Blog News and knowledge from CR Systems

  • How long does a 360 Degree Feedback project take? Infographic

    Inforgraphic of 360 degree feedback process

  • How long does a 360 Degree Feedback project take? (Part 2)

    Continuing from our previous discussion on 360 Feedback scheduling, we complete the discussion by focussing on the final three elements of a 360 project:

    4) Survey Live
    5) Managing non respondents
    6) Report publication and delivery

    4) Survey Live (10 working days)

    This is simply the time that the survey is available to be completed. There is no doubt that the longer that you leave a survey open the higher the response rate. An optimum time would appear to be between 10 and 15 working days for the official survey period. Once the period extends beyond this it is a case of diminishing return.

    A typical survey will generate an initial response within the first day or so of anything between 5% and 25% of the response population. This will increase gradually with small, sharp peaks as e-mail reminders are sent out. However it is not unusual to have only a 50% or less response rate with the last couple of days or even at the official close date of a survey. The most intense peak is nearly always seen with the last reminder. This is almost regardless of the amount of time that a survey is made available. There is little benefit therefore in extending surveys much more than two or three weeks. The exceptions to this are at the peak seasonal holiday periods, where we would recommend adding an extra 5 or even 10 working days. This is not just because of holiday absence but also because people are usually covering for their absent colleagues in this period and individual workloads often increase as well.

    Since time is nearly always at a premium, we would therefore usually recommend 10 working days starting mid-week to cover the issues of absence as mentioned previously, as long as there is an unofficial period for chasing non-respondents as described below.

    Survey response rates vary dramatically from company to company or even project to project. A typical overall response rate would be around the 50% to 70% rate with an unmanaged process, increasing to 70% to 90% with the use of e-mail prompts to non-respondents throughout the process.

    5) Managing Non-Respondents (5 to 10 working days)

    Unless the project is very small (two or three Subjects) or you are willing and able to put in a lot of time chasing individuals personally, keep your expectations realistic in terms of response rates, and do not confuse quantity of response with quality of response. There are methods to measure quality of response, but that is a discussion for another time.

    It is at this point that you should always allow an unofficial time period to chase the non-respondents. This is the hard graft part of the project where, working with your supplier (if using an external source) you will decide on the most appropriate strategy to obtain the best result that you can in the time you have allowed. There are several options that can be deployed here depending on circumstances, and since this is primarily about the time I will not dwell further on this, but feel free to contact us to discuss this further should it be of interest to you.

    A well-structured chase process should yield final response rates in the 90% to 95% area. This is the kind of number that we usually aim for, and we usually suggest 5 working days be built into the process for this stage of the project

    6) Report publication and delivery (20 minutes to a couple of days)

    Some companies can deliver reports instantly within minutes. Others, like ourselves take a little longer, because we actually review each report for fit and flow. This is particularly important when there may be a lot of written content that overflows normal page barriers. We take the care to make these fit as best possible and will reformat to ensure that the report is as easy as possible to read for each individual.

    Be sure you understand the time requirements for report delivery.

    In summary:

    • A standard 360 project can take between three to six weeks depending on process, purpose, culture and communication
    • The length of time that the actual survey is left open has relatively little effect on overall response levels beyond the first 10 or 15 working days as long as an additional chase (or expediting) period is built into the process
    • Response levels should not be mixed up with response quality

    I hope that this has given you sufficient information to understand some of the most significant time restraints within a 360 feedback project.

    Best of luck with your next 360 Feedback project.

  • How long does a 360 Degree Feedback project take? (Part 1)

    At CR Systems we are often asked the question as to the length of time one should allow to schedule a standard 360 Degree Feedback project. Before answering this, it should be noted that there is a direct link between time and quality of feedback. In this article we are considering primarily the time elements with some reference to how it can effect quality outcomes, for a more detailed review of the qualitative issues involved you might wish refer to our previous blogs or visit our Behave! process.

    In our experience the average time for a 360 Degree Feedback, or Multi-rater project as it is occasionally called, would be somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks from confirmation of content; Competence Framework, Rating scale, e-mails, survey text, report content and design. There are several factors that determine the breadth of this timescale and the tails of this range are also quite extreme; we have completed projects in as little as 24 hours from start to delivery of reports, and some projects never complete or only partially complete due to lack of feedback from critical respondents.

