What is 360 degree feedback
Ultimate Guide - 360 Degree Feedback
360 degree feedback (sometimes known as multi rater feedback) is a method of gathering rounded constructive feedback on an individual (also known as the ‘participant’) to aid in either some form of personal / career development or in support of an organisations performance appraisal process.
The main goal is to provide actionable insight into the particiants skills, behaviour, performance, working relationships and any critical competencies
- History of 360 Degree Feedback
- How does it work?
- How 360 Feedback is Used
- 360 Feedback Strengths and Weaknesses
- Getting the most out of 360 feedback
History of 360 Degree Feedback
When asking 'what is 360 degree feedback', we should first look at where 360 feedback originated from. The first known use of 360 degree feedback can be traced back to the German military during WWII, used to evaluate the performance of the troops. Soldiers received feedback on how to improve their performance from their supervisors, peers and subordinates (direct reports). In terms of documented use of questionnaires to complete 360 degree feedback, this goes back to the 1950s when Esso Research and Engineering developed their own 360 feedback process, providing anonymous feedback to employees from a selection of colleagues who worked with them.
360 degree feedback was held back from its full potential and remained rather niche for some time, due to the traditional feedback being handwritten and therefore being impossible to achieve full anonymity. As time has passed and technology progressed, the process has become more automated and efficient. Moving on from a manual, paper based system to an automated, online process. This has allowed for less of an administrative burden on organisations' human resources departments as well as more reliable anonymity.
How does it work?
Typically, a group of feedback providers are identified, normally by the participant, their line manager or a member of the human resources team. The process works better if multiple sources of feedback are obtained and therefore it’s normal for those providing feedback (respondents) to include:
- line managers
- a group of peers / colleagues
- direct reports
- and sometimes other groups (customers, key stakeholders, external sources etc)
It’s worth noting that any good 360 feedback provider will be able to customise these groups for you, so there is no limit to the number of groups you use and they can be named/ use any language that you like. Sometimes it is with including a description of each population group to help participants understand exactly who sits in each group.
The participant and respondents then complete their questionnaires. It is normal practice to set things up so the respondents provide anonymous feedback, this is to encourage open, honest and candid feedback to be provided.
The feedback collection process typically takes around 3 – 4 weeks. At the end of the process, the feedback results are collated into a 360 feedback report that usually utilises a combination of numbers, visual aids (e.g. bar charts or spider graphs) plus some free text comments.
To maximise the benefits of the 360 degree feedback experience, participants are normally supported to convert their feedback report into a personal development plan and then follow up on it. Sometimes it is useful for the participant to share their report with their line manager.
How 360 Degree Feedback is Used
For personal and professional development
When used as a development tool, the 360 degree feedback process aims to raise the employees self-awareness with regards to their working / leadership style, perceived strengths and development opportunities, skills, blind spots and how their overall approach / behaviour is received by others. The goal is then for the participant to use this information to capitalise on their strengths and identify, and build on perceived development areas.
360 feedback is extremely useful on an individual basis (e.g. to support career development), but there several purposes to use it from the organisation's perspective:
Used at the beginning of a coaching relationship, a 360 feedback report can be a powerful 'accelerator' and 'alignment' tool. By clustering and prioritising any undesirable feedback results the participant and coach can quickly gain a clear picture of where their coaching sessions should focus, ensuring key development issues are recognised and addressed. This approach to performance coaching ensures a needs driven focus based on valid, factual, accurate behavioural information.
Used as an annual / bi-annual development tool, 360 feedback can be used to provide genuine insight into an individual's working style across a spectrum of leadership and management behaviours and into how their 'personal brand' is perceived. The feedback report can be used to provide clarity of direction for future self development and career planning.
Used at the beginning of a leadership or management development programme, 360 degree feedback tools can be used to:
Inform (or determine) programme content
The feedback data from a group of people can be combined into a Group Summary Report that provides an aggregated view of the group's strengths and key development areas. Using 360s in this way enables programme designers to effectively tailor their programme content to meet specific identified needs.
Providing programme participants with feedback against what is expected of them in their role and then supporting them to convert their lower ratings into a meaningful self development plan for the programme is a great way of making the programme 'real' for them and ensuring that they start their development journey with a clear picture of what success from the programme will look like for them.
