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Custom 360 Assessments - The Exception has Become the Rule

In the world of leadership development and organizational effectiveness the 360-degree assessment has long been viewed as one of the most popular tools in the HR arsenal. At the individual level, they provide insights about your managers and leaders that can drive change and improvement. At the aggregate level, you’ll have the opportunity to identify key areas that might be dragging down a department, division, or the entire company. Leveraging this data, you can begin a course correction that ultimately allows both the individual and the organization to be more competitive. One assessment, two benefits. 

When it comes to finding the right 360 for your organization, it’s important to consider a few fundamental choices, one of which is whether you should use an off-the-shelf assessment or go the custom route.

To Customize, or Not to Customize

That is the question. In fact, this is the most common question we hear. And the short answer is, it depends, as both have legitimate advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s quickly touch on a few benefits for off-the-shelf:

  • Cost – Set-up costs are typically lower than custom 360 assessments. Always a crowd pleaser!
  • Time to market – You can have it tomorrow.
  • Tried and true – You’re taking the same exact survey that thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of others have taken. There’s a certain degree of comfort knowing we’re all in this together.

That said, in this article we’re going to focus on the key benefits of customization.

Relevance and Alignment

Every organization is unique, in that it exists within a given industry and has its own mission, culture, values, history, and of course, its own challenges. As such, each company has a core set of competencies and expectations that are deemed essential for success. 

Customized 360 assessments are a highly focused and efficient method for measuring the specific skills that leaders need within their organization. It also has the benefit of cutting out any excess, or “noisy”, content that may be interesting, but not critical. Ultimately, this  allows for a shorter, more concise assessment. The end-result is feedback that is not only insightful, but also focused on what is more meaningful and impactful to each leader. 

And by tailoring the survey content and output within the context of a broader L&D approach, you can implement a cohesive assessment strategy that is not only consistent with corporate values and culture but also syncs within your over-arching talent development program.

Tailored Development Plans

If you look at the truly successful 360 programs (and we’ve seen many) they all have one thing in common: they place a strong focus on what happens after the feedback is delivered. To be more specific, they hold leaders accountable for creating and implementing a development plan.

If you start with a customized assessment that measures skills relevant to your organization, and to your role, then not only will the feedback itself be more relevant, but the development plan will be curated and actionable.  After all, receiving feedback can be interesting and insightful, but if your leaders aren’t effectively making improvements that matter, then you’re not realizing the full potential of your 360 investment.

Improved Participation and Engagement

We often hear that leaders and their teams feel “surveyed to death,” and that going through an assessment can feel like a chore, something to quickly check the box and move on to the more immediate demands of their role. While introducing a variety of assessments and trainings has good intentions, it can result in lower engagement in the process itself.

However, when individuals perceive that the assessment is tailored to their roles and aligns with the organization's culture and vision, it feels less like a generic chore, and more like something that is part of the overall mission.  They are more likely to take the process seriously, actively engage, and provide honest and thoughtful feedback. This high level of engagement results in a more effective and successful program overall.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Companies tend to evolve over time, especially companies that are experiencing rapid growth or market disruptions. As they grow and adapt, so do their goals, challenges, and strategies. These changes often result in an evolution of the skills required to effectively lead their team to success. In addition to internal change, larger trends outside the corporate walls can impact the actual workplace dynamic itself. Nothing has illustrated this more clearly in recent times than the rapid shift to a more remote workforce. This has required leaders to evolve their approach, which not only impacts which skills are becoming more critical, but also how those skills are applied. 

Customized assessments offer the flexibility to adapt and evolve alongside the organization. As the reality on the ground changes, leadership expectations and skills change as well. As such, the goal isn’t necessarily a customized 360 assessment, but rather one that is customizable, so that it can evolve and remain relevant over time.

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Best of Both Worlds

Look, most medium to large organizations are utilizing 360s to some degree or another. So, this really isn’t a question of should you, or shouldn’t you, but rather how can you leverage this powerful tool most effectively.

As we mentioned earlier, off-the-shelf assessments can serve a valuable role in certain scenarios. But in terms of overall adaptability, efficiency, and long-term utility, customized 360 assessments offer key benefits that are tough to beat.  They provide you with a focused and concise tool that engages its participants and produces results that are more relevant and impactful within the context of your unique environment.

The trick, however, is to accomplish all of this without sacrificing survey validity and reliability. That is achieved by working with a library of validated, research-based, content that is modular at the competency level, while still offering up normative data to benchmark against.  The end result is the best of both worlds assessment, one that measures only what matters most, while producing reliable, accurate data you know you can trust.