Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

360 degree interviews, 360 degree performance reviews, and filtering out bias and the irrelevant to reach sounder conclusions

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on May 16, 2016

I began writing to this blog about 360 degree interviews as one of my early topics of discussion here, starting with:

360 Degree Interviews – the job candidate perspective, and
360 Degree Interviews – the hiring manager and HR perspective.

And I have seen these and related postings appear on a recurring basis on my administrative dashboard for this blog, as having been clicked to and presumably read and on an ongoing basis.

The basic idea behind this approach to interviewing is that if a wider range of stakeholders and potential stakeholders are brought into a job candidate evaluation process, their collective experience with the people they meet can add new levels of insight in finding the best candidate for hire. When a wider range of stakeholders can meet with and sound out a still largely unknown potential new hire, it is going to be possible to gain wider ranging insight as to how they would actually perform on the job, and with the people and types of people who they would directly work with there. This means learning more about the depth of skill and experience they actually have in the more technical side of their work. And this can also afford a hiring company a more widely sourced insight into what their top job candidates are like for their communications and interpersonal skills, and what it would be like to actually work with them day-to-day.

This type of interviewing process came into its initial use, as just indicated above, when evaluating potential new hires – potential new employees and new colleagues who were largely unknown coming into the interview process. And as just noted, this approach has become more and more standard as a means of more effectively learning about these people as possible employees and as people.

• Then businesses began turning to 360 degree interviewing for more fully evaluating potential promotions too,
• And particularly where interpersonal and communications skills are crucial to effective job performance, and where an agreed to promotion would mean expanding the range in which those skills and other soft people skills (e.g. negotiating and management skills) would be needed,
• And over a wider range of the overall table of organization.

And that more within-business shift in how this approach is used has led to 360 degree performance reviews in general, where employees who are potentially up for promotion, and employees in general who are not, are reviewed and analyzed on the basis of more open-ended input than could come from their direct supervisor alone.

• A direct supervisor is going to be in a strong position to measure performance on the basis of specific goals and stretch goals worked on, and on which of them have been achieved and how quickly and effectively. They are going to be well positioned for evaluating their own direct interactions with the people who report to them, and the work those employees have done insofar as performance achieved can be captured in standardized work completed and outcomes achieved, report form.
• But unless that supervisor directly works with a direct report and on a steady, ongoing basis and unless they directly see for themselves through that, how one of their direct reports works with others, they are unlikely to know how that employee under review has actually worked with and interacted with others – unless the quality of those interactions has so degraded as to prompt direct complaints.
• Directly eliciting input and feedback from people who an employee under review works with, on how smoothly and effectively that work goes, can help to fill in some fundamental gaps in what a busy supervisor can know about the people they have to performance review.

On the face of it this sounds like a reliably positive and generally beneficial approach, and both for performance reviews of past work experience, and for identifying areas that could be more proactively worked upon and improved. And to put this bluntly, if an employee has a choice of speaking out in frustration or irritation at a colleague who they work with, or taking a deep breath and continuing on more calmly and professionally, they are more likely to follow the later approach if they know that this is someone who their supervisor listens to during their annual performance reviews.

So I set up the 360 degree approach favorably here. But I do so while thinking through examples and situations where this approach falls far short of that idealized goal, for the results actually obtained. 360 degree interviews can derail and 360 degree performance reviews can get mired in grudges and personal agendas and other truth-obscuring complications. And this brings me to the fundamental question that I have been leading up to in this posting:

• How can a business and its managers and leaders limit the more problematical potentials of 360 degree interviewing and performance reviewing while increasing the positive value that they can gain from this basic approach?

The key to that is in how effectively people can and do communicate within this business, and how widely and openly they can do so. This is all about how actively and even proactively communications are encouraged and supported – and even required as a basic part of the corporate culture and of policy in place. 360 degree participation in interviewing and performance review processes cannot work if the corporate culture in place is oriented towards insular parochialism within silo walls, or if competition within the business creates an us-versus-them, or a me-versus-everyone else attitude.

Communication has to be open and honest, but it also has to be respectful and considered if this type of approach is to bring positive value and not just create new grounds for distrust and resentment. This type of approach is bound to fail in the wrong type of organization, with the wrong types of corporate culture and the wrong types of organizational systems, standards and expectations in place.

So think through your business and its business model and its implementation before jumping on any 360 degree review or evaluation fads or trends, to make sure that this basic approach would work for your organization as it is now. And if it would not, ask yourself if that is a warning indicator that your business might need to change.

You can find this and related postings and series at HR and Personnel and its continuation page: HR and Personnel – 2.

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