360-degree feedback is a method of gathering feedback from multiple sources to aid in employee evaluation and development.
With the help of 360-degree feedback software, it's possible to collect rich, unbiased feedback about each employee in your organization.
This article will help you understand what 360-degree feedback is, why it's valuable, and how to run a 360-degree feedback process.
What is 360-Degree Feedback?
360-degree feedback, also known as multisource, multi-rater feedback or 360 review, refers to feedback about employee performance or observed behaviors gathered from various sources.
It’s used to provide a deeper assessment of performance and guide decision-making around promotions, potential roles, and training and development.
Sources of feedback include:
- The recipient (by self-rating)
- Subordinates (if applicable)
- Customers (internal and external).
360-degree feedback is most often used for leadership development, but it can and should be used for regular employees too.
Feedback is usually collected via surveys, questionnaires, and interviews (you can use employee survey tools to help).
It’s also typical for managers themselves to evaluate their performance as part of the 360-degree feedback process, but take this into account when considering bias as we all have bias towards ourselves and blind spots (more on this later).
How is 360-degree feedback different from regular feedback?
The fact that feedback is multi-source is the primary differentiator from other feedback processes.
Traditionally, managers are the sole source of feedback as part of annual performance appraisals (or performance reviews) and more frequent feedback discussions.
The information gleaned from an effective 360-degree feedback process is more holistic and can paint a more complete picture of the recipient’s performance and development.
Having multiple input sources also allows for a broader range of competencies to be measured based on who is being asked to offer feedback.
The who is very important in this process. 360-degree feedback carries huge risk of bias based on who provides feedback.
The other significant distinction from other forms of feedback revolves around anonymity.
Recipients of 360-degree feedback are typically given summary data of their feedback, but they do not get specific information about what each reviewer said about them.
360-Degree Feedback Example
The following 360 feedback survey example is of a Customer Experience Manager seeking to grow within the organization (as described in the steps above).
The survey will measure this manager on a series of core competencies identified as critical to the organization’s success.
Prospective sources from which to collect this feedback could include direct reports, direct managers, peers within the same department/role, and other organization members with whom this manager frequently interacts (i.e., HR, sales, etc.)
This particular sample survey is designed to be filled out by a colleague to the Customer Experience Manager being evaluated.
Multiple versions of a survey could be created for the different stakeholders assessing the individual in question (i.e., surveys for managers, direct reports, etc. may have differently phrased questions and measure information that the group would be privy to).
360-Degree Feedback Benefits
360-degree feedback helps to evaluate job performance and identify areas of improvement regarding employee relationships.
- Comprehensive performance insight: This multi-perspective approach offers a more holistic and balanced view of an employee's performance, strengths, and areas for improvement.
- Personal and professional development: For employees, receiving feedback from multiple sources can be eye-opening, revealing blind spots in their self-assessments. It helps them understand how their behavior and work are perceived by others, guiding them in their personal and professional growth.
- Enhanced communication: The process fosters open communication within the organization. It encourages a culture where constructive feedback is shared and received positively, leading to better interpersonal relations and teamwork.
- Performance management: For managers, 360-degree feedback provides a broader perspective on team dynamics and individual performance. It can inform more effective management strategies, talent development, and team building.
- Accountability and recognition: This system can make employees more accountable, knowing that their performance is being evaluated from multiple angles. It also provides an opportunity for employees to be recognized by a wider range of colleagues, not just their direct supervisors.
- Leadership development: For managers and potential future leaders, 360-degree feedback is invaluable in understanding their leadership style's effectiveness and impact on others. It helps in honing leadership skills by identifying strengths and areas for improvement.
360-Degree Feedback: Pros And Cons
When considering 360-degree feedback, it's essential to recognize the merits and disadvantages of using it for employee development only versus using it for both employee development and performance evaluation.
Though the efficacy of 360 feedback depends on the way it’s facilitated (how reviewers are selected, what questions they answer, etc.), limited disadvantages arise when considering using it for development purposes only.
The following table summarizes the critical pros and cons of using 360-degree feedback for more formal uses, such as performance appraisals (and thus things like promotions and raises).