    In this blog I am focussing on the overall scheduling of an individual project and the areas that can affect the timing of the process. I will not examine in any detail how to optimise the individual competence framework or survey structure. This is a complete subject in its own right and deserves its own space.

    A typical project can be divided into the following 6 phases:

    1. Content creation
    2. Project set-up
    3. Respondent selection
    4. Survey Live
    5. Managing non respondents
    6. Report publication and delivery

    In this blog we will look at the first three phases

    1) Content Creation (a couple of days to many months)

    Content creation can be very simple of very complicated. It can take anything from almost no time at all; e.g. if the 360 Degree Feedback project is part of a continuing programme or you are happy to use a completely generic content set, to many months if the 360 process is being tightly integrated into development programmes aligned with company strategy or performance and appraisal programmes. So for the purposes of this discussion I am assuming that the content is approved and ready to go!

    If you would like to understand in detail the issues with content creation please refer to our Behave! process.

    2) Project Set-Up (20 minutes to a couple days)

    Most systems enable the Administrator to set-up a new project within a range of 20 minutes to several hours depending on the complexity of the project and number of participants. If you are using an external supplier for the administration they should complete the set-up and be ready to go within a couple of working days (on the assumption of course that all content has been signed off and participant details are delivered and correct).

    In nearly all cases the most important date in any project is the delivery date of the individual 360 reports, so most projects will work back from this date. The delivery date is the most critical milestone in the project; it will drive everything else in the project, so take the time to make sure that your delivery date is really understood by the supplier and the consequences of any failure to meet this date. If timescales are compressed a good supplier will also suggest options and work with you towards the best possible outcome to meet the delivery date, or even on the rare occasion have the courage to tell you that the quality of outcome you require cannot be met in the proposed timescale.

    3) Respondent Selection (A few minutes to a couple of weeks)

    To try to avoid confusion we call those selected to receive feedback “Subjects” and those giving feedback “Observers”. Since a project cannot start without the Subjects’ contact details being known we are referring to Observer details here.

    There are generally two methods to collect Observer details:

    • In advance of the project start
    • As part of the online survey process

    In Advance

    The most efficient method is to collect all the details of both Subjects and Observers before the start of the project so that they can be uploaded as part of the project set up. This can dramatically reduce the timescale for the project by as much as a couple of weeks, but depending on Subject number it can be quite tiresome and resource hungry for HR or project administrators to keep chasing non respondents.

    As part of the online survey process

    This load and associated frustration on time strapped administrators has led to the development of online selection. The first phase of the project involves send invitations to the Subjects for them to go online and select their Observers. The online database may already be populated with the corporate contact details which can also speed the process for the participants. There are several advantages to this approach:

    • Reduced internal admin burden
    • Respondents (Observers) that have been requested to complete many surveys can be highlighted and resolved in advance of the survey going live.
    • It can help in cases where confidentiality is a significant issue (and it often is) because the Subject does not have to disclose their Observer selection to anyone within the company.

    The big downside is the effect that it can have on overall project time. If only a few Subjects are involved it is not usually a concern, but in larger project, holidays, sickness, absence, travel, and other priorities can seriously impact the process. We usually therefore suggest up to ten working days for larger projects, starting mid-week if possible so that it covers three working weeks.

    One really important thing to remember, particularly in larger projects or organisations, is that the loading on individual Observers can be very high; eg managers of large departments or popular or high network colleagues can be presented with many questionnaires to complete in a short period of time and if this loading is not handled sensitively and sensibly it will have a significant effect on both quality of feedback and the time it takes to complete the project. There are several ways to mitigate this loading including staggering the project and or phases of the project, different process set-ups, sophisticated survey design etc.

    A tip here is to make sure that any system you use has the flexibility to cope with the different process requirements that these different scenarios dictate.

    In our next blog we will complete the review of the final three phases and how the time can be allocated effectively to suit your needs.

  • Use of Behavioural Review

    Find your weakest link

    I’ve talked a little about the cost of free products and those promising to be easy and simple in previous posts. I’ve discussed the importance of understanding your specific needs to work out requirements for selecting the right 360 degree feedback tool. But if you already use a 360 degree feedback system, you may be wondering how well it does the job. If you’d like to take a look at how well your current 360 feedback system works, if it can be improved or if there are processes that are broken and need fixing, we’ve developed the Behave! framework to help you do just that.

