Author Archives: Jon Windust

About Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy.

Why use 360 degree feedback in the first place

The need for 360
An organisation starts off with a goal to achieve something. To reach that goal they need a plan. Turning that plan into action and achieving the outcome requires people. But not just any people. The organisation needs people with specific capabilities. And the more capable they are, the more capable the organisation is!

By capabilities I mean both technical skills and things like the ability to lead and communicate well.

Alright, once the organisation identifies the capabilities needed to achieve its goals, the next question is . . . do we have those capabilities? This is actually an ongoing question – people leave, retire and are promoted.

There’s a number of ways of answering this question. All with varying degrees of accuracy. Some very inexpensive and some very costly.

For example, you could ask managers to assess their staff as part of the annual review. This is inexpensive to do, but suffers from quite a few problems – the biggest of which is that it’s one perception and potentially highly inaccurate as a result. What a manager sees an employee as being able to do (or not do) could be very different to what the person’s peers, customers and direct reports see.

Enter 360 degree feedback. It’s inexpensive and is a lot more accurate. That’s essentially what it comes down to – it’s a good tool for the job.

So once the organisation knows what capabilities it does and doesn’t have, it needs to fill the gaps. There’s two ways of doing this:

  1. Recruit people.
  2. Develop people internally.

Buying in skills can work well, but is difficult when there’s a shortage of skilled people. Plus it can be costly for new recruits to build the knowledge of internal systems within a company. So a combination of the two approaches is used.

It turns out that 360 degree feedback is also really useful for developing people. It identifies precisely where the development is needed so you don’t end up wasting a huge amount of money on training that people don’t need. And it also provides something that’s needed for effective development – a measure of progress and achievement.

David’s questions
This is the third post to answer the questions asked by David in response to 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results.

There’s a few of reasons for going into detail on 360:

  1. To make sure we’re talking about the same thing.
  2. To describe it for others who may not be familiar with it.
  3. To provide the foundation for my suggestions for David.

So what are those suggestions at this point?

  • From the previous posts and this one, something really stands out – his organisation needs a clear set of goals for the year.
  • These goals then drive employee objectives and the competencies used in the 360 process.
  • David may not be able to persuade his organisation to do this on his own – but he can develop some goals for his group.
  • SMART objectives can be used to lift performance and remove annual review headaches.
  • The 360 degree feedback process needs to be done at a time other than the end of year review.
  • The results of the feedback should not affect pay/bonuses.
  • Open-ended questions can be used to get some useful feedback on areas that need to be developed.

From the comments to the previous post it’s clear that David’s company needs to review their reasons for doing 360 in the first place. It’s not being used to address the need described in this article.

In the next set of posts . . .
We’ll be looking at:

  • How 360 degree feedback works.
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.

What is 360 degree feedback

The definition
360 degree feedback is a process for providing a person with structured feedback from a group of people who have a range of different perspectives.

For example, a manager can receive feedback on their leadership, communication and planning & organising capabilities from their direct reports, peers, their own manager and possibly internal and external customers.

Now what I think about 360
It is a gift. It’s like asking people to help you become more successful and them saying, OK sure.

You know how you can always see things in others that they can’t see themselves. You can see things that they’re good at and sometimes you wonder why they don’t put them to better use. Other times you can see things in people that are holding them back. You wonder why they can’t see those things themselves. If only they did such and such they would be so much more successful – why don’t they do it.

Well, we have a single perception of ourselves and we can’t see outside that. It stops us from seeing those things that others see in us.

360 degree feedback is all about breaking through that single perception to help you be more successful. It’s about giving you confidence in your abilities, seeing the strengths that other people recognise. And it’s about identifying the areas where you can develop and grow – the things that’ll help you be more successful.

360 degree feedback is like being Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want. Being able to see himself as others saw him and benefiting as a result.

Getting back to David’s questions
This is the second post in a multi-part article where I’m addressing the questions raised by David in response to my post on 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results.

Last post we looked at the problem of 360 degree feedback becoming a replacement for quality objectives.

