managers that they cannot demand for any to be removed from the list, but they should persuade (not instruct) the subject to add any they feel are needed for balance and objectivity. Keep the managers informed and feedback providers engaged.
  6. Irrespective of job role, level, experience or personal preference, facilitate the feedback the first time the person receives it. Ensure that they understand that they can ONLY work on their own relative strengths and their own relative weaknesses; that knowing relativities with others adds little value. Encourage capitalisation on strengths, honing of those behaviours falling just short; and multiple approaches to managing significant limitations (e.g., training, delegating to others, role change, damage limitation etc)
  7. Do not provide the feedback directly to the manager. If the report is substantive enough to support serious development needs diagnosis and development planning, the manager will probably not have time, patience or desire to read it. Instead, demand (yes, demand) that each feedback recipient prepares a summary and action plan, and presents these to their manager for approval and support:
    - Key learnings (strengths, limitations, different perceptions, patterns, trends, surprises)
    - Personal aspirations (performance and career)
    - Development goals
    - Planned development activities
    - Support needed; who will be involved; measures of future success.
  8. Require managers to engage in reviewing the presentations and approving and supporting the actions.
  9. Require the feedback recipients to close the loop (using a summary of the presentation to the manager) with the feedback providers – to elicit their on-going support and feedback.
  10. The quality of the appraisals at the end of the performance period will be significantly enhanced with the slings and arrows. Managers were informed mid-year and had time to reflect, investigate and act; employees were not threatened, receive feedback and had time to work on issues before the assessment.
* Those who fear that the data may be out of date clearly have no idea how likely it is that such tools will drive any significant change in the short term in more than one or two behaviors at best! These data have long shelf-lives.
** While this is counter intuitive, there is little evidence to show that this damages the feedback. Indeed, there is some empirical evidence to show that it produces higher quality of feedback due to the probable closeness of the chosen providers to the observed behaviors.
Clinton Wingrove is EVP and principal consultant at Pilat HR Solutions

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Clinton Wingrove

Principal Consultant

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