The controversial 360° assessment technique was developed in the United States and Great Britain in companies that wanted to better evaluate managerial standards to help them advance. Originally, 360° focused solely on personal development. A 1999 study by Insep  indicated that around 20% of companies use this tool to evaluate the performance of their management and increase their supervisor’s salary accordingly. Under these conditions, pressure from the HRD is often decisive and the process is implemented internally, leaving the manager’s own volition to fall by the wayside.
Clarify the objectives
As with any assessment, defining the competency framework is the first step in the process. In the 360° assessment technique, the key tool is the questionnaire which will be answered by the ten observers chosen by the manager concerned, who are normally voluntary. This questionnaire is drawn up on the basis of a competency scale which is measured and specific to each company. For each aspect, the respondents must then rank a series of statements according to a scale. For example: “Vision”has a range of different observable behaviours, such as “communicates a convincing vision”.
The surveyed respondents select one of four options: “Not observed”, “observed sometimes”, “observed regularly”, “always observed”. As a general rule, a questionnaire consists of between 50 and 100 questions. Ideally, the questionnaire should not take more than 45 minutes. The questionnaire, which used to be completed on paper, is increasingly done on the Internet. A specialized firm supports and advises the company which tends to direct the questionnaires towards individual results. Indeed, incorporating quantitative criteria in the evaluation process, including behavioural aspects, seems superfluous in certain companies that favour results and the accomplishment of employee objectives. It is highly recommended to support the HR, or even the direct manager, during the assessed manager’s 360° feedback; dealing with feedback facilitates its acceptance, awareness and a desire to develop practices.
Preparing the process and the people
As mentioned, today 360° assessment is usually sponsored by the company and it is no longer a prerequisite that the employee volunteers. Similarly, some consultants now advocate acting without the seal of confidentiality. Indeed, some surveyed employees may make statements that they would not say in front of their manager.
For a successful assessment, it is necessary to ensure that the company has opted for the most appropriate tool (whether it’s anonymous or not) for the situation and the concerns of the people consulted. Preparation and communication within the HRD, and also within Management, is essential to avoid creating anxiety. The process should allow a manager to identify mistakes he had not noticed.
For this to work, respondents must give constructive advice and avoid backstabbing. The notion of a margin for error in the company’s culture is therefore decisive for a 360° assessment to run smoothly.
Optimize assessment feedback so it’s 360°
Face-to-face feedback is a crucial stage of 360° assessment. Indeed, 360-degree evaluation is based on the belief that discovering discrepancies in our judgements is a powerful catalyst for change and thus paves the way for personal development. Feedback must respect ethical aspects in order to be accepted by individuals. This involves asking the manager practical questions about the differing points of view.
A person’s level of self-awareness therefore makes it possible to measure the employee’s potential progress. All the answers to the questionnaires are returned, always anonymously, to the consulting firm, which makes a summary and ensures its confidential archiving. At the end of an appointment, the employee receives a report of about twenty pages which summarise their results. Some advanced systems include graphics in the form of radar, which at first glance, are not necessarily easier to interpret for an untrained person.
Feedback must also be carefully prepared by the company: do not send the assessment summary to the supervisor before the person involved receives their feedback. Many companies acknowledge that they have acted carelessly, causing trauma and rejection, and even ‘blame games’. Also pay attention to which aspects are communicated back; the more concrete and factual they are, the more they will help the individual become aware of how s/he operates. Judgements which are too harsh or unsubstantiated remarks made by certain assessors may discredit the approach in the eyes of the employee, as it will be difficult to challenge them.
Build an appropriate progression plan
Within three weeks of receiving the feedback, the assessed employee is invited to build a personal development plan with an internal trainer or coach. It is important to move relatively quickly so as not to weaken the connection between the results and the improvement plan.
The delicate task of adjustment
Becoming aware of one’s behaviour may have devastating effects on some employees. These are clearly the limitations of the system, which must be managed with extreme meticulousness. Without clear objectives, a trustworthy HRD, preparation and careful communication, 360 degree assessment is a risky venture because it can be a strong emotional burden.
In any case, the process is long and costly, as a company cannot manage without external help. Despite the identified risks and whatever the intended purpose, companies using this assessment technique do not wish to forgo what they unanimously believe to be a powerful lever for change.
 “360 degrees, a tool to help managers grow” by Laurence Handy, Marion Devine, Laura Heath, Insep Edition.