360 Degree Feedback

360 degree feedback is a tool that provides an employee the opportunity to solicit and receive feedback on their performance from their supervisor, peers, staff who report to them, co-workers, and potentially customers. Typically, the employee is encouraged to complete a self-assessment as well. 360 degree reviews provide an employee with a well-rounded view of how others work with them and perceive their work. The 360 degree review provides insight for the manager on these areas too. 

Purpose of 360 Degree Feedback

The purpose of the 360 degree feedback tool is to help the employee understand how effective they are at their work, as perceived by themselves and a variety of people who work with them. This feedback is typically based off of behaviors other employees see in the individual being evaluated.

Many organizations will link the feedback to the organization’s mission, vision, and goals, to ensure the employee sees the big picture and knows how to adjust their behavior to best meet their customer’s expectations.  The 360 degree feedback will help the employee understand his strengths and weaknesses and help the employee and his or her manager understand any professional development or coaching needs. 

How Does a 360 Degree Feedback Process Work                    

  • Choose Raters - Either the employee being rated, the organization, or both choose the raters. The raters are typically someone the employee interacts with routinely, such as colleagues, co-workers, customers, direct reports of the employee, and supervisors.
  • Complete a self-evaluation - The employee being rated should complete a self-rating survey that includes the same questions being completed by the other raters.
  • Raters complete evaluation - Each of the raters will be asked to rate the employee on certain questions on a rating scale and to provide written comments.
  • System tabulates results - The 360 degree feedback system will tabulate the results, and the evaluator or facilitator will combine the comments provided with similar raters, in order to preserve anonymity.
  • Results and feedback is provided - The anonymous results are shared confidentially with the employee in a meaningful way to help them understand their strengths and opportunities for improvement. A development plan would be another potential outcome from the results.

Pros of 360 Degree Feedback

The 360 degree feedback has many positive aspects. 

A 360 degree program provides an employee with feedback that involve both internal and external customers.  Understanding that co-worker perception is important, and this process helps facilitate feedback that raters may not have felt comfortable giving if it weren’t for the anonymity of the 360 degree feedback process. 

There are many reasons multi-rater feedback is seen as a good alternative to traditional supervisor only feedback. Many feel that multi-rater feedback creates a work environment where co-workers work more collectively with more accountability to each other, not just to the “boss”.  The team members are encouraged to share information, communicate with each other more, and work toward developing each other.

The 360 degree feedback process is one of the best methods for enhancing the organization’s ability to drive all employee focus in the same direction by working toward the same overarching goals.  It will help the employee understand what he or she needs to do to enhance their career and understand their own personal development path. Organizationally, the feedback can be used to develop training needs and allows planning for classes and highlights opportunities for mentoring or cross-training.

The feedback provided though the 360 degree process is often viewed as more accurate and a direct reflection of the employee’s performance, as opposed to feedback provided by just the supervisor. It also helps reduce the possibility of individual biases being included in the feedback. Therefore discrimination due to race, age, and gender is typically reduced.

Some of the common pitfalls of traditional review processes are minimized, such as the recency effect, in which a supervisor recalls and rates an employee on the most recent interactions with the employee, or the strictness or leniency bias, where a supervisor is either an easy or a hard grader.

360 degree feedback can also be a time saver for managers.  Managers can potentially spend less time on the evaluation process, since more people are involved in the process.  This may allow them to focus their time on developing goals and improvement plans for the employees.

The 360 degree feedback process can also be used as a development tool for non-managers, however a non-manager 360 degree feedback process in not technical a full 360 degrees as there are no direct reports. It can still be very useful as it can help an individual contributor become more effective in their current position and provide them insight in what they should focus on in order to move to a management role in the future.

Cons of 360 Degree Feedback

Understanding the potential negative points of implementing the 360 degree feedback process are important so you can get a road map of what to avoid.  

This type of a feedback program is often introduced by the Human Resources Department or an executive in the organization after having read about it or attending a seminar.  Implementing this one piece without the appropriate change management process in place will not yield effective results. Getting a cross section of people from the organization that will be involved from the beginning will help ensure your program is successful and encompasses the areas the employees and managers want to focus on with a feedback program.

The 360 degree program should be used as part of the overall performance management system, not as a complete replacement for what your organization offers.  Knowing the 360 degree feedback doesn’t encompass some important areas of performance, you must have other components of your feedback process.