360-degree feedback pros and cons
|Some important employment decisions (i.e., merit, discipline, or termination) benefit from multiple sources of feedback, such as when managers/supervisors do not have frequent contact with team members they must rate.
|When managers and executives must make administrative decisions using multi-source data, they may feel that this disempowers them and their ability to make decisions for their teams.
|The availability of good information supports employment decisions that benefit the organization. When raters are aware of this, they may be more exact in their evaluations.
|In cases where managers must discuss feedback with their own managers, they may find that it is uncomfortable speaking with their supervisors about how others see their performance. In organizations with no feedback culture, decisions based on this data may prompt defensiveness.
|A standardized, anonymous 360-degree feedback process makes it less likely for raters to give biased ratings if they were approached directly by upper management about their supervisor.
Employees and managers may question credibility if raters are vested in the results of the feedback (e.g., in the case of a rater’s appraisal being affected by their manager’s). The risk of partial raters who will not give objective feedback.
In sum, there are many clear advantages to using 360-degree feedback for employee development and keeping the performance appraisal process completely separate.
If considering using 360-degree feedback for formalized performance appraisal, it is expected that employees would exhibit hesitation and discomfort, especially at first.
It would be wise to allow folks to engage with 360-degree feedback for the first time in a “safe” setting focused on their development rather than being tied to compensation and other employment decisions.
Doing so allows organization members to understand better what this process will look like and enables them to become more comfortable with the process. The decision to make it part of the performance appraisal process can be piloted and incorporated over time, in alignment with the organization’s culture.
I recommend leveraging an effective 360-degree feedback process as a developmental tool.
360-Degree Feedback Process
Step 1: Identify and communicate the purpose
For the 360-degree feedback process to work, it’s necessary to educate all team members on how the 360-degree feedback process facilitates professional development and clearly articulate if it is tied to formal appraisal and compensation.
All participants should understand the benefits of feedback more generally, understand the benefits of using a multisource feedback process for development, know what the process looks like in practice, and understand how the results from the process will be used.
A communication plan should include other important features of the 360-degree feedback process like confidentiality, anonymity, process timeline, and the kinds of things included in the feedback survey.
Step 2: Identify who will provide input
WARNING: This step is high-risk!! This is where 360-degree performance evaluations go from helpful to completely unhelpful and biased.
When an organization begins preparing to conduct 360-degree feedback, managers often ask their employees to identify a handful of people that they feel would be able to provide feedback about their performance at work.
This is where the entire process can be derailed. When you ask people who should provide feedback about them, you immediately invite significant bias into the evaluation process.
Instead, managers should seek to identify a handful of people that each of their employees actively collaborates with at work. Who do they serve? Who relies on them for effective work outcomes? Who are their stakeholders? Who is impacted by their work?
If the feedback recipient, for example, is a Customer Experience Manager with aspirations to continue growing within the organization, valuable sources of feedback may include:
- The Customer Experience Manager (self-review)
- Members of this manager’s team
- The Customer Experience Manager’s manager
- Peer Customer Experience Managers
- Customer feedback (especially in cases where this manager directly interacts with specific customers)
- Other individuals/departments from across the organization with whom this manager interacts somewhat frequently (i.e., sales, operations, and HR).
Step 3: Define what gets evaluated
The third step in soliciting and administering 360-degree feedback is to define the relevant areas of performance the feedback is meant to address.
These performance dimensions should be derived from current job analyses, or based on top management’s beliefs about the behaviors they want to develop and reward in the future.
A helpful question to ask yourself when defining these dimensions is “What behaviors should we expect from a high-performer in a given competency, and how often should we expect these behaviors?”
In the case of the Customer Experience Manager from Step 2, we might consider performance dimensions related to team management and the performance of the whole department.
We might also consider behaviors we would expect from a high-performing Customer Experience Manager preparing for an increase in the scope of their responsibilities.
It is important to note that ratings are based on evaluations (e.g., 1 = Poor Performance, 5 = Excellent Performance) or on the frequency of behavior (e.g., Never does this, Sometimes does this, Always does this, etc.).
Step 4: Decide on how feedback is measured
The fourth step in preparing to deliver 360-degree feedback involves the design of the multisource feedback process.
This covers the survey’s scale format (how behaviors and performance are measured) and the availability of commentary to supplement ratings.
A commonly used format is the Likert scale, which asks for a rating on a set of performance dimensions on a numeric scale e.g. 1-5 (1—strongly disagree, 6—strongly agree) as this is simple but provides enough flexibility for the rater to distinguish between merely average performance and high performance.
In the case of the Customer Experience Manager, let’s assume a number of the items asked on the feedback survey relate to this manager’s leadership. We’ll use a 6-point Likert scale like so:
- Completely disagree/Hardly Ever
- Disagree/Mostly not
- Somewhat Disagree/Usually not
- Somewhat Agree/Usually yes
- Agree/Most of the time
- Strongly Agree/Almost Always
Usually, 360-degree feedback presents different questions to different reviewers, based on their relationship to the person being evaluated.
