Comparing 360 feedback suppliers

360 feedback has moved on tremendously in the last 10 years, and with hundreds of suppliers in the market place, it is important to be able to easily compare and choose between the various offerings.

Written for those conducting research or exploring opportunities to use 360 feedback in their organisation, these notes are designed to directly support our free 360 provider comparison table by providing a greater understanding of the most important 360 feedback buying criteria.

The following (in no prioritised order) should be considered when purchasing 360 feedback services or software:

  • The type of implementation service provided - Do you want a ‘hands off’ or ‘hands on’ feedback collection service? Most suppliers offer either / both of the following:
    • A fully managed / end to end service - Typically this uses automated 360 software, with the 360 provider carrying out any supporting administrative actions, such as uploading participant / respondent details (if needed), dealing with bounce back emails, providing instant user support (via email, telephone or on-screen chat), manually monitoring progress, downloading reports etc.
    • Software only - This is normally a cheaper option but typically comes with the need to provide some form of self-administered setup and oversight.
  • Credibility - Are they any good / will you be in ‘safe hands’? - Technical capability, quality of service, strategic implementation experience etc., varies tremendously between providers. The easiest way to assess this, is through their length of time in the market place and the size and quality of their current client list. (In my experience larger organisations will have always carried out a thorough due diligence before buying.)
  • Usability - If the user journey being offered is not exceptionally simple and intuitive then don’t even bother to look further(!). The last thing your users will want is to have to endure a laborious login process, visit lots of online screens and read pages worth of instructions. The best providers also offer the following at no extra cost:
    • One login with direct access - Whether you are a participant, respondent or both, every 360 activity that they carry out should be through one login point. No longer is it acceptable for participants / respondents to be issued with a multitude of passwords and login details. The better providers no longer use username/ password systems, they simply provide direct ) links – one click and you are in.
    • Purpose built mobile screens - The day is here when everyone expects to be able to carry out work related activities on their iPads, tablets, phones etc. Having mobile friendly purpose built screens is a must.
    • Instant 24/7 support - We have seen a significant shift in recent years in the number of 360 activities that are completed during evenings and at weekends. If your people have a technical issue or question on providing feedback, it should be responded to there and then.
  • Customisation - This really is a key factor and worthy of some detailed research. ‘Customisation’ can mean anything from “we’ll insert your logo” to a full ground up / bespoke build. The key questions to ask would be linked to:
    • The questionnaire(s) and their rating scale(s) - There should be no restrictions on the layout, format, type and quantity of questionnaires available, including their scale and the number of free text boxes used.
    • Email messaging - All automated emails should be fully updateable in relation to their content, format, branding etc. Also, there should be no restrictions on the number of automated ‘polite reminders’, their content, delivery date and triggering criteria.
    • Branding - Users occasionally misinterpret requests for 360 feedback as ‘spam’. This is far less likely to happen when emails are branded to the organisation. Also, a far more professional look is achieved if online screens are fully branded in line with the organisation’s brand and culture.
    • User journey - Most 360 suppliers have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Being able to tailor the journey to fit your preferred process and the experience you want people to have at each point along the journey is very important.
  • Questionnaire design - Off the shelf / generic questionnaires are dead (!) – 360 feedback only works if the questionnaire is ‘fit for purpose’, which means it must fit the organisation’s current context (including any existing competency frameworks, values statements etc.) and capture future leadership aspirations. Whilst good 360 questionnaire design is a learnt skill, it should be a simple, low cost (if not free) service offered by your provider.
  • Customer support - The pragmatic strategic input needed to ensure the whole process adds real value to the participant(s) and their organisation, and the ‘day to day’ high quality/ professional administrative support that results in a smooth hassle free experience for all, is by far the most important buying consideration. If you have not implemented a 360 feedback programme before, you may struggle to see the true value and importance of this, but nonetheless, trust me on this and ask upfront about the support you will get with regards to:
    • Consultancy - On how to make your 360 initiative add real value.
    • Supporting resources - Briefing packs, slide sets, access to questionnaire databases, internal communication plans, 360 development guides / workbooks, useful feedback coaching tools / development planners and other useful resources designed to ensure your project's success.
    • Dedicated support - Having your own client manager / dedicated support who will provide project oversight, telephone and email support throughout.
    • Implementation refinement - It is normally not until things are fully underway that you see the opportunities to make things even better. Ensure that there is scope to refine, update and improve things (at no cost) once your 360 project is live / underway.
  • Feedback Reports - Different providers show feedback in different ways and each with its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, ‘best practice 360 reporting’ is beyond the scope of these notes. From an initial purchasing perspective you should confirm:
    • Customisation – Is there scope to change the format, layout, presentation and branding of the report?
    • Availability of standard reports Are the industry standard reports available, i.e.:
      • Individual reports - Designed to easily show key strengths and development messages – Take a look at their standard report to ensure it is clear, concise, understandable and easy to interpret.
      • Group summary reports These collate the feedback from a group of participants and their respondents into a high level executive summary. They are typically used for the identification of group themes, development activities, culture planning etc.
      • Comparative reports - Combine and summarise the results of a participant’s old and current 360 reports and enable meaningful behavioural change and progress to be seen / measured over time.
  • Cost - The transparency and standardisation of pricing approaches has been an industry failing for many years, the end result being that making direct comparisons between various suppliers can be difficult There are currently some very good examples of simple and transparent pricing and there are those that offer a cheap reports but then charge a fortune for project building, customisation, questionnaire design, consultancy etc., which makes things very misleading for the buyer. The things to look for are:
    • Transparency - Are fully inclusive costs provided on their website / upfront? If not, they probably have something to hide or are charging well beyond the industry norm(!)
    • Build cost - What is the cost of any work involved in getting to the start line? – Some providers still charge for consultancy, branding, administration, design, development, survey building, questionnaire design, the inclusion of ‘report modules’, set up fees etc.
    • Reports - It is normal now to provide reports on a sliding scale. The more purchased the cheaper they become.
    • Total cost per participant - The only way to really compare costs across several providers is to work out the ‘total cost per participant’. A word of warning, because many 360 providers have their own unique fee structures, in which it is not always obviously apparent at the start of the journey what the final price will be. It is essential you get upfront (in writing) a fully inclusive cost.
  • Supporting services - Most will also be able to help with any feedback coaching / supporting activities such as:
    • Individual coaching
    • Group feedback sessions
    • Train the 360 coach sessions / Train the manager as a 360 coach sessions
  • Data security - All 360 software / applications should:
    • Be located on a dedicated server, in a secure data centre. These typically incorporate multiple power supplies, fire protection, climate control and comprehensive physical security measures.
    • Utilise some form of disc mirroring or effective back up to protect from accidental destruction of data.