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

Monday, 10 October 2013

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.

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