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The Way I See It… The Secrets of Successful 360-Degree Profiling


ReflectionsThe findings of the recent global survey into 360-degree profiling conducted by HRworkbench Pty Ltd has some valuable lessons for any organisation embarking on 360-degree profiling projects.

The message of the survey is clear: organisations choosing to conduct 360-degree profiling can benefit from objective feedback, which results in performance improvement and powerful behavioural change. However, in order to do so, they need to get back to basics. In fact, the secrets of best practice have not changed since the conception of 360-degree profiling.

Creating an environment of trust, automating the process, using consistent measures, facilitating and supporting the receipt of results are the basis for any successful 360-degree project. Organisations who ignore these basic elements will find that their projects envelope large amounts of resources, with little or no return on the investment.

The first step for introducing best practice to your 360-degree projects is to create an environment that is conducive to 360-degree profiling and one where participants trust the process. Over 70% of survey respondents indicated that organisational culture was ‘critically important’ to the success of their project. This result isn’t surprising. If staff members don’t feel that their responses are truly anonymous and that the process will be used to attack, or worse still, to justify the firing of certain individuals, not only will the project receive low response rates, but the responses given are less likely to be candid and constructive – thus negating the power of 360.

To create an appropriate environment for 360, you need to market the process in advance. Explain to staff why the profiling is being conducted, the logistics of how it will work, and, most importantly, what will be done with the results. Survey results showed that respondents who market their projects are more than twice as likely to receive response rates of 80-100%, than those who don’t. Marketing your project to the appropriate staff can be as easy as holding one meeting and allowing time for questions and concerns to be raised, but its impact on the rest of the project will be long-lasting.

Equally important for the sustainability of 360-degree projects is that you do what you say you will do with the results. If you don’t do this, any amount of marketing will not improve your results the second time around.

Soliciting top-down support for your 360-degree project is also important for creating the right environment. This is more than simply having the sign-off from senior management that ‘this is a good idea’. Instead, you need to work with management to ensure that they model support for the project openly, through word and action. It’s interesting to note the correlation found between projects that were initiated by HR and non-HR functions, and reported success levels. The broader the initiator pool, the more successful the process is likely to be. The combination of good communication through marketing and top-down support will help to foster an environment, not only where staff trust the 360-degree profiling process, but also recognise its benefits.

Once the organisational culture is in place, best practice then needs to be applied in the way the project is administered. The main factors that influence the success of the administration of a 360-degree profiling project are first, the design of the questionnaire itself, and second, the data collection methods used.

When it comes to questionnaire design, the most important question to ask is, ‘are we measuring the right thing?’ There is little use in discovering that a staff member has excellent written communication skills if they only ever have face-to-face interaction with clients and other staff members. A disturbing discovering of the survey was that while the majority of participants indicated that 360-degree profiling drives changes in personal behaviour to a great extent, most only believed that 360-degree profiling was focussing attention on business outcomes to some extent. It would seem that behavioural change and business outcomes are not being as strongly linked as they could, and should, be.

In terms of questionnaire length, shorter questionnaires are preferred for higher response rates and usability of data. Remember that there is expert help out there. HR consultants can help you design effective questionnaires specific to your organisation, or suggest appropriate off-the-shelf questionnaire products.

While over 50% of organisations still use manual or semi-manual processes to collect data (e.g. pen and paper or diskette), in terms of data collection, a strong correlation was found between high response rates and automated processes. In addition, nearly 50% of organisations use manually intensive reporting, such as Excel and Word. By using online delivery of 360-degree questionnaires, automatic emailing and reminder systems, and automatic report generation, you dramatically reduce the administrative workload for your HR department, allowing them to get on with the job of translating the results into action.

The global survey showed that 85% of organisations miss the opportunity to drive behavioural change through tracking changes in behaviour over time. That is, the same questionnaire is not being repeated to compare results and identify the extent of change.

The majority of organisations surveyed do not produce any non-individual reporting that can be used for organisational development or further analysis; thereby they are failing to reap the benefit of analysing the collective results to get valuable data about overall organisation performance. Furthermore, the process of individual feedback is not being optimised, with more than one fifth of organisations failing to provide any facilitated feedback of their 360-degree profiling results.

Lastly, it is important to note that the way in which 360-degree profiling projects are acted upon in turn effects the culture of the organisation: e.g. if no tracking of behaviour occurs, the process may seem to have little to no value to staff.

Implement these elements of best practice in your next 360-degree profiling project and avail your organisation of the full benefits of 360-degree profiling. Tap into this under and misused resource and watch the performance in your organisation measurably improve.


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