Coming at you from all sides

360-DEGREE REVIEWS

Having the boss review your work is nerve-racking enough.

How about throwing in comments from your co-workers, subordinates, and customers?

They're called 360-degree reviews or multi-rater reviews.

Companies have been using this controversial technique as a development tool for years.

Now a growing number of firms tie these reviews to annual raises and promotions.

Proponents claim that the more viewpoints, the more accurate the appraisal.

At some companies, managers review employees even though they oversee only 5 percent of their work.

But with 360-degree reviews, "you aren't left to struggle with the perceptions of a manager who may be unaware of what you really do," says Elaine Evans of human-resources consulting firm Towers Perrin in San Francisco.

Reviewers anonymously fill out a questionnaire - evaluating everything from leadership and communication to team-building skills. The company then compiles the results for the employee.

"They're very successful in certain companies," says Shelley Riebel of Michigan Business Consultants Training and Development in Armada. "They have to coincide with the culture in the organization to be effective."

Seattle-based Boeing plans a revamped 360-degree system next May that calls for as many as 25 employees to fill out a 35-question form for one worker.

The process will include everyone from executives and managers, for whom it is mandatory, on down to line workers, for whom it is voluntary. It will not replace annual one-on-one reviews with managers.

"It does take time, but we believe there's a value in giving people that input," says Nancy Rotchford, who co-chairs the team assembling the system.

But 360-degree reviews don't please everyone.

Some consultants warn that office politics can taint the results.

"I don't think it's a good idea," says Dick Grote, a performance management consultant in Dallas. What if your enemies or your biggest rival collude against you?

They can also become a popularity contest, especially if employees are allowed to pick their reviewers.

Boeing officials say they guard against such problems by having managers "review" the reviewers and screen out those considered questionable.

The process can also be unnerving, particularly for low-level employees. And managers can balk, feeling that such evaluations challenge their authority.

Ed Bancroft, a performance-management consultant at William M. Mercer in Chicago, advises a trial run, telling clients not to tie 360-degree reviews to pay during their first year.

"You need to train people and get them used to it," he says. "People are not natural raters of behavior."

FOR THE BOSS, TIPS ON GIVING A PERFORMANCE REVIEW

1. Accept your company's system and adapt it to your management style.

2. Be honest. If you give an average performer the same rating as a top performer, you demotivate the top performer.

3. Discuss your rating system openly during the year.

4. Take time to do the review.

5. Protect yourself. Document performance throughout the year.

6. Use the review as a positive tool. How can you help this employee succeed?

7. Don't make promises. It hurts morale if you can't follow through on them.

8. Follow up. If an employee needs to improve certain skills, check to see how they're doing.

9. Complete the review on time.

10. Explain to the employee how you plan to conduct the review meeting.

Source: Shelley Riebel, Michigan Business Consultants Training and Development.

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