In this post I’ve talked briefly about what 360 is capable of doing. What would be great to know – if David is willing to comment on it – is how 360 is seen by himself and the people he’s working with? Is it helping him to be more successful?

When David says “360 has become a crutch because KPIs are almost always vague and unmeasurable” – I suspect that like many organisations 360 is being used as quasi assessment or performance review tool. This is largely a problem of perception. But it isn’t helped by the majority of companies who run it as part of the end of year review. This is the wrong time to use 360.

Coming up . . .
To continue shedding light on the answers to David’s questions, in the next series of posts we’ll be looking at:

  • The need for 360 degree feedback and how it works
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.

Revealing insights into 360 degree feedback

This is the first of a multi-part article where I’ll address the questions raised by David in response to my post on 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results. Here’s a summary of what he had to say . . .

  • He finds 360 degree feedback orders of magnitudes better than the traditional methods.
  • But the implementation in his company limits the true potential.
  • He believes the way they are using 360 allows managers to avoid providing constructive feedback.
  • It has become a crutch because KPIs are almost always vague and unmeasurable.
  • David wants to know how to tie 360 degree feedback to personal and company KPIs.

I think it’s great that David has identified problems with his organisation’s current process and is looking for solutions. So to respond to David’s comments I’m going to post a few articles over the coming weeks on various 360 degree feedback topics. In the process the answers to David’s questions will be illuminated.

360 degree feedback has become a crutch
OK in this post I want to focus on one of the really interesting parts of David’s comments. He says 360 degree feedback has become a crutch because KPIs are almost always vague and not measurable.

The first point I need to make here is that writing good quality KPIs is the most important part of the whole performance process. Everything else is next to useless if this isn’t done. People need a specific goal, otherwise they aren’t going to arrive at the right destination.

The problem with vague goals comes to a head at review time
One of the problems of using vague and unmeasurable goals occurs at review time. Because there’s no way of measuring achievements, the end result has to come down to the manager’s opinion. So your performance result rests on the way your manager feels about your performance, or their observations of your performance.

The problem for both the manager and employee here is what happens next. It’s almost inevitable . . . disagreement! The employee feels they have busted their gut for the company and the manager might agree but hasn’t seen the results they wanted. So you end up with dissatisfaction, growing cynicism, less and less engagement . . . looking for another job!

360 degree feedback
Enter 360 degree feedback. Now it’s not just your manager’s opinion. Your peers, reports and customers get input. And they provide input based on a structured set of competencies, behaviours or values. This is great. You get some useful feedback on a person’s capabilities from a range of people with differing perspectives. Very useful stuff as we’ll see in the next article.

It’s no wonder 360 has become a crutch in David’s organisation.

It’s giving them useable information that is much less subjective than the manager’s opinion on performance against objectives.

There’s something missing here though. 360 degree feedback can tell us a lot about a person’s capabilities and behaviour, but it doesn’t tell us what the person has achieved. So you end up rewarding people for their capabilities, not on outcomes. And definitely not on outcomes tied to the organisations goals.

Quality objectives
I’m sure David’s not alone here. So if you can identify with this problem, the first thing that has to happen is quality objectives. They are essential. From his comments David has come to this conclusion as well. He’s asked the question how he sets SMART objectives without the clarity of business goals and resolution of metrics. So we’ll take a look at that as part of this set of articles.

Jump in
If you haven’t already, jump in and take a look at these three articles:

To continue shedding light on the answers to David’s questions, in the next series of posts we’ll look at:

  • What is 360 degree feedback.
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.

Writing SMART goals – part 3

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article here.

In part 1 of this article we looked at the definition of a SMART objective. In part 2 we turned the problem producing provide good service to all customers into new SMART objectives.

There’s three things left to do that’ll make the new objectives work really well for you. On top of this they’ll help remove headaches come review time. They are…

Performance standards, and

Let’s see what this looks like with our two new objectives from part 2 (Retain 99% of your customers, and Increase your Customer Service Satisfaction Rating to 4). We can break these objectives down further.