    Based on six key phases in your behavioural review process, the Behave! framework can be used to review your current system, identify areas where improvements can be made or help you determine a specification for a new behavioural development system if you current one isn’t fit for purpose.

    There are six modules in the Behave! framework that take you through each of the major review phases you need to look at, to make sure you’re getting the best out of your behavioural development process. The framework isn’t intended to direct you towards a specific 360 degree feedback solution, but is designed to help you identify elements critical to your success and find any weak links that are depressing the effectiveness of your 360 degree feedback system.

    Almost all systems, especially linear systems, depend for quality on the output of their weakest component, not their best. For example, a top of the range $50,000 audio system might fail to deliver sparkling sound quality read about in reviews or heard in a shop, because of something as simple as a loose connection between the amplifier and the speakers. Or the sound quality may be poor because the system’s been set up in a garage, where the acoustics are terrible and the sound doesn’t stand a chance.

    Behavioural development processes are systematic and work in just the same way – they give great or mediocre results based on the weakest part of the system. To improve the quality of a behavioural development process each system component needs to be examined in turn and any weaknesses identified so they can be addressed.

    Just like the example of the audio system, failure points in a behavioural development system may not be big, expensive or obvious. Instead they’re probably small, inexpensive or subtle and consequently easily overlooked. Just like the audio system set up in the garage, outputs from a behavioural development system are dependent on the context and environment in which the system operates. These can have a significant effect on the quality of your 360 degree feedback system’s outcomes. Many companies are disappointed with results after buying a top of the range 360 feedback solution, not because the system’s poor, but because it’s not appropriate to their business context.

    By using the Behave! framework you can assess the contribution of different system components, as well as internal and external factors impacting on the system, to identify any weaknesses and build on strengths. Using the Behave! framework allows you to identify and resolve issues to maximise the quality of your 360 feedback system outputs.

    We believe everyone should get the best from their behavioural review process. Our Behave! framework is based on years of experience working with businesses and corporations of all sizes and in all industries. Behave! is easy to complete online and takes you through six essential steps in evaluating your behavioural development system and then produces a summary report. The report outlines the effectiveness of your system, highlighting any areas where fine tuning is needed or where a different approach may give better results.

    We want you to get the very best from your behavioural review process, so claim your free Behave! report now and to find out how you can get better results from your 360 degree feedback system now.

  • What Advantages Does a Bespoke Engagement Survey Offer over a DIY Solution?

    Free sites like SurveyMonkey can be a great way of getting started in employee engagement surveys but free survey software will always be limited in terms of flexibility, support and customization possibilities.

    Bespoke engagement surveys such as the Engage system offered by CR Systems offer a number of benefits over DIY systems:

    • The one-survey-fits-all approach is not suitable for many businesses. A complete bespoke solution is more flexible and allows you to design a survey that will exactly fit your personal requirements.
    • The Engage survey system is totally brandable to match your corporate intranet and literature.
    • Full support is provided for both building the survey and analysing the results.
    • Analysis is also flexible and results can be delivered in an organized way, which is easy to understand.
    • A number of different languages are supported in the Engage software.
    • Participation rates are increased (some employees may not take surveys on free websites seriously).
    • Anonymity is assured. SurveyMonkey and other sites do offer anonymous surveys but it is down to the researcher to select this option in the survey settings.
    • Data can often not be held confidentially in free software systems.
    • It is not possible to verify the identity of anyone completing surveys built on free software and can be difficult to exclude certain groups.
    • Most free survey systems have limits on the number of people who can fill out the survey
    • Downloading of data files for offline analysis is also not possible on most free platforms.

    In general, free survey systems may provide an adequate solution for many small businesses wishing to carry out a basic engagement survey with their employees. However, in order to maximise the effectiveness of such a study, bespoke software will always be more appropriate and may be your only option to survey a large number of employees.

    CR360-SampleReport-CTA

    Additionally, free survey sites like SurveyMonkey may well contribute to the claims that employee engagement doesn’t work. Several business publications have recently published articles discussing the possibility that conducting an engagement survey may be a waste of time and money.

    In fact the conclusion of most of these articles is not that engagement surveys don’t provide valuable information, but that it is simply not acted upon. It is all too easy to throw up a quick online survey and then do nothing with the results.

