Most Talent Development Managers have heard and/or used 360-degree feedback as a tool in hopes of developing leadership in their organization. Many times this is done without a good understanding of what makes a truly successful project vs. one that simply checks the box.

We developed this 360-feedback guide in hopes of making sure you have all the information you need to build a long lasting effect on your organization’s developmental needs. So, if you are implementing your first 360-degree assessment or just need some reminders, we hope this will help you in your journey.


1. What is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback is a multi-rater feedback process of gathering different perspectives from groups of individuals about a focal person’s on-the-job performance.  In other words, multiple raters evaluate their perceptions of an individual’s performance levels.  Because there are multiple individuals providing ratings, the results are anonymous which in turn, leads to more honest feedback. Often times the 360-degree survey feedback then becomes the kick start of a developmental process within the organization and part of their performance management process. The whole idea of the 360 degree feedback system is to drive results for the organization.

360 was named such because traditionally there were always 4 perspectives of data obtained: self, manager, peers, and direct reports.  However, today there can be more or less rater groups used, and even those that go beyond the boundaries of the organization (i.e., customers).


2. When to use 360 feedback?

There is no wrong or right time to use a 360-degree feedback process within the organization.  360 results can be used for either development or appraisal as part of a review or promotion process or even when leadership may sense burnout among one of their peers.  However, certain conditions/parameters need to be in place to make the 360 process as effective as possible.  For example, if there hasn’t been executive, and organizational, support for the process then the implementation will be much less effective. 

Likewise, if there is no plan in place to take action on the results obtained through the process then an organization may be better served delaying the implementation. Some questions your organization my want to ask itself prior to a 360 evaluation can be found here. Otherwise, the 360-degree feedback process is useful for individuals whenever it makes the most sense for them to engage in a developmental activity. For more information on when to use 360-degree feedback, click here.


3. Who is included in 360 feedback?

The only real qualifier to define raters for a participant is that they know the participant well enough to provide accurate ratings of performance.  So, a new employee that has only been on the job for 1 week should not be a rater for their manager.   The definition of the rater groups being asked to assess the focal individual can vary widely.  For example, sales people can be evaluated by their manager, their peers, and customers.  And even customers can be broken down into different categories. 

One major qualifier is to make sure that there are at least 2-3 individuals in each rater group (with the exception of one’s immediate manager).  This ensures anonymity, which in turn, assists in providing more accurate results.  The number of rater groups is unlimited as long as the grouping makes intuitive sense.  For example, a Regional Sales Vice President as the focal leader could have a large number of rater groups: Sr Leadership Team, Peers, Direct Reports, 2nd Level Direct Reports, Wholesalers, Direct Customers, etc.  Each of these groups would provide a different perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the Sales Leader. One last item to keep in mind is to be sure to be aware of rater fatigue. This can occur if the rater is rushed, is being asked to rate too many people or simply is too busy. Be smart with how much you ask of your rater groups to ensure you get the best possible engagement.


4. Who uses 360-degree feedback?

While 360 surveys have traditionally focused on leadership positions, in fact, they can be used for anyone within the organization.  They are as useful for individual contributors as they are for, managers, front-line leaders and senior level executives.  As an example, 360 assessments are used at Country Clubs to help improve behaviors in their leaders in order to maintain membership levels as well as create uniqueness for new membership drives. Even if there are only one or two rater groups, gathering good information on someone’s performance levels can only help the individual, thereby helping the organization.  Organizations across all industries use 360 degree feedback both for on-site as well as remote leaders.  360 surveys have also been widely used in Federal, State, and Local governments as well as non-profit operations to help retain employees.


5. How 360 feedback works?

Generally completing a 360 degree survey should be relatively simple.  There are 4 basic steps to completing a 360 project.  First, the participants must be identified and the content chosen on which each participant will be rated.  Second, invitations are issued to all individuals to complete the ratings on each focal leader/participant.  Third, once the ratings are complete the feedback reports are generated and distributed to the appropriate people.  And fourth, feedback, development and coaching occur.  The first three steps can typically be completed in 1-3 weeks.  The fourth step is by far the hardest and occurs over time, on-the-job.  This fourth steps simply uses the feedback from the 360 process to help complete an individual development plan, and is often not thought of as part of the 360 process, but it should be.

360-degree feedback guide

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6. Is 360-degree feedback anonymous?

The intent of a 360 degree feedback process is that all ratings are anonymous, with the exception of the direct manager’s ratings.  For a manager he/she should be willing to confront and discuss performance issues with his/her direct reports so those ratings don’t need to be anonymous.  For all others, the value and accuracy of the ratings increases if anonymity can be assured.  When raters know their responses will not be identified then they tend to be more forthcoming and more accurate, which in turn, lends more credibility to the ratings.  This may also lead to an increased acceptance by the participant.

On the flip side, if ratings do not end up being anonymous then the results can be very damaging.  Instead of focusing on the behaviors rated, participants start to focus on why or why not they are not liked by certain people.  This can cause ongoing, negative behavior change in the work place by the participants.  It also detracts from the messaging that a company is trying to convey by using a 360 process, which is one of development and benefit to the employees.

This is why often times companies look to external vendors to administer the 360.  It sends a message that no one in the organization will be seeing the results, except those that are involved in the development process going forward.


