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 all encompassing 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.


What is 360 degree feedback?

360 degree feedback is a 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.

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).


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.  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. 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.


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.


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 senior level executives.  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.  360 surveys have also been widely used in Federal, State, and Local governments as well as non-profit operations.


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.


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.


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.  There are 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.


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.)


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