360-degree input: The most effective way of assessing employee effectiveness

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on September 4, 2019

As CEO, how do you determine whether the individuals who report to you are
effective with the people they deal with? Have you ever been concerned about the
people reporting to your direct reports? Some individuals manage up very well, but
their peers and subordinates may find them untrustworthy or very difficult to work

A major responsibility of every boss is to assess the performance of the individuals
who report to them and provide feedback on strengths and areas for improvement.
This includes boards providing feedback to CEOs.

A more complete picture of an employee’s performance

The best way to understand how a direct report performs is to obtain 360-degree
input from the people they deal with. A 360-degree anonymous input process can
provide a more complete picture of an employee’s performance. Information is
collected by interviewing the employee’s direct reports and peers to get a sense of
their effectiveness and how well the employee works with others in the organization.
Interviews can be conducted by the individual’s boss or by an outside firm,
depending on the culture of the company.

In my role as a coach and counselor, I am periodically told of leaders within
organizations who are ineffective at what they do, lack the trust of those they deal
with or are tyrants. Those who deal with these people question why the ineffective
individuals remain in their roles or aren’t given feedback to improve. They ask, why
don’t their bosses know about how poorly they are viewed by the organization and if
they know, why don’t they do anything about it?

I often hear frustration from those who I coach and counsel about their bosses who
are terrible leaders. Because that individual’s boss may not be aware of how
ineffective these direct reports are, I would add an additional feature to the 360-
degree interview process.

Ask how effective their leaders are in their roles

360-degree interviewees should be asked if they would like to share anything about
the effectiveness of any of the direct reports of the individual under review. This
would help alleviate frustration because there would be a way to make their views
known about the ineffectiveness of that direct report.

In a perfect world, this should not be necessary. In the real world, it only indicates
the degree to which tyrants and those who do not engender trust are tolerated. The
employee hotline to the audit committee of the board is a way to report a tyrant if
senior management takes no action. In some cases, it’s the CEO who is a tyrant or
does not engender trust of the organization. If the CEO is not coached to improve
their style, it reflects poorly on the board. When the company starts losing good
employees to competitors, perhaps the board will take action.

From personal experience, 360 degree feedback was the most valuable performance feedback

My personal experience working for a tyrant was prior to the introduction of
whistleblower hotlines and the 360-degree input process. I was promoted to be the
tyrant’s peer, and then promoted to be his boss. He continued to create an atmosphere
of fear and intimidation, so I fired him. While working for the tyrant, I was very
close to leaving the company. Had I left, the company would have been deprived of a
future CEO.

As chief operating officer of PQ Corporation, I introduced the practice of 360-degree
assessments to the organization. When I became CEO, I asked my board to conduct
annual 360-degree assessments of me. It was the most valuable performance
feedback I have received during my business career.

What to do if the process is politicalized?

There are those who believe that the results of the 360-degree input process should
only be shared with the employee as a developmental tool. Even if an outside firm
conducts the interviews, I believe the boss should also receive the report to
understand how the employee is interacting with their direct reports and their peers.
The 360-degree process can be politicalized, and feedback could be tainted.
Inconsistent, one-off politicalized comments can be readily identified and screened

Be sure to provide performance feedback periodically to your employees. Done
properly, it is the best way to help your employees grow, develop and improve their
leadership effectiveness.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker,
advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and
corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical
engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of
the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be
reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.