The 360-degree reviews sound good, in theory. Annual performance reviews can exist as just a snapshot of an employee at a particular moment. We might catch them on a day when they’re not feeling well or are dealing with a personal crisis. Or we might be sparking anxiety over performance measures that then negatively impacts their ability to demonstrate their value to the company. Not to mention, supervisors usually conduct annual performance reviews. We all know that employees don’t always act the same way around their peers as they do around their supervisors. In order to get a meaningful picture of an employee’s performance, a better way of evaluation is necessary.
This is the gap that 360-degree reviews were designed to fill. A reference to the “full circle,” 360-degree reviews promise to offer a full picture of an individual employee’s performance by asking the employee to fill out self-assessments and allowing feedback (often anonymous) about that person’s performance at any time. This feedback can come from anyone: supervisors, peers, subordinates. In theory, 360-degree feedback addresses those problems of annual performance reviews, but it creates a host of new problems in their place. In fact, 360-degree reviews have not lived up to their promises at all. Instead of creating meaningful feedback loops, they have been chastised for wasting people’s time, causing interpersonal turmoil, and otherwise becoming a joke among employees. What’s wrong with 360-degree reviews? Let’s take a closer look.
1. They create resentment and destroy morale.
Employees are being asked to evaluate one another at all times. 360-degree review programs have essentially turned every employee member into an adversary. Just like people who aren’t doing anything wrong still feel uneasy when a security guard is tailing them in a store, good employees are going to feel unease at the notion that every move they make is being scrutinized. Instead of making the workplace more efficient, this instead makes it more hostile. Rather than encouraging what can be friendly and productive competition, these programs instead incentivize rivalries that can verge into sabotage. Promoting a little competition can be a great way to spark new ideas and productivity. However, employees need to know that they are ultimately all on the same team. Turning them against one another doesn’t promote that understanding.
2. They become sites of personal vendettas.
As Bruce Elliott, one manager overseeing a 360-degree review program explains, the anonymous nature of the feedback makes it easy to abuse. Instead of seeing constructive feedback, most of what he saw was personal in nature and motivated by a grudge.
3. They waste time.
Worse than Elliott finding out that most of the feedback he was getting from anonymous peer reviewers was personal rather than professional was the fact that he couldn’t tell that right away. Instead, he would spend time tracking patterns and getting to the bottom of complaints only to find out that they were valueless to him as a manager. He resented wasting his time in this way.
4. They require too much buy-in.
Successful review programs need to be tied to direct action from supervisors, but 360-degree review approaches are often driven by HR rather than by the direct supervisors. If employees realize that their performance results aren’t going to have any sway on the people who oversee them on a regular basis, they won’t take them seriously. They don’t put enough effort into them to make them useful. In addition, some managers may use them more than others, creating inconsistencies in performance metrics across different areas.
5. The metrics can be skewed.
Because the rating systems within 360-degree reviews aggregate the data entered by anonymous peer observers, it can be difficult to control for consistency. Raters can have vastly different ideas of what constitutes a “good” score, and a rater that’s too easy or too harsh will skew the overall data set. In addition, since some people will likely get lots of feedback from peer reviewers while others only get a few responses, it is not as useful at creating comparable data sets across or even within departments.
6. The questions are too general
In addition to the peer feedback, the 360-degree reviews involve self-evaluation surveys. They often ask employees to reflect on their own performance, strengths, and weaknesses. In theory, this is a great practice. But, the question sets for pre-designed review programs are often generic and not particularly useful at getting to the heart of the work the specific employee does within the company. Broad reflections are much less useful than specific ones.
7. They emphasize the negative.
People are more likely to give feedback about a bad experience than a positive one. This is true of everything from restaurant reviews to teacher evaluations, and it’s true of 360-degree peer reviews as well. The result is that these programs can overemphasize weaknesses. The best way to encourage growth and enthusiasm in the workplace is to let employees know where their strengths lie. You must provide the support to build them. A strengths-based approach to feedback is unlikely to develop from a negative-review based assessment strategy.
8. They are infrequent.
While the 360-degree approach is supposed to provide continuous feedback, in practice, they are often implemented on a regular schedule. Feedback is provided only a few times a year in a regimented way. This mimics many of the same problems seen in traditional annual performance reviews by capturing a snapshot rather than a full picture.
9. They become a joke.
Instead of being taken seriously as a feedback system that is holistic and meaningful, many 360-degree reviews become a joke. The employees fill out the surveys in a perfunctory way without seeing any real value to the process. An effective evaluation system must engage the people being evaluated. After all, the best systems produce improvements, and that requires real belief in their value.
10. They’re not intuitive.
A good evaluation system should intuitively fit into the culture of the workplace rather than be seen as an additional burden to the work that needs to get done. By requiring extra steps and intrusive disruptions to the normal workflow, many 360-degree reviews distract from work rather than promote it.
These 360-degree review programs sound good in theory, and they were created to address a real deficiency in traditional performance review approaches. However, today’s sophisticated technology allows us to build better, more intuitive approaches that allow employees to truly engage with the process and come out better for having done so. Don’t settle for a process that fixes some problems while creating others. Invest in an evaluation that transforms the way you deal with assessment and review altogether.