    For an employee engagement survey to be a worthwhile activity, it is vital that it is designed to provide the most benefit for your particular business needs and that the results are analysed properly and acted upon.

    CR Systems can help your business improve employee engagement with our Engage software – a bespoke survey system that is fully customisable depending on the needs of your organization. We provide you with full support along the way and offer fully flexible analysis. Benefit from our experience in measuring employee engagement and work with the Engage system to help you in constructing an effective action plan, not just a set of meaningless data.

  • Behave! Part 2 – Getting the preparation right

    Behave!

    Creating the right systems and processes to support 360° Feedback in your organisation.

    A quick reminder of the headlines:

    1. Most organisations need to constantly flex and change to compete effectively in their markets
    2. Significant changes usually need behavioural as well as structural change
    3. Change without behavioural change is rarely successful or sustainable
    4. There is only way to measure and build a base to develop behavioural change: 360° Feedback
    5. 360° Feedback is not easy to get right

    Following on from the introduction to the process in our previous blog, where we covered the six areas for review:

    1. Get the preparation right
    2. Create the right metrics
    3. Ask the right Questions
    4. Obtain the right Answers
    5. Giving the right Feedback
    6. Support the right Development

    Today we are looking further into the detail of the first and most important step in the process; Getting the preparation right. The old adage of “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” is never more true than when introducing 360° degree feedback into your business. The fundamental reasons why 360° feedback needs so much more preparation than any other psychometric are:

    • It touches so many more people in an organisation compared to any other metric
    • It requires more organizational time and resource
    • It requires organizing more people to be briefed and to buy in to the process
    • It covers sensitive ground that can be uncomfortable for some/many

    Many organisations use 360° feedback today without paying any great regard to the details involved in this process. Relatively few that we come across put the thinking time into considering the end to end implementation of the process. The time and resource pressures on organisations often mitigate against full planning and thinking. This is the main reason why we created the Behave! framework to provide a simple to follow structure to ensure that all elements of the process are considered.

    In truth getting the preparation right can be applied to all steps in the process, since they all need to be considered before implementation. The purpose of the first step in the process is to ensure that the purpose and return expected from the system fits with the resource, budget and organisational culture. It consists of the following areas of consideration:

    Clarity of Purpose and Return on Investment

    A simple critique of the purpose of the process and the expected returns can often throw up several interesting questions. It is not unusual for the stated purpose to appear threatening or vague when written and examined closely, which helps neither senior management in quantifying the outcome or any of the staff to have the confidence to participate openly and honestly.

    Organisational “Feedback Fit” capability

    “Feedback Fitness” is an unusual concept, but so important for the success of a 360° Feedback programme. As an organisation:

    • How open are you to receiving feedback from your staff and stakeholders?
    • What are the formal and informal ways in which feedback is disseminated?
    • How honest is the feedback your receive?
    • How do you know?

    Resource planning

    How much time is it going to take out of the organisation in terms of:

    • HR administration and support
    • Management involvement
    • Staff time to complete the feedback (A BIG Surprise here if you are not careful!!)
    • IT resource
    • Coaching and supporting the development

    If you do not take the time to consider and plan for these basic elements, then it is most likely that you are planning to fail, and the sad thing is that in some instances companies are failing without even realising it.

    If you have any concerns about the effectiveness of your 360° Feedback process, we would be delighted to discuss any issues you might wish to raise.

  • Talent Management: Your Business’s Most Valuable Player

    Competition these days is fierce. The economic crisis seems to be coming to an end, and as business picks up, many employers are beginning to discover that they don’t have the talent on their team that they need to keep up with their competitors.

    Part of the problem is that for decades they have been spending their valuable time and money on training low-performing employees to work more effectively, in an effort to help them accomplish the tasks they need to survive. On the surface, this strategy makes a great deal of sense. But consider human resources firm Northgate Arinso’s finding, that most high performing executives believe that success comes from putting the right talent to work at just the right time. If that is true, all that time and money spent on an effort to pull underperformers into the boxing ring is robbing resources from the place they’re needed most: namely, investing in the person who has the right talent for the job.

    It is equally important that, once managers find the talent they’re looking for, they put an action plan in place to keep that talent in their wheelhouse, and keep them motivated to perform. But there’s a hitch: these days it seems there is a woeful shortage of talented, trained workers to go around. That means, everyone in your industry is competing for the same, small pool of high performers. If you’re not careful, the person you need will be snatched right out of your office.