A thorough implementation process must be followed to make sure the program is successful in the short and long term.  The new 360 degree program should be connected to the overall strategic goals of your organization.

If the person receiving the feedback wants to get further information of some of the comments, they have to recourse since the feedback provided is anonymous.

360 degree programs that only focus on negative feedback and improvement will not be successful. Well-developed programs should encourage both positive and improvement comments. The program should focus on discovering strengths rather than use the process to uncover deficiencies. Also, consider the time it takes the raters to complete the survey.  A 15-20 minute average time completion is probably sufficient and prevents burnout, as most raters will provide feedback to multiple people each year.

If the managers and employees using the program aren’t sufficient trained, the program could easily go wrong.  Raters won’t be consistent, and the feedback will not be meaningful.  Providing thorough training and examples of well written constructive feedback are very valuable in this process. Raters need to be trained to not over inflate or deflate the ratings.  You’ll also want to warn raters against informally banding together to make the system artificially inflate everyone’s performance.  Certain checks and balances need to be put in to place to avoid these types of pitfalls.

What a 360 Degree Feedback Survey Measures

The 360 Degree Feedback tool can measure the following areas:

  • Behaviors and Competencies
  • Feedback on how others perceive the employee
  • Softer skills such as listening, planning, and goal setting
  • Achievements toward the mission and vision of the organization

What 360 Degree Feedback Surveys Do Not Assess

This process does not asses:

  • Goal achievement
  • If the employee is meeting basic job requirements
  • Basic technical or job-specific skills
  • Objective measures, such as attendance or sales performance (quotas)


360 Degree Feedback Uses

If a 360 degree feedback program is developed correctly from the beginning, it will ensure it is measuring the right skills, relying on research to determine which leadership competencies really make a difference to the performance of organization. The employee will understand how they can improve upon themselves to better master these skills by receiving feedback through this process. 

A 360 degree program that is understood by all of the key stakeholders will be truly valued as the best way to give and receive feedback.  They’ll understand why it’s important to invest their time in providing feedback using this methodology.  Confidentiality will be assured, and their confidence in providing feedback will continue to be encouraged through continued use of the program.

The survey results should be tailored to each person and truly be an individualized development plan.  While some of the overlying competencies will be the same across the organization, how those competencies are applied to each individual position will vary.  Make the feedback meaningful.

Some 360 degree programs design a final report to help an employee see how they compare to others, including top performers. This helps them understand what it takes to be successful in the organization and helps elevates employee’s aspirations. A good program always shows that there is room for improvement – nobody is perfect in all areas of their performance.  However, they can strive to be a role model in certain areas.

Executive Coaching

More and more organizations are using Executive Coaching as part of their strategic management of their people. 

Coaching has been found to be an effective approach for developing senior leaders and enhancing the performance of their teams and the organization. However, the results will only be as good as the program, so creating a well-designed and delivered program is essential.

A key component of executive coaching is the 360-degree feedback which allows the coach to gather information about the executive’s strengths and development needs, how they are perceived by others, and what they need to do in order to achieve a higher level of performance and provide a more positive impact.  This feedback can be gathered through one-on-one meetings, through an online survey, or a combination of both.  Sometimes individuals feel more comfortable sharing information through an online survey because they perceive the process to provide more anonymity, and online surveys are typically more convenience and less expensive.  One-on-one interviews can provide more detail, as the interviewer can ask probing question and diver deeper in to certain areas.

Once the data collection method has been decided on, you will need to determine who should participate.  Generally, the raters should include anyone who has enough familiarity with the executive’s performance.

Why 360 Degree Reviews Fail

As with anything, don’t adopt a 360 degree feedback process without careful consideration and in a well-planned manner.  Implemented incorrectly, this feedback process could actually cause more damage than good, requiring months or years to recover.

Some of the common reasons 360 degree programs fail:

  • Programs driven by Human Resources, and not supported by managers are very seldom successful.
  • Everyone in the 360 degree feedback process needs to buy in to the importance of the program.
  • The questions in the program are too vague or too specific.
  • The program is not multi-dimensional and focuses too much on personality profiles, thus making it difficult to translate the feedback in to specific and measurable actions.
  • Feedback provided is personal in nature and isn’t constructive.
  • There is no follow-up or action plans once the feedback has been given.
  • Feedback isn’t kept confidential. 

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