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Turning around the 360 review

The 360 review has been a key tool for most HR professionals for the past three decades. Article by Sandy Rogers, Chief Scientist at people analytics company Saberr.

It was born out of a newfound belief in the 1990s that workers would be happier and more productive if they were empowered. The logic behind the 360 review is hard to dispute: who better to say how employees are doing then the employees themselves? First-hand accounts of the merits and misdemeanors of managers from their subordinates and vice versa should paint a complete picture of the health of any business’s workforce. From an individual’s standpoint, the clearest view of oneself is to combine one’s own perceptions with the shrewd diagnosis of others. The question today is: are the people who know us still the best source of shrewd diagnosis? Anecdotal evidence is a poor substitute for hard, empirical facts. Up until very recently, collecting and analysing data on the productivity, morale and skill of workers was generally a laborious, intrusive and uneven endeavour. However the average person now leaves behind a deep, largely subconscious, and largely unbiased digital footprint. Both individuals and HR professionals should be looking at putting this data stream to use in transcending the traditional inputs for 360 review.

Tracking tools are becoming a growing part of everyone’s life. Pretty much everything we do in our personal or professional lives can be measured. You can keep track of the number of steps you’ve taken on any given day via a FitBit or Jawbone device, MoneyDashboard.com can confirm monthly transactions breakdown for specific activities such as transport, your email activity and response times can be monitored by Conspire.com and your work communication statistics and peer-recognition points can be recorded via a chat app like Slack.com.

The ubiquitous nature of tracking technology has two important implications for HR professionals. First, people are generally comfortable with the idea of having their actions recorded and analysed. In many cases, people enjoy being able to prove progress or identify problems. Second, with the amount of tracking technology increasing and improving, HR professionals can potentially bring a useful range of metrics to bear in their assessment of an employee. These two factors when combined empower a new model of 360 review – personal views on employees and cold, hard facts.

The reason this type of data-360 picture is so powerful is because the data can show correlations and causations. Every working day at Saberr, we each self-report our own happiness and productivity levels. Is there any use in knowing how productive I or my colleagues think I am? Possibly not. Subjective assessment taken in isolation can’t provide a fully accurate picture of how people work. However, knowing how many emails I've sent this morning, how many code changes I've made, how many papers I've read, how much I ate this lunch time, how far I ran last night and how many meetings I went to this morning, might tell us something, and give a much more complete, objective, and reasoned report of my productivity than several people's opinions.

Of course, more closely monitoring employees is not without its challenges. Concerns about privacy and the fear of ‘Big Brother’ often loom large when the idea is mooted of more monitoring and providing detailed feedback. This is where a trust and benefit relationship between the employee and HR function is key. In exchange for pledging some of their data footprint, the employee should expect the reward of more responsive and relevant feedback. Crucially, in this world of increased data mobility, a reluctance to exchange data is not a sign of a dishonest employee, but of a damaged trust-benefit relationship. HR professionals should go to lengths to show how the information is collected and used – a transparent process is fundamental to success.

Current 360 reviews are analogue clocks in a digital age. Reviews based almost entirely on opinion can never tell the whole story. Personal prejudices, differing opinions on working practices and a host of other factors can influence how someone provides assessment on a colleague on any given day. Collecting and analysing data removes the subjective element and creates a more accurate reflection of a company and its people. The technology is generally inexpensive and intuitive to use. It also has the capacity to reduce staff turnover, improve morale, increase productivity and save money.

Employees should now expect their company’s use of data to be as savvy as their social network’s use of data. HR professionals should expect to be as savvy with people data as finance professionals are with transaction data. This ambition requires a change in philosophy: device-generated data points are just as valid as human-rated opinions; human opinions should be captured and stored alongside, and as neatly as, other data points; and the benefits of data analytics must be shared between the business and employee, established on a foundation of data trust.

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