Objective: Retain customers

Measurement: Percentage of your customers retained. Using data from the CRM system.

Performance standard:
90 – 92% = partially met
93 – 95% = met
96 – 98% = exceeded
over 98% = outstanding

Objective: Increase customer satisfaction

Measurement: Your average customer satisfaction rating. Measured using the monthly mystery shopper result.

Performance standard:
This objective will be partially met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 4 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are usually courteous.
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 enquiries need to be escalated to the supervisor.
  • On your follow-up, 7 out of 10 customers report that their needs have been met and no further action is needed.

It will be met when:

  • Average time taken to respond to customer requests is 3 minutes.
  • Mystery shoppers record that you are almost always courteous.
  • etc…

I’m using Measurement to describe the source of the data and how it will be measured. The Performance standards are basically explaining how the end rating or score will be determined.

This is great! Once those objectives are agreed by the manager and employee, there’s no disagreement as to the result.

But wait … that’s not all – if the employee knows how to measure their progress, they’ll know how they are traveling. Why does this matter? Well, when something is achievable and you know how you’re traveling, you’re much more motivated to reach the end goal.

Making the objective a more powerful statement
OK, now something I do to turn the objective into a really powerful statement . . .

Find out what sort of result your team member wants to achieve. Then write that into the objective. So Retain 99% of your customers for example. The measurement and performance standards stay the same. It’s just a memory aid. Making sure that when you think of the objective, you think of the target as well.

To illustrate why this technique is useful, it might be useful to relay a story about Ethan Hunt’s first six months working at Mission Impossible.

Basically he used to receive his jobs via video recordings on his iPod. The message would describe the mission goal, measurement and performance criteria. And then the iPod would self-destruct.

The only problem was within five minutes of the iPod self-destructing, poor old Ethan would be like Oh crap! How many bad guys was I supposed to capture again?

Now they include the target in the objective. And you know the rest of the story – he’s been very successful since!

Back to serious stuff now – a word of caution – don’t use this technique where there is a potential for putting an employee on a performance improvement program for unacceptable performance.

One thing left to do . . . and this is an important one. How is the objective going to be achieved? What actions are needed? You need to describe the steps or plan for reaching the goal.

Even if your organisation hasn’t reached the point yet where a manager and employee set objectives jointly, you at least need to have input on this one from the employee. For employees with little experience, you’ll need to do most of the work here in terms of outlining the actions. But even then, I’ve been amazed at the value of the ideas provided by inexperienced employees. It is so worth getting employees involved.

For people with a lot of experience, you’re really going to benefit by using their collective knowledge and skills. And they’ll be more satisfied and more likely to be motivated if they have planned their own action steps.

Some things to avoid…

OK there’s a few things you need to avoid when writing objectives. I’m not providing legal advice though, so if you want a definitive answer on what you can and can’t do, you’ll need to consult someone who can provide that advice.

  • Objectives must be achievable.
  • Avoid using terms that don’t allow a margin for error like always, every, each, all, never.
  • An objective can be very challenging, but it should be possible for someone to achieve outstanding performance.
  • Avoid describing objectives as things you don’t want done, focus on what you want achieved instead.
  • There can’t be an expectation for a person to be perfect.

Go for it!
OK there you have it. I hope you’ve got something from these three articles on writing objectives that produce results. Thank you to everyone for your comments and emails.

At the start of your next review cycle write SMART objectives. You’ll reduce your performance review headaches . . . . . and be more successful.

How do you do this when you barely have the time to get through your email inbox?

Learning how to write SMART objectives is one thing.  But how do you manage to do this for a whole team when you barely have enough time to get through your email inbox each day?  The answer is software.  Cognology has designed an online performance management system that makes the process easy.

Writing objectives that produce results – part 2

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article here.

Alright, let’s get straight into it.

What I want to do is revisit the “Provide good service to all customers” objective from part 1 of this article. This is the sort of objective that leads to what I call the dreaded annual appraisal. So I’m going to show you how to turn that problem producing, airy fairy, jumble of words into something that’ll make a real difference.