Often the split is by whether someone is a direct report of the person being evaluated, if they are a customer of the person being evaluated, if they manage the person being evaluated, or if they are a co-worker peer to the person being evaluated.
Items one might expect on the survey could include:
- This individual supports me in meeting my personal and professional goals (DR)
- This individual provides helpful, ongoing feedback to help my performance (DR)
- This individual is responsive to my requests when I need to escalate a concern (CX)
- This individual takes time to support their direct peers and help mentor new managers (PR)
- This individual contributes value to team meetings (MGR, PR)
- This individual demonstrates accountability for their teams’ results (MGR)
In addition to submitting numerical ratings on the feedback form, it could be helpful to include room for additional commentary or feedback. This is so raters can provide specific information leading to the score or offer feedback not measured on the survey.
Step 5: Analyze feedback data
Once surveys have been submitted, the data can be compiled, organized, and analyzed.
One way of doing this is to provide the recipient with normative data to compare their results with summary data of other participants in the process (i.e., the average scores across the items measured by the other Customer Experience Managers who were rated).
However, while this might be motivational in some highly competitive teams and cultures, be careful not to discourage people too much when they compare their scores to those of their peers. It can backfire, so read the situation carefully!
The various feedback sources can be separated by source type or relationship to the reviewee. This split can be very helpful when used as a basis for comparison. Knowing these differences could prove very insightful for the person receiving the feedback.
Step 6: Deliver the feedback
The sixth step in implementing and using a 360-degree feedback process involves the delivery of said feedback. There are several considerations relating to feedback delivery:
- The shape and feel of the delivery itself
- Who gets to deliver it.
How to deliver feedback
Feedback ought to be objectively and holistically explained and internalized so that the recipient pays attention to both areas in which they ranked more highly and areas noted for improvement.
One way to do this is for the feedback deliverer to support the recipient in identifying whether areas for improvement (i.e., the presence of undesirable behaviors or the absence of desirable ones) highlighted in the feedback summary are related to motivation or ability.
To address areas for improvement stemming from motivational issues, feedback can involve the inclusion of rewards to reinforce the desired behavior change.
To address areas for improvement related to ability, constructive feedback might involve training, mentorship, or other ways that encourage the recipient to learn how to behave in the desired way.
Who should deliver feedback?
The next concern consists of selecting the person (or people) delivering the feedback.
Who, then, should deliver the feedback collected and serve as this support source? Here are several potential options:
- A hired coach, consultant, or HR Business Partner. Using a consultant may help minimize perceived risk to the recipient and allow the recipient to consider the feedback in full.
- Immediate supervisor. This requires that the supervisor review the feedback objectively and tie the survey results directly to tangible steps toward improvement.
- Group sessions. Feedback recipients can receive their results and have a general discussion on how to use the results and seek clarity on results and what to take away from them.
Performance evaluation software can also be utilized to help you analyze and administer more effective feedback.
Step 7: Supporting development
Throughout this article, I've focused on using 360-degree feedback for developmental purposes (rather than performance).
Therefore, it’s imperative that the recipient co-create and commit to a series of actions supported by the recipient’s team, manager, and organization that aid their professional development.
Here are tips and techniques one can use to support multisource feedback recipients in making progress toward their commitments to growth.
Collaborate on next steps
The deliverer of the feedback ought to work with the recipient on identifying the next steps based on the collected feedback data. This can include:
- Planning for future check-in meetings to discuss progress (with any of the relevant stakeholder groups, as appropriate)
- Identifying sources or opportunities for the recipient to learn more about and practice behaviors and skills they would like to gain or strengthen
- Having the recipient explain specific ways they intend to make the relevant adjustments
- Identifying timelines and milestones to measure progress.
Summarize key takeaways from the feedback session and action items
Have the recipient help you summarize the actions and timelines they have agreed to.
It would be helpful for this information to be made readily available to the recipient and any relevant stakeholders (e.g., their direct supervisor) for whom it makes sense to follow up on these action steps.
Performance management software with this functionality would help secure the survey data while offering easy access.
360-Degree Feedback Template
Use this template to help you collect 360-degree feedback in your org.
For further support on collecting and administering feedback, join the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business professionals sharing knowledge to help you progress in your career and make greater impact in your org.