How to design a 360-degree review system

How to design a 360-degree review system

By Jeremy Pollack4 minute Read

Conducting performance reviews tend to be part of a leader’s job description. But how often do managers task their employees with reviewing leadership? How likely are companies to administer workplace culture assessments and take meaningful action as a result? For most companies, the answer to both of these questions is probably “not very often.”

A satisfying workplace culture correlates with employee retention, productivity, and innovation. That’s why it’s a surprise that more companies don’t make a complete 360-degree culture review process one of their regular practices. Here are some tips on how to design a system that will actually help your company.

1. Assessment

Workplace surveys are standard practices for most companies—at least large enough to have internal human resources departments. Surveys can be a great source of easy-to-collect, quantitative data, but a 360-degree process should be a deep dive into the culture and include a qualitative component as well. This is why individual interviews are a critical piece.

Who: Leaders shouldn’t be the ones conducting one-on-one interviews. First of all, most don’t have the time, and employees will rarely be revealing or open with their boss about what he or she could improve. It’s best to have someone like an HR manager do the interview, provided that employees trust them.

How: In addition to the interviewer having a generally good rapport with employees, the interview should be confidential without any report or recording. Instead, you should only record aggregate data to identify themes that you can use in the assessment process.

What: Interview questions should assess at least three areas: coworkers, leaders, and the culture in general. You want to get an idea of what, if any, challenges people are regularly experiencing and any areas that you can improve. Often, people will be hesitant to “talk badly” about their leadership for fear of retribution, even when the conversation is confidential. So, ask questions like: “If you had to choose at least one thing your supervisor could improve on, what would it be?” Or, “If you had to choose, what are two or three undesirable challenges you experience here at work?”

2. Presentation

When it comes to workplace culture assessments, there is almost nothing more frustrating to employees than taking the time to go through a survey, only not to hear anything else. Unfortunately, this happens at so many companies. This is why it is critical to present the findings of the assessment process to the entire team.

Who: Leadership must present the findings of the assessments. It’s especially powerful for employees to watch a leader review the results of his own review process and identify areas that they can improve. To witness this act of humility and courage for the greater good also shows strength, openness, adaptability, and confidence, which are the traits that make genuinely great leaders.

How: The presentation could either be a roundtable talk, perhaps with printouts for everyone, or presented in a PowerPoint. Regardless of the method, you should present the results to the whole team together. This helps remind everyone that you are a unit, that the company cares about everyone, and that leadership is willing to face necessary changes in real time.

What: To present the results of a culture assessment, you might choose to create a bullet-pointed list of some of the major themes or findings. You could begin with where the company seems to be doing well and move into where it is facing challenges. Balance these, so you have both the positive and the “negative.” However, make sure that you frame it as an opportunity—a chance to capitalize on the positive and improve on the problem areas.

3. Action plan

Once you’ve conducted the survey, make sure to create an action plan. If you don’t plan to present the findings and take action, why bother surveying folks in the first place?

Who: Those who are in a position of power to implement change in the company should be the ones to spearhead this change, but you must also involve the entire team in the process. Workers feel a sense of control over their work environments when they feel like they have a say in how the company should run. When you have your employees’ buy-in, it becomes easier to implement change.

How: You can start the planning process in an open discussion, or if you’re part of a larger team, perhaps leadership can facilitate the conversation with an opportunity for feedback and suggestions. For much larger organizations, you can even administer a survey with some open-ended questions. These surveys could present prospective actions and goals for change and allow employees to comment on each element of the plan.

What: An action plan should have goals that outline how the company plans to execute the changes that the assessment recommended. These goals should be broken down into actionable, measurable steps that are likely to result ultimately in achieving those goals. The plan should also indicate a timeline for each of these steps and goals—how long will it take to make these changes realistically. Finally, don’t forget to establish a protocol for updates and accountability. How will the company communicate the steps they took and the goals they achieved? And who (i.e. which leaders) will be responsible for which objectives, and how will employees hold them accountable?

Leaders who take the initiative on administering a 360-degree culture review process exemplify servant leadership and even transformational leadership. They make the needs of their workforce a priority and understand the importance of a healthy work environment. They know that the well-being of their team is crucial to a company’s success. They are unafraid to self-reflect and improve and are unafraid of change. Like flexible leaders, flexible companies that change and adapt typically outperform and outlast those that don’t.

Jeremy Pollack is the founder of Pollack Peacebuilding and an anthropologist and conflict-resolution consultant in Silicon Valley. 

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