    This is exactly why every business that hopes to succeed in their realm of influence absolutely must have a talent management program. Usually this is accomplished by reexamining the way the human resources department works, and re-imagining its role as a vital force to hunt down and keep the best talent they can find. HR must first examine the organization’s goals and needs, and with that in mind, work to redesign the hiring process, monitoring, retainment, and training necessary to make it happen.

    The first step, of course, is hiring. It might seem simple to bring on the best candidate for the job, but history proves that it’s not easy to get this step right. HR managers must take a good, hard look at the employees that perform at the top of their game, and analyze why they are successful. It’s a good idea to look at skills, personality and behavioral traits to get a global view of these individuals.

    When the talent management team has pinned down the exact traits that make for a successful profile, they must set out to find the same traits in the candidates they interview. This will create the basis for the questions and assessments required during the hiring process. Ideally, multiple people from the hiring team will work together to interview candidates, and give a broader perspective of who will and won’t be the best fit for the job. It’s also important to make sure the candidate, however talented, is capable of thriving in your unique office culture. If he isn’t happy there, he’s unlikely to keep performing for you in the future.

    Free 360-Degree Feedback Consultation

    Second, HR must keep their talent apprised and accountable for the work they complete. This can be done with regular, purposeful performance reviews from a 360-degree feedback program. Even the most talented person needs to know when he or she is doing the job well, and needs feedback to improve on weaknesses. Just make sure to keep the feedback objective, fact-based, and fair. Otherwise employees are likely to become disgruntled and feel that their efforts are not appreciated or are misunderstood. HR must make sure that the employee has a certain degree of say over who is allowed to report on his progress, and that there is no opening for baseless slander and irrelevant opinion. It is imperative that the 360-degree feedback program is designed with specific criteria to evaluate, with the goal of improvement and understanding.

    Third, the company must have strategies in place to deal with talented employees who become difficult to manage. The simple solution might seem to be firing, but a forward-thinking manager realizes that the expense involved in a lengthy job opening, a costly hiring process, and the time involved in training new talent from scratch make firing the last resort. Instead, the talent management team needs to create an infrastructure of coaching and training. Managers need the training and appraisal tools necessary to get to the bottom of the reasons why the employee has become resistant to direction. Once the employee’s hang-ups are addressed, they can work together in a coaching environment to set new goals and strategies, and to outline what needs to take place in order to move forward. This saves time and money, and sends a message to your top talent that they are valued for their contributions.

    A good talent management team can mean life or death to a struggling corporation, as the ability to hire, keep, and develop the best talent in your market will make success possible. With an intentionally streamlined HR team focused on these goals, companies can begin to change the way they reward and elevate the best and brightest in their midst, and everyone will benefit.

  • Free business software products and services Part 2

    Free business software products and services. Part 2

    Can free business software products and services really replace current products and services that businesses are paying for today? The answer is of course they can, and the number of such products is growing. If you are faced with “free” competition, you need to take a good hard look at your business and decide how you defend your right to continue to charge. If you are considering using a free service for your business this article will provide a framework to review the issues to consider before making your “purchase”.

    In this second of two articles we take a step by step view of the questions that you might need to ask to understand how well a free product or service may suit your needs.

    1. Is the free product peripheral or core to the supplier’s portfolio of products?

    If the free product is peripheral to the main product offering, it’s unlikely to be supported or easily adapted to the needs of your business. You also need to ask what expertise is available to help you.

    If the free service is directly related to the providers’ core product, it’s likely to be well supported. What’s more likely is that it’s a limited version of the paid service. Make sure that your really take the time to understand where this limitation might be and how important it is to your specific needs.

    A popular use of free products/services is to obtain experience of a new process from a zero base. This is a great and (for many) enjoyable way to learn. You can develop your understanding in your own time and at your own pace. The only caveat is that it might not be the most effective use of your time.

    One of our core products for example is customising and administering 360 degree feedback systems. 360 feedback is used within leadership or behavioural development programmes. We provide a free (honest!!) Behave! framework that provides clients with all the questions they need to ask to establish the kind of system to suit their business, thus saving a lot of time in preparation.

