What were your team members doing a year ago? Did they do brilliant work? Was there room for improvement? Do they even remember the details of what they were working on a year ago? If you’re a fast-paced and dynamic workplace like Syncroness a year may be multiple projects and multiple teams of coworkers ago. Providing feedback and setting goals once a year during an annual review, on a timescale far removed from the timescale of the work being done, can be less than ideal.
The Traditional Process
Like many companies, Syncroness used to perform annual reviews where progress over the previous year was reviewed and goals were set for the coming year. But at the end of a full year of work we found that specific feedback ended up being either forgotten or out of date. The feedback that was available tended to come from a narrow subset of individuals based on what our managers could remember from infrequent interactions or second-hand coworker recollections. As a result, we missed opportunities for praise or improvement, and struggled to map long term goals to the short term tasks.
Broader and Timelier Feedback
Inspired by articles and whitepapers by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, about a year ago Syncroness instituted a new quarterly “360 degree” review process in an attempt to provide our staff with timelier feedback directly from the people who work by their side on a daily basis. Our goal was to clearly measure performance on a useful timescale, and to use the information gathered to drive, and ideally strengthen, future performance. Every quarter, we each complete a survey for every coworker we did substantial work with, and answer the following three questions.
- Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team? [On a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree]
- This person is at risk for low performance? [Yes or no]
- This person went above and beyond and should be recognized? [Yes or no]
For each applicable question, we’re encouraged to provide constructive feedback. The questions serve to measure overall performance, identify problems that may be having a negative impact on the customer or team, and assess potential to grow or be promoted. During individual review meetings, the scores and constructive feedback gathered from the surveys are shared anonymously with each of us by our supervisors, and serve as a jumping off point for a discussion about what we have done well, where we could improve, and future goals.
Because the reviews involve asking just a handful of simple questions, you can implement the 360 degree review process using commercially-available survey tools like SurveyMonkey. Like us, you’ll probably find that the hardest parts of the new process are figuring who should receive surveys for a given employee, and encouraging everyone to get their feedback submitted in a timely manner.
Does It Help?
A quarterly 360 degree review process sounds like it should be better than annual reviews. By now, you’re probably wondering if it really does help, and whether it’s worth going to the effort of up-ending your review process to implement more frequent reviews.
My experience so far is that the new 360 degree review process really is worth it. The reviews are timelier, the feedback is from a broader segment of the company, and the goals are more specific and short term. Because the reviews occur on a similar timescale as the work at Syncroness, it’s easier for the reviewers to remember useful details, and the feedback is more actionable, allowing a chance for immediate improvement within the current project.
When you implement a 360 degree review process you’ll find that it elicits feedback from the people in the best position to evaluate performance, because they work daily and directly with the coworkers they’re reviewing. You’re also likely to find that gathering the feedback through surveys gives introverted people time to provide thoughtful responses via an indirect path, which improves the odds that you’ll get feedback from those team members. Once they have the survey results in hand, your managers can set short term goals that will have immediate impact on a current project, and that will also feed into longer term goals for general improvement in your long term performance.
The ultimate goal for an engineering services company like Syncroness is to deliver a quality product to the customer. Quality begins and ends with the people doing the work. Good team members strive to continuously improve. A quarterly 360 degree review process can provide your staff with more useful, timely information through a faster, less frustrating process than annual reviews. You can more easily leverage information garnered from 360 reviews to improve individual performance. Better individual performance is good for your company, good for your customer, and good for your team members. Everybody wins.