News & Insight
February 2003

Assessing the Power Of the Internet

The Internet has changed the way businesses buy supplies, sell products and hire staff. Now it is changing the way they assess employees.

Two popular diagnostic techniques -- 360-degree evaluations and large-scale employee climate surveys -- can be administered online quickly, economically and with rich analytical detail.

While one-on-one interviews are still the medium of choice for evaluations of senior executives and high-potential candidates, online 360s -- which solicit feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates via a secure Web site -- are growing in popularity. Smaller companies with limited resources like them for their cost-efficiency, and larger organizations with far-flung staffs find them useful for the speed with which they can gather information from around the world.

In addition, all companies appreciate the ability to analyze results in greater detail. For example, individual evaluations can be aggregated to create a "composite 360" for an entire management team. "So if you're looking at succession planning, and the team as a whole is short on vision, you can supplement it by making sure the next member has more in terms of strategic thinking," says Terry Overholser, a member of the WJM Associates coaching faculty.

Employee climate surveys also benefit from the Internet's abilities to compress time, increase economies of scale and aggregate responses.

"We not only ask employees to rate the effectiveness of culture, structure and leadership, but we also ask them to rate the importance of various competencies within those domains," says Overholser, who has been conducting online assessments for four years. "That way, organizations can identify the 'dissatisfiers' as well as the 'satisfiers,' because you really want to invest in factors that are going to create enthusiasm.

"It's like a full-body scan. You can see where there are problems and where things are working well."

But that is just the beginning. The power of online instruments is the ability to objectively measure improvement over time -- whether, in the case of 360-degree evaluations, leadership behaviors or business acumen are improving, or, in the case of climate surveys, key processes and overall organizational leadership are improving.

Without such technology, estimates of improvement in behavior remain non-quantifiable, which severely weakens accountability for, and therefore the probability of, successfully implementing important change initiatives.

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