    2. What are the user limitations?

    You may find that only a small number of users can access the free product. Do you know how many users there may be now, or a year from now? Will the limited access cause problems now or in the future? Perhaps the paid service could repay itself in productivity gains from wider access?

    3. What are the project/scope limitations?

    Free products may limit the number of projects you can work on. If your business is small this may not be a problem, but for larger companies this is likely to reduce the value of the product. If you think you will need capacity for more projects in the future, check how you upgrade to the paid product or service without loss of data.

    4. What are the time limitations?

    Your free service may be time limited, giving you access to the product for 30 days for example. After this trial period you will need to upgrade or stop using the product. Will you lose data, or have difficulty restoring data to your previous platform? Remember, you may also lose the value of initial data entry costs, only having to key the data into another system if you choose not to upgrade.

    • 5. Who owns the data?

    Loss of control of business data can be damaging and costly. Find out if any of your data is stored in the cloud or on a remote server and what terms, conditions and privacy apply to that data. If you decide the product isn’t for you and want to change, how would you get your data back or protect it – can you download it or delete it? With sensitive data from a 360 degree feedback system this may be a critical issue.

    6. What’s your investment in the relationship?

    You may only be asked for your contact details, but you may become tied in through your investment of time, data and integration across your network or team connections. Make sure you know the extent of your involvement with the supplier and how much contact they expect to have with you.

    7. What standard features are missing from the free product?

    Are all the features expected as standard in your industry included in the product? If you’re not sure, ask specifically if any standard features are missing from the product and what might be expected as standard in your industry. The answer should give you confidence in your decision to trial the product or not.

    8. Is the product supported?

    The product may be entirely suitable for your needs, but may not offer any direct customer service, may only give limited service or may give a full support service but only in an unacceptably long time frame such as 48 or 72 hours. Unsupported products can cost businesses dearly in lost time and productivity.

    As an example for our kind of business many organisations forget that staff will often complete their 360 degree feedback out of office hours. One area that many businesses forget to specify and relatively few free services can afford to support.

    9. Is the product still being developed and can it be upgraded?

    Some free products are free quite simply because they are no longer supported and all development has stopped. Once you start using them that’s pretty much it, with no option for an upgrade. If you outgrow the capacity of the product, or if your needs change, you may have to write off your investment and start all over again with a new system. This might happen very quickly or it may not happen for several years. Actually in either case the loss to you is minimal or you will have had a great return on your investment. The worst case case is if the limitations start to surface once you have committed it to be an integral part of your business.

    It’s always worth checking what upgrades are available, how easy it is to upgrade and if there are any further developments in the pipeline.

    10. How easy will your exit be?

    If you’ve uploaded or formatted data, trained staff and/or integrated the product or service into your business your exit may be difficult and costly. If the data remains with you and/or the system doesn’t need any staff training and the system stands alone, then your investment may be sufficiently low for the exit risk not to be an issue. Always check the cost and process capability of any system to provide you with your data when you decide you want to leave.

    Our company provides this service for free (there’s an irony!!). Again an area that few people take the time to check when considering the free competition available.

    What next?

    These questions should help you work out if the potential risk from using free products is outweighed by their value to your business.

    Only when you understand the level of your investment in a free product can you judge if free is a price you are willing to pay.

    About us

    We are proud to supply fully serviced, custom 360° Feedback systems, Customer, Engagement and Exit Surveys and supporting Blended Learning systems. We don’t provide a free service, but we believe that we do provide brilliant value, for those clients who need something beyond free.

  • Free business software products and services.

    Free business software products and services.

    How much does free really cost?

    We live in an age where one company’s core value product or service is another company’s free give away. Free products and services as “enticers” or “add ons” have been with us for many generations, particularly within the retail consumer market, but now they are becoming ubiquitous and in many cases completely replacing core systems, products and services. We now have a generation of professionals who expect their core social and business services to be “free”; from openly advertised services such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter to the less transparent issues of obtaining access to music and film that is the copyright of others.

    However we also see the free, or freemium model of business starting to become popular within business. The objective of this article is to attempt to create a framework to evaluate how “free” any particular product or service may be and if this “free”dom is appropriate for your needs (and there are many products and services where this is the case).

