360º assessment processes enable workers to assess the performance of their own colleagues, a measure that requires the transparency of the procedure, confidentiality of the information obtained and the monitoring of results.

360º assessment appears as a useful tool for regular assessment of company employees’ professional performance that provides a large volume of information relating to how employees are perceived by their colleagues in a working environment. In addition, due to its systematic nature, it can be implemented in all areas of a business, ranging from the most flexible start-ups to the highly structured financial sector.

The novelty may lie in the fact that the process differs from traditional performance appraisal systems in that it is not based on vertical appraisal (exclusive participation of an employee’s line manager), but is rather a system that includes vertical and horizontal assessment when compiling the information.

Accordingly, employees that belong to work teams, other interacting departments (such as indirect superiors) and even the external clients assigned to a worker can take part in the system. In turn, the employee assessed can assume other roles in this type of process, as an evaluator of his/her own superiors and colleagues. This broad participation in 360º processes also involves the difficulty of deciding who is to be excluded from the assessment process.

To do so, we could consider the very purpose of the procedure, which is basically:

(i) to analyze an employee’s performance, to determine his/her strengths (to be maintained) and weaknesses or areas of improvement, and

(ii) to determine how it affects the assessed employee’s everyday professional conduct at the company.

This second purpose involves a difficulty that is common to this type of process, relating to the subjectivity that can be eliminated from the information provided on the person assessed.

Recent experience in the United States shows that some companies have required their employees to indicate whether or not their colleagues should be dismissed, in order to avoid leaving the company themselves. Logically, the validity of such acts must be analyzed in each particular case, according to the local legislation applicable.

Irrespective of the above, it is essential to provide as much information as possible when informing participants of the objectives of the process during the implementation, performance and follow-up phases of 360º assessment. Transparency and how the purpose of the tool is transmitted is vital.

We should also determine whether or not the process of gathering information should include closed and/or open questions that enable evaluators to include comments.

The skills assessed do not differ greatly from other assessment processes: leadership, professional values, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, brand value, etc.

Another critical issue to consider is the confidentiality of the information obtained during the process and how it is shared with the person assessed. Confidentiality should not only protect who said what, but also the very content of the information that may arise. For example, we should ask ourselves whether the information obtained from a 360º assessment can be used for the employer to take disciplinary action, bearing in mind the alleged confidentiality of the assessment process.

Finally, the last phase of the process involves the reporting of the results to the person assessed and must take into account the individual difficulties in assimilating them and seeing them as a form of self-criticism and improvement. Conflict between employees can also arise in this phase, which can be seen as the beginning of a new phase of improvement or of demotivation, with a negative effect on performance.

And the process should not end there. After a procedure that can definitely be a complex one, it is necessary to follow-up with similar monitoring as in other employee performance assessment systems, by structuring improvement plans and the necessary support to achieve the assessed person’s objectives.

In theory, the vertical and horizontal criticism resulting from a 360º process is seen as an opportunity for professional development and improvement, but is this the case in practice?