360 degree reviews: the art is in the implementation
Recently, a robust organization doing serious humanitarian work contacted me to figure out why their 360 degree review process wasn’t working so well. They said management’s reviews of their reports were one or two sentences, woefully incomprehensive and incomplete. Since reviews were deficient in content and structure, corresponding salary increases and promotion decisions were feeling a little arbitrary.
Additionally, the process of being reviewed by colleagues at all levels caused friction inside the organization making it harder to do the important work they needed to be doing out in the world.
When the issue began to impact those they were trying to help, they knew they needed help.
There are thousands of articles detailing the benefits in business of a 360 degree annual review process. Performance reviews composed of a collaboration of feedback from supervisors, reports, stakeholders, colleagues, etc. is found to be so effective that a near 85% of Fortune 500 companies implement the process. Though the assessment tool has its share of hazards to navigate, it has been around a long time, implemented by organizations small and large, and from personal experience, the best places I’ve worked have all used the tool.
The organization I was working with had a thoughtful and thorough 360 review form, and an excellent competency matrix. In my experience, they’d left no stone unturned vis-a-vis review materials. A little more digging revealed that the organization’s sophisticated founders had researched the 360 review and implemented it as a requirement; but that management had never been trained in how to effectively carry out the process, nor had employees been coached on how to receive the feedback, and what expectations would be thereafter.
In thinking over my experiences with the process, I distinctly remember the 360 review working best when it was implemented along with a healthy dose of coaching and training, as opposed to HR Departments dropping the process in the organization’s lap with little to no instruction.
The 360 degree review takes time, thought, and effort to integrate into a non profit’s culture. Without the proper support for the process, at best, the tool will be ineffective; at worst, it can cause fissures, and become an obstacle to fulfilling an organization’s mission.
While the 360 degree review is designed to measure skills, the act of reviewing is also a skill.
If you are a nonprofit with a formal review structure you are doing something really good; if it isn’t working as well for you as you’d hoped, my bet is that with some thoughtful implementation aids, you will be doing it even better.