    We are all aware that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The end User always pays in some way; from something as simple as parting with personal information, giving their time to try a particular product or service, agreeing to be accessible to advertising to the (for some) less palatable issues of release of privacy or access to friends and family. Very occasionally there is also the insidious drive towards parting with ever increasing amounts of real money as the buyer of the free service finds that with just a little more money they will actually get the product/service they thought they were “buying” in the first place.

    As online marketing models become increasingly sophisticated and targeted there’s no escaping the subtle variations of free offers that entice us to connect with new suppliers at every click of the mouse. Even in my industry, if you’re considering something as important as using a free 360° feedback system (at least I like to think its important!) for your client or company, just like any other business service, it’s wise to take a good look at the real cost of the offer to avoid finding out if it’s cost you more than you bargained for.

    I’ve put a checklist together to help you work out the true cost of ‘free’ products. I’ve designed it so you can use it to assess the cost of free business software of any kind, not just 360 degree feedback tools. There are ten questions to help you balance the risks and benefits of buying into free.

    1. Is the free product peripheral or core to the developers’ portfolio of products?

    If the free product is peripheral to the main product offering, it’s unlikely to be supported or easily adapted to the needs of your business. If the free service is related to the providers’ core product, it’s likely to be supported and may have some custom features too (but check on both). What’s more likely is that it’s a limited version of the paid service.

    On a separate note. If you’re looking for a 360 degree feedback tool and aren’t quite sure on what your needs are, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learnt on understanding your organisation’s 360 feedback philosophy and use of behavioural development programmes in future posts

    2. What are the user limitations?

    You may find that only a small number of users can access the free product. Do you know how many users there may be now, or a year from now? Will the limited access cause problems now or in the future? Perhaps the paid service could repay itself in productivity gains from wider access

    3. What are the project limitations?

    Free products may limit the number of projects you can work on. If your business is small this may not be a problem, but for larger companies this is likely to reduce the value of the product. If you think you will need capacity for more projects in the future, check how you upgrade to the paid product or service without loss of data.

    4. What are the time limitations?

    Your free service may be time limited, giving you access to the product for 30 days for example. After this trial period you will need to upgrade or stop using the product. Will you lose data, or have difficulty restoring data to your previous platform? Remember, you may also lose the value of initial data entry costs, only having to key the data into another system if you choose not to upgrade.

    5. Who owns the data?

    Loss of control of business data can be damaging and costly. Find out if any of your data is stored in the cloud or on a remote server and what terms, conditions and privacy apply to that data. If you decide the product isn’t for you and want to change, how would you get your data back or protect it – can you download it or delete it? With sensitive data from a 360 degree feedback system this may be a critical issue.

    6. What’s your investment in the relationship?

    You may only be asked for your contact details, but you may become tied in through your investment of time, data and integration across your network or team connections. Make sure you know the extent of your involvement with the supplier and how much contact they expect to have with you.

    7. What standard features are missing from the free product?

    Are all the features expected as standard in your industry included in the product? If you’re not sure, ask if any standard features are missing from the product and what might be expected as standard in your industry. The answer should give you confidence in your decision to trial the product or not.

    8. Is the product supported?

    The product may be entirely suitable for your needs, but may not offer any direct customer service, may only give limited service or may give a full support service but only in an unacceptably long time frame such as 48 or 72 hours. Unsupported products can cost businesses dearly in lost time and productivity. We’ve found that ongoing, one to one support for our customers helps them make the best of their 360 feedback system.

    9. Can the product be upgraded?

    Some free products are stand alone and once you start using them that’s pretty much it, with no option for an upgrade. If you outgrow the capacity of the product, or if your needs change, you may have to write off your investment and start all over again with a new system. It’s worth asking what upgrades are available and how easy it is to upgrade.

    10. How easy will your exit be?

    If you’ve uploaded or formatted data, trained staff and integrated software your exit may be difficult and costly. If the data remains with you, the system doesn’t need any staff training and the system stands alone, then your investment may be sufficiently low for exit not to be an issue.

    What next?

    These questions should help you work out if the potential risk from using free products is outweighed by their value to your business. If you’re looking for a behavioural development system, please talk to us. We’re always happy to learn more about what our customers want from a 360 feedback system and want them to get the right system for their needs.

    Only when you understand the level of your investment in a free product can you judge if free is a price you are willing to pay.

    chrisryan360

    CRSystems Ltd

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