Rating Game

Questions, Questions

Where to get started? The first step is to develop a questionnaire, but don't expect to do this over a cup of coffee. The better the survey, the better the results. "The key is to make the questionnaire strategically significant," says Richard Harris, a senior vice president with Boston-based The Forum Corp., a human resources consulting firm that has implemented multirater feedback systems in numerous companies. "You want it to serve the critical needs of the business."

This means thinking hard about what the individual worker needs to do to be effective, then writing survey questions that match these needs. "The key is to measure competencies the worker needs to benefit the company," stresses Gebelein. For instance: "On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being highest, rate this worker on how well he or she meets deadlines."

Keep the survey not only focused but short. Busy employees don't have hours to fill out forms. At Personnel Decisions, the target time in surveys it provides its clients is completion within 10 to 25 minutes. (Tell employees how long the survey should take--"otherwise, some people agonize over this," says Gebelein.)

Once surveys are written, it's time to begin the process. Guess who gets rated first? You. "If commitment from the top isn't there, don't even start this process," says Bob Abramms, a senior consultant with ODT Inc., an Amherst, Massachusetts, human resources consulting and publishing firm.

But don't be surprised if the feedback does not fill you with cheer. "We know several facts about this process," says Mount. "People tend to rate themselves higher than others do. We also know that, in many instances, direct subordinates are tough raters of their bosses. Some bosses get hammered--and that hurts."

Knowing this in advance lessens the sting. Besides, what the workers will tell you may well heighten your effectiveness. Be a role model here, too. If you shrug off the feedback, workers will do the same.

What should you do about negative feedback? At Personnel Decisions, Gebelein says, "We tell the person to meet with the raters, thank them for their feedback, and tell them what they learned and what they plan to do differently."

What if some of the feedback isn't clear to you? Ask for elaboration--but do it gingerly. "It is difficult not to get defensive when asking to clarify feedback you've been given. We tell people instead to ask for advice about development, about the steps they should be taking to improve," says Gebelein.

Once you've been through the process, expand it to include your employees--and make sure rating sessions are followed by actions. "Multirater feedback can be like a commitment to exercise. How long does it take most people to slide back to not exercising?" asks Knudson. "The same thing happens with decisions to make behavioral changes."

The point is not simply to collect observations about yourself but to follow up with changes that improve personal effectiveness and benefit the business. Some businesses build follow-up meetings with raters into their process--at three-month intervals, the rated employee meets with the raters to review the changes implemented and what still needs work.

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This article was originally published in the December 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rating Game.

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