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Fall 2003 Edition- September 2003 Volume 3


Effective use of 360° screening
Honest, specific feedback for managers

Q: Our organization is looking into using 360° feedback as a way of assessing our executives. What should we be watching out for?

There was a time when 360° feedback was a trend-- a trend that died relatively quickly. This demise was due primarily to two reasons: nothing was done with the actual information or, conversely, data was misused with negative ramifications.

However, 360° feedback is having a resurgence-- and for good reason. These assessments, if handled correctly, are one of the most dependable ways to get developmental feedback for managers and executives.

But first, a little background... 360° feedback is a methodology that enables managers, leaders and others to gain insight and input from multiple contributors on performance in their current role. More than any other developmental tool, 360° feedback can prompt real, measurable changes in behaviour in the feedback receiver. This happens when they receive honest, specific feedback from their bosses, colleagues and subordinates.

One thing that has contributed to 360's 'bad rap' is rater bias. Most 360° feedback tools ask responders to rate the feedback receiver on how well they do certain things -- things that have been determined as critical success factors. This leads to a concern on the part of the rater that they are judging an individual using their perception only. Some of the better assessment tools are shifting the rating scales away from "level of excellence" to frequency rating scales. Our experience is that people feel less judgmental if they are responding to how frequently an individual does or does not do something, rather than how well they do it.

Another factor that has grayed the landscape for 360° feedback is the actual validity of data gathered. When responders are forced to give a numeric rating to each question, this increases anxiety, especially when the question is related to something the responder has not observed. Our advice? When you are looking at various options, select a tool that allows respondents to opt out of responding to any particular question. This gives the responder a sense of comfort and keeps the data clean.

There are many 360° feedback tools on the market with varying requirements for feedback. Our advice? Choose a tool that requires face-to-face or one-on-one feedback from a trained feedback provider. 360° feedback can be an intense experience. If not handled professionally, the organization runs the risk of having the receiver misinterpret the results, react too harshly to the results or, even worse, totally discount the feedback. The best tools have a certification requirement or offer coaching support to provide and interpret the feedback.

Another important consideration is whether you should customize or use an off-the-shelf tool. The decision will be based on your answer to the following questions:

  • How important it is for you to benchmark your leaders against an external database?
  • How well does the off-the-shelf tool support the leadership profile of your organization?
  • What are the statistical validity and reliability factors of the tool? You want to have solid face validity, test/retest reliability and internal consistency.

    Finally and, most importantly, there must be a follow-up process and a requirement to do something with the feedback. Unless the feedback is built into the organization's leadership development, performance planning, and other human resource systems, there is no motivation or support for the receiver to act on the feedback results. This is the single most significant reason why 360° feedback initiatives fail or backfire.

    Mary Marcus is an Organizational Consultant with Right Axmith Management Consultants -- a leading career transition and organizational consulting firm. As a valued business partner, we dedicate ourselves to helping organizations manage the human side of change in ways that produce powerful, positive, and lasting results.

    What You Need to Know About Pre-Employment Screening
    Why check more than references?

    Q. What does pre-employment screening involve?

    A. It can involve references, employment verification, education verification, consumer credit history, criminal background check and driver's abstracts, or any combination of these things.

    Q. Our company already checks references. Why would we need to do more than that?

    A. As an employer, you are responsible for providing a safe work environment. If one of your employees, customers, or a member of the general public becomes injured as a result of the actions of one of your employees, your company can be held liable for damages. If it can be proven that similar negative behaviour occurred in the past and that, had you discovered it during the background screening process the employee would likely not have been hired, it may fall into the category of "negligent hiring". There are several other reasons. Identity theft is growing rapidly. The contract negotiated between two companies to outsource non-core business functions may require the contractor to complete background investigations on the people who will be working at, for or representing the other company. Both US and Canadian customs have new partnership agreements (PIP and C-TPAT) that private business can enter into that facilitates easier cross border activity (import/export) and as a result, participating companies are required to conduct pre-employment and periodic ongoing background checks.

    Q. What type of information can I expect to get in a criminal background check?

    A. A criminal record search should provide you with results of a search of all charges and convictions stored in the RCMP's national CPIC database except for those protected by the Young Offenders' Act and those for which a pardon has been granted. For actual record details, the record owner must visit his/her local police station and produce appropriate identification before a copy of their criminal record will be released to them. Third parties are only entitled to obtain "an indication of" or "no indication of" a record.

    Q. Why would I want to do a credit check?

    A. You may wish to verify that someone is financially responsible before you risk giving them a company credit card, access to client's credit card numbers, or signing authority on company cheques. Some positions require the use of a personal credit card for company travel and entertaining so it is important to ensure your candidate is able to fulfil these obligations. In the credit record, you may discover previous employers not reported on the resume or warnings of past fraudulent use of that Social Insurance Number (SIN), which should prompt you to verify, to the best of your ability, that you are hiring the person to whom the SIN actually belongs.

    Q. Why do companies outsource this function? Isn't it more costly?

    A. The cost varies, however, you can do a complete background check for less than one day's wages and far less than what hiring the wrong person can cost. Most companies do not have access to credit checks nor criminal background checks. Recruiters usually have numerous other tasks and candidates to manage and gathering all this information can be difficult and time consuming. Even verifying education or credentials can be an arduous task.

    Leanne Fischer is Manager of Business Development & Customer Care for Kroll Background Screening Group.

    EAP: What's in it for your company?
    Investing in your employees

    Q. Why offer an Employee Assistance Program?

    A. Absenteeism rates are rising. According to Statistics Canada, the average worker in 2001 missed a total of 8.5 days throughout the year. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that workplace stress and related illnesses cost the Canadian economy $5 billion a year. The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addictions and Mental Health reports that while depression, manifested as alcoholism, absenteeism, low productivity, attitude problems, injury and physical illness, affects about 10 per cent of the workforce, only 6.5 per cent receive proper treatment. The Canadian Mental Health Association also reports that 51 per cent of Canadians find that their work and workplace are a major source of stress, while the Conference Board of Canada suggests the inability to balance work and family life costs Canadian employers an estimated $2.7 billion per year in lost time.

    Since employee and family assistance programs (EFAPs) became established in Canada, they have evolved from a targeted intervention for employees with substance abuse problems to a comprehensive counseling and information service that addresses a full range of personal problems experienced by employees and their families. The EFAP is now widely accepted as an invaluable resource to help individuals to resolve difficulties, develop coping skills, and learn to make healthier choices

    EFAPs can also be utilized as an effective prevention tool. Many programs include an extensive range of services and products to help employees to reduce their stress levels at home and at work; to become more resilient in the face of continuous change; to learn techniques for communication and problem solving; to build stronger relationships and become better parents; and to manage their career and finances.

    In addition to core support services for individuals, implementation of an EFAP can improve overall organizational functioning with an exciting array of tools including health promotion, disability prevention, and training programs; trauma response services; workplace mediation services; executive and on-line coaching, behavioural risk assessments and cultural and values audits.

    Ultimately the implementation of an EFAP can assist employers in protecting their investment in one of the most critical aspects of their operation, their employees.

    Ann Zube is Vice President, Strategic Client Solutions for Family Services EAP. She can be reached at azube@fseap.com or 416-585-9985 x 227

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