The first thing to recognize in “Provide good service to all customers” is that it’s an action, not an objective. Objectives should be outcomes or accomplishments, not the actions that lead to them. So what’s the outcome you’re really looking for when you say “provide good service to all customers”?

You would be looking to have satisfied customers. And ultimately you would be looking to retain customers. And the reason for this is that income generally comes from two sources; new customers and existing customers. And existing customers usually account for a greater proportion.

So how do we re-write it as a SMART objective. First look at the organisation’s goals. Imagine the organisation has a goal to retain 99% of customers. We want our objective closely aligned with that goal. And the easiest way to do that would be to make the objective…

Retain 99% of your customers

This sort of objective would work well in a lot of situations. But what about the person working on the front line handling enquiries. Their actions influence whether a customer is retained. But there are many other factors out of their control. So in that case what you want to do is use an objective like this…

Increase your Customer Service Satisfaction Rating to 4

I’m assuming a rating system for customer satisfaction from 1 to 5. I’ll talk about how to measure these in the next article. When you use an objective like that, make sure you let the person know it’s linked back to the organisation’s goal of retaining 99% of customers. So there’s more to their job than an uninspiring job description. They’re involved in the real mission.

So which objective do you think would get better results?

The old style Provide good service to all customers

or the SMART Retain 99% of your customers

OK, that should get you running through the office like a football player who’s just kicked a goal. Fist in the air, one finger pointed, holding your shirt out with the other hand.

Um hello! I can’t see myself running around in my office I hear you say. Yeah OK, but you will be kicking goals. And best of all, the goals will have a measurable affect on the bottom line.

In case anyone missed it – I just said B O T T O M L I N E.

I’ve had some feedback about the length of the articles, so I’m going to keep this short and talk about how to measure the objectives in part 3.

Are you wondering how you’ll manage to write performance goals when you’re so busy each day?

The answer is an online system.  Cognology has designed performance management software that saves time setting objectives and aligning a team to a strategic plan.

5 tips for writing objectives that produce results – part 1

Edit: you can find a more up to date version of this article at The Easy Guide to SMART Goals and Objectives.

“Hey, how was your weekend?

Yeah great . . . . . . . . . [as you’re responding you remember that the annual review discussion was scheduled for this morning].

Look it’s that time of year again. I don’t know why the company makes us do this. You know what you have to do and I know what I have to do.

But we have to get on with it otherwise I’ll get harassed by HR for weeks. So here’s your objectives for the next year.”

That start has got you about as motivated as a three toed sloth would get to do a few laps of the forest. You may not have to imagine this scenario, something similar has possibly happened to you in a past job. The vast majority of people have experienced this.

You reluctantly sit down and start to read through the first objective, “Provide good service to all customers”. You agree with this statement, but immediately start to think “but I do that now”. This is the sort of thing that leaves the performance management process stalled at the starting gate.

Perhaps you work in a progressive company and you set your own objectives together with your manager. If you do, that’s great! I’m going to share with you some simple tips for writing goals that motivate. The sort where you and your boss will really know you have achieved something.

You might be running a business and looking to increase profits, innovate with a new product or reduce time to market. You can achieve these things by setting goals for your people, making sure they have the skills needed, providing feedback and rewarding their contribution. This article is all about setting the right sort of goals.

I’m keen to talk about other parts of the performance management process in future articles. Including techniques for getting a large workforce aligned to the organisation’s goals – something not so tricky in smaller companies. But for now I want to start helping you solve some of the biggest problems with traditional appraisal approaches.

So let’s start.

Fans of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy know that the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything is 42.

The answer to our problems in this case is equally simple. But unlike the ambiguity of the answer “42”, it‘s all about making sure there is nothing ambiguous about what you want to end result to look like.

The answer to life, the universe and how to write objectives that get results is SMART. One of those great memory aids to use so when writing goals you can think “are these SMART?”.

Let’s take a look behind the acronym.

S – specific.

