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Many of you reading this article have heard of or participated in a 360 Degree Leadership Assessment and Feedback project. If you are a Human Resources professional, then you and your colleagues have likely considered this as a viable assessment and performance-management tool. The 360 Degree Assessments are regarded by most global business leaders as the most effective employee-assessment method, especially for leaders and senior managers. Although this method has already gained Western traction and has replaced other “old-fashioned” assessment techniques, wider acceptance across Arab organizations in the public sector will take some time.
This article discusses an Abu Dhabi public-sector client organization which has adopted the 360 Degree Assessment method. Because this was the organization’s first 360 feedback project, upper management decided to call the project the “360 Degree Assessment and Development Project.”
The first objective of this 360 Degree Management Assessment is on an individual level. For the individual, the process provides managers and leaders with unique perspectives of their competencies and skills as perceived by their peers, subordinates, managers and self-assessment. This data allows individuals to design a personal-development plan to address areas for improvement as highlighted through the assessment.
The second objective is to improve overall organizational performance. As an organization’s leaders develop their abilities to work, manage and lead, the performance and attitudes of corresponding workgroups should improve. Therefore, the entire organization benefits when individuals improve.
To address participants’ potential anxieties about the project, a careful communication strategy was implemented to assure participants that project results were to be used strictly for individual development. That is, project results will not be equated with performance management or affect promotions, bonuses and career opportunities. Employees were also encouraged to be honest with their feedback by ensuring all feedback was anonymous and untraceable.
A participation-oriented approach was employed during the project to guide the client and 360 feedback participants through each phase in a smooth, collaborative manner.
First, a leadership-competency framework was designed with the support of subject-matter experts within the client organization. The framework was based on the Abu Dhabi Government’s Leadership Competency Framework, which is managed by the General Secretarial of the Executive Council following its transfer from the Department of Civil Services. Three leadership-competency profiles were created based on the target proficiency and skills required at each level; these were titled Executive Director, Division Director and Section Head. Next, the e-360 tool being used was programmed with the three competency profiles, and profiles were created for each of the participants (managers). Finally, raters were added from three groups: Direct Managers, peers (same level) and subordinates.
This 360 Degree Feedback Project involved the unique component of one-on-one interviews with our assessors while conducting the Manager’s Self-Assessment. This approach was implemented to break any potential cultural obstacles by explaining the process and benefits of the 360 Degree approach with the participants, encouraging them to be more comfortable, open and honest in conducting their self-assessment. At the same time, the e-360 system was launched to allow the participant’s colleagues (raters) sufficient time to provide their feedback. Raters scored the participants on a set of approximately 55 skills including 10 main competency areas such as Leadership, Communication, Strategic Thinking, Decision Making and Problem Solving.
After all feedback had been submitted through the system, our team was ready to make sense of the results. A deliverable in the form of an Individual 360 Degree Feedback Report was submitted to the participant (manager). This report included overall assessment results, results by competency, leader’s strengths, areas of development, open-ended comments by raters and personal-development advice. Each manager then sat down with a certified 360 Feedback Provider to review his or her results. This process helped the participant understand the different ratings and supported him or her in interpreting results by highlighting important factors for consideration. Factors included: the number of raters for each category and how this affected scores (i.e. more raters leading to more objective results), personal biases and politics that may affect raters’ objectivity and the differences between rater types.
This feedback session strives to examine Development Needs, which highlight the lowest-rated skills. It provides the basis for designing a comprehensive and beneficial Individual Development Plan. Through communication with the client, a high-impact plan can be agreed upon and endorsed by the Training and Development team for planning and execution.
The second key deliverable offered through this project was the Organizational Leadership Report. In this report, our team collated all data across the different business sectors and sub-units. We also tabulated the results by Profile Type, isolating results for each of the three groups (Executive Directors, Division Directors and Section Heads). This report highlights the macro-development needs at an organizational level. It was interesting to note that each organizational unit and/or profile type (management level) demonstrated different development needs. Such insights are useful for an organization’s training and development planning for group courses and programs that focus on the specific needs of each business unit and/or profile type.
Among the many critical success factors involved in this project, overcoming cultural sensitivities and negative perceptions were of the utmost importance. Being assessed by one’s subordinates is not an easy concept, especially for Arabs, as we tend to take things personally. A carefully designed communications and change-management strategy is crucial for the successful implementation and acceptance of a 360 Degree Feedback project, especially in the public sector. We would advise anyone launching this project to carefully design the right messages to put all participants and raters at ease. Employees must feel comfortable and valued to provide honest and open feedback, which is the main project objective and is the only way to ensure useful, objective employee assessments.
A variety of e360 systems are currently available on the market. If you wish to purchase one of these systems, be sure to choose one that allows customization. Stick to your organization’s competency framework and ensure that you link your 360 outputs to other organizational processes, such as training and development planning, performance management, succession planning and organizational-design processes.