Whilst 360 degree feedback provides insight into a manager's past and current behaviour, because the questionnaire has been designed around ‘potential indicators’ it would be a powerful component within the talent management programme and could be used to:
- Benchmark / identify the talent strength
- Identify those individuals who have the potential to operate at the next level
- Highlight how ability and potential can be developed
- Act as a progress measure
- Provide evidence based data for any prospective 'chessboard' talent management process
Just as an individual 360 provides a snapshot of how the participant is seen by those they work with, when the teams results are combined it provides an excellent foundation for supporting the team to identify their perceived strength, development opportunities and gain a clear picture of the working climate they are creating.
We are frequently asked to provide feedback tools for individual team members who want to gain development feedback on their personal effectiveness. Questionnaires are typically built around a range of individual skills areas such as planning, use of time, delivery, relationship building, influencing, customer focus, self confidence, continuous improvement etc.
360 Degree Feedback for Performance Appraisals
Some organisations use 360 degree feedback to support their performance review system, with some using it to influence employment decisions (pay, promotions etc)
The 360 degree feedback technical process is very similar regardless of if the process is being used to support professional development to measure employee performance. What differs is the context and how it is received by those receiving and giving feedback.
Research suggests that using the process as a performance management system has some advantages but quite a few potential drawbacks. For more information, read our article... 360 appraisal – The advantages and disadvantages when used as a performance management tool
360 Degree Feedback Strengths and Weaknesses
360 degree feedback is a powerful feedback tool, but there are a number of pros and cons to keep in mind:
Benefits of 360 degree feedback
A well implemented 360 feedback survey has many benefits, including:
- Greater understanding of the behaviours required to improve both personal development and organisational effectiveness
- Being more self-aware
- Increased individual ownership of self-development
- Helps develop a culture of continuous improvement
- Creates a culture of open, constructive feedback
- Allows people to know how they are seen by those around them
- Provides more diverse, well-rounded feedback compared to 1-on-1 feedback
Disadvantages/weaknesses of multi rater feedback
There are a number of thinks that can go wrong if the 360 feedback process is poorly implemented:
- Employees being feeling overwhelmed by the additional workload. Many organizations 'stagger' the rollout of their 360 degree feedback process to avoid this
- Creating conflict (and hurting working relationships) where anonymity is not retained
- Participants feeling 'lost' if there is a lack of follow ups to the 360 process - this can lead to a loss of confidence in the 360 review process
- Participants can become focused on negative feedback
How to get the most out of 360 degree feedback
We often see a disconnect between the theory of implementing a 360 feedback process and the practicalities of doing it well. Our experience clearly indicates that there are five key areas that differentiate those organisations that successfully use 360 feedback and the rest!
The watch-outs are:
- Trying to use your 360 degree feedback process for performance evaluation and development purposes at the same time
- Using a generic questionnaire that’s not aligned to the organisational context
- Not providing some form of rater training / communnication on how to provide accurate ratings that are balanced and constructive
- Leaving participants to sink or swim – Rather than supporting them to make the most of their feedback reports
- Hoping that change will take place – Instead of having action planning and follow ups in place
- Implementing 360 simply because it’s “best practice” / “used by the best organisations” etc- Not because it is aligned to a business/ organisational need
The best bit is, the things that many get wrong are very easily avoided.
Foundation for 360 feedback success
Before implementing 360 degree feedback, it is important to ensure that you have the right foundation to get 360 feedback right. Our experience shows the following steps will assist in setting up a sucessful 360 feedback process.
Get the right fit
Be clear about where 360 degree feedback fits in the organisations strategy, culture, values and future aspirations and then ensure your questionnaire and approach supports and enables those things to happen.
Engage the top team and the 'organisations voice'
The tipping point for overcoming organisational apprehension, typically occurs when senior managers and those ‘key voices’ around the organisation, talk it up. Enable the Senior Team to get their hands on, and shape the 360 early in the development process and then support the rest of the organisation to understand the why, how and what, before it goes live.
Start at the end
The success criteria for using 360 for performance reviews/ 360 degree performance evaluation purposes is a world away from using it to support management development interventions – Be clear about what you expect out of the process and then design your 360 model to meet those needs.