OK you need to be specific. Why? Because your people are going to do what you ask them to do. So you need to be specific about the end result. Use action words like “to increase”, “to establish”, “to reduce” and “to create”.

You can also use specific to remind yourself that objectives need to relate back to a specific organisational goal.

M – measurable.

Imagine playing a video game that didn’t show you some sort of score or progress as you went along. People wouldn’t play it – there’s no motivation!

You want something that will allow the person to gauge how well they are progressing toward achieving the objective. You don’t want an objective that is vague. This leaves room for misinterpretation and that will end in disgruntled people.So tell the person how you are going to measure the achievement. Then you both know when it hasn’t been achieved, when it’s been met and when it’s been exceeded.

For example, ‘100%’, ‘a $ figure’, by 5, etc. A number allows people to see if they have achieved the goal.

It’s also a good idea to record the source of the measurement. For example, the profit & loss report for retail division, client survey, sales reports.

A – achievable.

Once upon a time there was a team leader and three bears. The Papa bear’s objectives were too hard, there is no way they could be achieved. Papa bear just gave up at the start.

Mamma bear’s objectives were too easy, they just weren’t motivating at all.

But baby bear’s objectives were just right. They were a stretch and it might be difficult, but baby bear thought there was a good chance she could achieve them. She was one motivated baby bear!

R – relevant.

Is the objective within something the person will have control or influence over?

No = disgruntled, not motivated.

Yes = let’s get it on!

It’s also a great idea to think of “R” as relate. Relate the objective back to the team and company goals. Being part of a team effort is much more motivating than just having an objective.

T – time-based.

What is the time frame for achieving the objective. A target date and some milestones help keep things on track.

Stay tuned for part 2…

In part 2 of this article I’ll give you a specific example. We’ll revisit the opening example, “Provide good service to all customers”. And we’ll rewrite it using the SMART way.

How do you manage to do this when you are time poor?

How do you manage to write SMART objectives and get people aligned to your strategic plan when you are time poor?  The answer is technology.  Cognology has designed a performance management system that reduces the time it takes for managers and improves the quality of the objectives they are writing.

Do you want to be part of the evolution?

I’m going to put forward something that's outside the square. It's certainly not accepted business wisdom. And right now it isn't something practiced widely.

Here it is… “Performance management is the most important activity in any business or organisation”.

Sure a lot of businesses would see performance management as very important, but not the most important activity they do.

But then there was a time when it was accepted that the only way for technical or skilled people to advance in an organisation was by moving into management roles. But a great number of skilled people aren't suited to this, they're more satisfied using their talents.

If you’re out there Manfred, the guy who took me for logic 101, here’s my reasoning…

A business really needs a purpose and goal – otherwise you have no idea what's important, what you want to achieve, and in what direction you are travelling. What's worse, your employees have no direction either.

So where's your organisation going now?

OK we agree that a business needs a goal. This includes short, medium and long term goals.

Alright, so how is a business going to meet that goal?

Did you say "by doing a, b and c"? Nice!

OK, now who is going to do a, b and c?

"People"…..? Oh smashing!

So, if people are the only way of achieving the goals of an organisation, then letting them know what those goals are and how they contribute to them is critical. If I'm in your team, I can't achieve our goals unless you tell me what they are. This is the foundation for success and the cornerstone of performance management.

At this point ask yourself, do you know your objectives and are they in line with your organisation's goals? What about your team – are their objectives in line with yours? Do they understand the importance of their objectives to the achievement of your organisation's goals?

A foundation isn't much on its own. For goals to be achieved, you need to have people equipped to achieve them. They need to stay focused and motivated. And they need to know how they are progressing. People need to be recognised and rewarded for their contribution. This is what performance management is all about.

Are you focussed and motivated. Do you get feedback on your progress. Do you have a sense of being part of something. Are your achievements recognised?

Is performance management the most important activity in your organisation?

I see a quiet evolution. Where winners are freeing their people from the tedium of their job description. Making them part of something. Motivated with a sense of achievement. Recognised for their contribution. In an organisation that sets out to do something and does it!

Do you want to be part of the evolution?