7. Is 360-degree feedback effective?

As a tool, 360-degree feedback can be very effective in evaluating and developing employees.  However, not all 360 feedback projects are the same.  Certainly there are Pro’s and Con’s to 360 feedback. There are also many factors that make the 360-degree feedback more or less effective.  For example, without organizational support from the top there is less likelihood that participants will engage fully with the process.  Versus having an executive explain the importance of the 360 process will allow participants to answer the question “what’s in it for me.”

With 360 projects not all content is the same.  The 360 process whereby bad items are included will lead to “bad results (garbage in – garbage out).”  Content does matter, and behaviorally specific, easy to understand items lead to better ratings and a better understanding of the results on an individual level.

There is a saying in assessment, “what gets measured, gets paid attention to.”  So, letting individuals know that the organization will be evaluating the quality of the individual development plans, whether people are engaging in development, and ultimately whether development occurs will cause people to pay attention to the whole 360 process.  Otherwise, most individuals will simply look at their report once, and then revert to their normal patterns of behavior. Here’s a great article on the pro’s and cons of 360-degree feedback. You can also find the building blocks of a successful 360 feedback survey here.


Why 360 Degree Feedback is successful – FIFCO example:

8. What are the benefits of 360 surveys?

There are many benefits associated with conducting an effective 360-degree feedback process.  First, with good content that measures discrete behaviors, participants are provided with clarity which is valuable for developing performance.  Second, since results are only reported in aggregate and therefore more anonymous (except manager), results tend to be more accurate than other systems.  Third, since the 360-degree process provides diverse perspectives (multiple rater groups) it provides a more well-rounded view of performance which carries more weight, therefore more likely to lead to change.  Fourth, because there is more acceptance by participants there may be more motivation to change.  And fifth, on a group basis there is significant opportunity to benchmark the group which is valuable (i.e., group training needs, overall development needed, etc.) Looking at 360 Feedback Surveys Examples can be a great way to weight all the benefits.

9. What are the employee characteristics needed to ensure a smooth 360 review process?

In short, the employee needs to have a good understanding of what the purpose is of the review is, have a good understanding of the feedback report, be willing to accept feedback, and allow for coaching. If the employee has these types of attributes they have a good chance of making positive behavior changes and therefore will have a smooth and successful 360 review process.

10. Who is involved in 360 Degree Feedback?

There are numerous people involved in a 360 feedback process. Normally an HR Director of sorts leads the charge in putting together a 360 project. They determine who will go through the process and who all in and out of the company should be involved in reviewing those individuals. As stated before, the normal groups of people doing the surveys are; The person being reviewed as a self-evaluation, the manager, peers, direct reports and potentially customers or even vendors in some cases. Other people involved in the process include; a coach or mentor, leadership groups inside the organization to determine next steps and any number of other people depending on what all is involved in the process and how complicated it may or may not become. FIFCO is a great example of this

11. How to use 360 Degree Feedback as a development tool.

360 degree feedback is a great starting point for implementing an individual development plan (IDP) for an associate. The initial report provided by the 360 process works as a benchmark for starting a plan by identifying behaviors that need improvement as well as other areas that may be hidden strengths that can be encouraged. The main point is to start with the report to build an individualized plan and then through the use of a coach or mentor, allow for the employee to work on those areas identified in a systematic manner. Once a period of time has gone (3-6 months), another 360 process can be used to see how the participant has done according to his/her peers. The 360 report acts as the beginning and the checkpoint for development plans. Development of course never ends but 360 degree feedback is most definitely a great development tool.

12. How to choose the right survey content for 360Feedback initiatives.

360Feedback is only as good as the survey content that is chosen for the program. Depending on the leader going through the process and the behaviors looking to be reviewed, the survey content must match the desired outcomes. This is essential not only for the leader to get feedback that is helpful but also the company and department running the 360Feedback review and their goals. Be sure you choose survey content that matches the desired needs.

13. How do you implement 360Feedback correctly?

The 360Feedback process must be implemented in a way that builds trust with the entire team whereby success is clearly articulated from the project leader upfront. Running a smooth process is also important to the team buying into the process. Understanding start dates, end dates and review dates and being held accountable to those dates makes the team see the importance of the 360 process. Lastly, implementing a 360feedback program that leads to the creation of a development plan and set of deliverables after the report is given is critical to the long lasting efforts of the process and the best possible results. To ensure a solid process, begin with our checklist we created to help you make sure you have everything covered.

14. What results can you expect when using 360 feedback?

It sure would be nice if you could simply run a 360 assessment and end up with a leader who’s challenges are all fixed. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. The results you should expect should vary from big changes to the behavioral challenges to little to none. These expectations should be based on how you feel the participant is going to respond to the assessment. Typically if they are the type of person that is open to feedback and can handle learning about their challenges, they will have a much higher likelihood of making changes. However, the opposite can be true of those leaders who are stuck in their ways and not open to change.

The expectation for these folks is probably more minimal. The superiors of these leaders will know, but you must be willing to try and create the best possible opportunity for all of these personalities to make positive change, sometimes those you have lower expectations for will surprise you.

Related Resources:

Leadership Development – Big Questions Answered

Pre-Employment Assessments – Everything You Need to Know

The Ultimate guide to Pre-Employment Screening

Best Hiring Practices – Top Questions Answered

The AlignMark YouTube Channel

Benefits of 360 Degree Feedback

Implementing 360 Feedback

360 Feedback Survey Templates

360 Feedback for Personal Development

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