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   Executive Summary

Multi-rater or 360-degree surveys of management and sales practices for identifying strengths and weaknesses in how people work with their key audience. Lakin Associates has used multi-rater feedback for nearly 15 years for manager development, team development, sales improvement, training workshops, and executive coaching.

Do you want to know how well you are doing as a manager? Ask the people you manage!

That simple idea is the premise behind what people now call "360-degree" surveys. Let the people who work for you, with you, and over you rate your performance.

You can talk theory or you can try to measure attitudes about management, but the best indicator of your effectiveness as a people manager is to ask those you manage and those who work with you: "How am I doing?" "What am I doing that is useful and what is not?"

What is "360-degree" assessment?

Obtaining ratings from people "above, below, and around" a manager led to the title "360-degree" to describe a full circle of feedback, and the term seems to have caught the fancy of many managers.

The traditional way of evaluating performance has been to ask your boss. Many results can be measured costs, revenues, scrap, turnover, inventory. Yet the individual management practices that create tomorrow's results are not assessed well by most executives. In fact, one study found the boss's estimate of a manager's effectiveness with subordinates to be wrong as often as 50% of the time!

Recently, multi-rater survey instruments help peers, subordinates, and bosses rate the effectiveness of an individual manager. Although typically used to measure manager behavior, Lakin Associates has used multi-rater instruments to assess sales representative practices through the ratings and comments of customers. Teams also use multi-rater surveys to rate either the effectiveness of the team as a whole or the effectiveness of team members within the team.

Getting the most from a multi-rater assessment.

Lakin Associates has used multi-rater instruments for more than 15 years with CEOs and managers from over 3000 companies. In the process, we have learned what is useful and what is not.

First, forget the boss's rating. It leads to misdirected energy. One of our clients refers to the multi-rater process as "270-degree" assessment to emphasize the absence of the boss rating. We believe a full 360-degree survey is a great idea in theory and a poor idea in practice.

Second, know your purpose. We never use multi-rater assessment for anything other than skill development. We do not recommend integrating such ratings into annual performance reviews or any discussion of salary.

Multi-rater assessments should be a means to an end. They should be used to help someone improve management practices which, in turn, will lead to better results that can be measured and can relate to future compensation decisions.

Also, be specific about the skills to be developed. If you want a manager to be more effective with peers, use a peer rating instrument. If the skills that need developing relate to managing subordinates, use a subordinate rating instrument. Specify the outcome and then choose your assessors.

In most cases we do not even recommend mixing peer ratings with subordinate ratings. Decide on your purpose and pick your best, most informed assessors. It is hard enough to integrate and act on feedback from one source. Mixed sources add to the complexity of the information and can risk overloading an individual. We rarely mix peer and subordinate ratings unless we are working one-on-one with the development of a specific manager and can ensure thorough understanding of all the information.

Third, guarantee confidentiality. There is always a tendency to ask "Who said this?" It must be impossible to answer such a question. A good survey instrument will indicate when raters disagree on ratings (variance), but it must never enable someone to know who said what.

Next, choose a good, valid, meaningful instrument. Asking subordinates or peers to rate a colleague is emotional. People do not take the process lightly. They may joke about it later with one another, but they are serious in their ratings. If the survey is superficial or if the results do not lead to action, then both the raters and the rated manager have been cheated. One commercially popular survey frequently used today measures "Encouraging the Heart" with six questions. Does a manager know what to do with feedback from six questions that says "You are not encouraging the heart enough"? Unless feedback is valid and provides a guide to specific improvement, it is not useful.

Finally, guarantee follow-up. Two kinds of follow-up are needed. First, the raters deserve feedback. At the very minimum, let them know the process is over and that you appreciate their participation. In other situations, it may be useful to share some or all of the results of the rating with the raters. This can lead to excellent action planning.

Follow-up plans must also be guaranteed for the rated manager. Someone, usually a boss, should be given the responsibility of reviewing the action plan. The actual survey results can remain confidential in the hands of the manager. This is a useful face-saving device. But the action plan should be subject to discussion and review. Without such follow-up action, the feedback can help a person become aware of weaknesses, but that awareness may not get translated into action. Someone is often needed to help push a manager from awareness to action.

The boss should also schedule a follow-up meeting in a few weeks or months to discuss progress. The follow-up schedule may be a good time to readminister the multi-rater instrument. The surveys used by Lakin Associates show that three-months' efforts can result in measured improvement. (At the same time, the surveys will show the painful reality of NO months' efforts, too.) The use of a multi-rater survey for manager development should be seen as a 4-6 month commitment.

Lakin Associates has used multi-rater feedback for nearly 25 years. We have used it for manager development, team development, sales improvement, and executive coaching. If you would like to order a development program or get more information on 360-degree surveys in general, contact us today.

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Last modified: July, 2015
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