360-degree feedback is a form of employee appraisals that centers on anonymous feedback. Input is gathered from people’s colleagues working in a range of business areas and functional roles. It’s common for 360-degree feedback appraisals to be outsourced to an external company. But if you’re keen for your HR team to carry out the task, read on.
360-degree feedback appraisals don’t fit the mold of the typical performance review.
In the traditional performance review model, an employee’s manager is the one who gives them feedback on how well they’re doing.
Employees who take part in 360-degree reviews receive feedback from all angles, from various other internal business stakeholders. These individuals include managers, direct reports, and colleagues. In cases where the employee works in a customer-facing role, feedback may also be requested from external parties.
What is 360-degree feedback?
As its name suggests, 360-feedback is an “all angles” form of performance appraisal. These reviews don’t focus exclusively on the employee’s performance on the job. Other aspects include the person’s attitude, behavior, and interactions with other team members.
Because 360-degree reviews take place anonymously, they’re a great way to garner honest, unfiltered feedback from multiple sources. They also minimize the potential for conscious or unconscious bias on the part of the employee’s manager.
360-degree evaluations can go a long way to giving people the motivation they need to stretch themselves and reach their personal career objectives.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of a 360-degree feedback approach:
🚀 Improve teamwork and personal accountability
360-degree evaluations can instill a renewed sense of accountability on the part of individuals and foster a positive team mindset. When teams are allowed to share constructive feedback and criticism about their peers, they’ll communicate with one another better and grow as a unit.
🎯 Understand the business’s needs
360-degree feedback can bring leaders’ attention to areas of the business that are underperforming or where there’s poor morale. These insights allow them to make more informed decisions about organizational structure, leadership roles, and even training requirements.
🌱 Identify career development opportunities
A 360-degree review can help both managers and employees understand how to plan for and progress people’s careers. The feedback that managers receive gives them the insights they need to engage in discussions with employees regarding career development goals and areas for potential improvement.
The history of 360-degree feedback
360-degree feedback may be traced back to the 1930s when military psychologist, Johann Baptist Rieffert, came up with this method to select his officers.
A few decades later, in the 1950s, the Esso Research and Engineering Company adopted this methodology in its people management operations.
By the 1990s, most HR organizations understood and were embracing the concept of 360-degree reviews. In those years, before the rise of online and digital systems, the process of capturing, processing, and analyzing all the paperwork associated with these reviews was arduous and time-consuming. This resulted in some organizations abandoning this approach.
However, as businesses began to enjoy access to online HR systems and surveys, 360-degree feedback re-emerged as a popular appraisal mechanism.
HR solution tech vendors also honed their offerings and, today, there are a wealth of 360-degree feedback tools on the market for HR leaders to choose from.
By 2020, 9 in 10 of all US Fortune 500 companies were using the 360-degree feedback process. Here is how they did it:
In 2016, Goldman Sachs announced that its new approach to performance reviews would rely on 360-degree feedback. Its leaders stated: “Providing high-quality and regular feedback is at the heart of our culture and is an important investment we make in our people.”
Vineet Nayar implemented 360-degree feedback for every employee when he was CEO at HCL Technologies. He also believed that it was important for managers to get feedback from their team members.
He even took the step of ensuring that all appraisals were posted on the company’s intranet. Anyone at any level could see and give feedback on anybody else, including Vineet himself!
Commenting on this bold move, he said: “Good or bad, we all learn from the results.”
A step-by-step guide to conducting 360-degree feedback
1. Communicate with stakeholders
360-degree reviews will only deliver on the promise of their value if you have the full buy-in of all stakeholders (employees, supervisors / managers, and raters.) That’s why the critical first step is to communicate with each of these parties about why you’re adopting this approach, how it will work, and how feedback will be gathered and applied.
2. Identify raters
Selecting the right mix of raters and a sufficient number of them is essential to gathering relevant and actionable 360-degree review feedback. These decisions will be informed by the employee’s particular role and their relationships within the organization.
3. Build the feedback questionnaire
Building your 360-degree review questionnaire is a critical first step in ensuring your initiative delivers the desired outcomes. We’ve come up with a list of closed and open-ended questions:
✍️ Closed-ended questions
Using the following options – “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “neutral,” “agree,” and “strongly agree” – ask reviewers to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with the following statements:
- He/she manages their workload effectively and meets deadlines.
He/she communicates clearly and effectively with me and others.
He/she demonstrates strong leadership skills.
He/she has sound interpersonal skills.
He/she always offers timely and constructive feedback.
He/she works well in a team.
He/she has an enquiring mind and creative ideas.
He/she lives our company values.
He/she embraces diversity and welcomes feedback and input from others.
💬 Open-ended questions
Here are a few open-ended 360-degree review questions to include in your feedback questionnaire:
- Describe this employee's strengths.
- Name one thing this employee should start doing.
- What’s one thing this employee should stop doing?
- Give an example of a company value this person embodies.
- Provide three words to describe this employee.
- How well does this person cope with changing priorities?
- Identify an area where you’d like to see this person improve.
4. Send out your surveys
It’s obviously a good idea to digitize this aspect of the review. Distribute instructions to participants by email and assign them their questions (these should ideally be answered by logging into an online platform/ portal.)
360 feedback tools can help you set up the backbones of all your feedback cycles (type of review, who feedback who, and reminders) and schedule them ahead. So, every time a session is coming up, a few clicks is all you need to do for the process to up and run on its own. No more sending mass emails for updates and reminders.
5. Gather and assemble feedback
Waiting for reviewers to complete their questionnaires can take some time. Be sure to set deadlines upfront and send automated reminders to raters who have not yet completed their tasks or whose deadlines are approaching.
6. Create reports
Once all raters have completed their questionnaires, you’ll need to assemble a report. How these reports are shared and distributed will depend on your feedback plan. Some companies send their reports directly to employees; others only share them during one-on-one feedback sessions with the employee.
7. Employee feedback sessions
Set up feedback sessions between the manager and the employee to go through the 360-degree review results. These meetings will help the employee understand the feedback report and ask any questions they may have. They also set the stage for discussions about their strengths and opportunities to improve.
8. Create a development plan
Lastly, use the feedback gathered during the evaluation to draft each employee's formal and actionable development plan.
Let's review all the 8 steps:
Roles and stakeholders
There are several stakeholders in any 360-degree review:
To ensure a successful review, everyone must understand their respective roles and responsibilities.
The administrator is the person who conducts the 360-degree review. This individual is responsible for preparing the review, conducting all stakeholder interviews, and analyzing and sharing the results.
The employee’s manager mustn’t play the role of administrator. A neutral third party who has no vested interest in the review outcome is the preferred type of person to fulfill this role.
Frequently, a member of the HR team will act as the administrator. Sometimes, an external third-party consultant will be assigned this responsibility. The latter approach is generally perceived as more objective and confidential by employees who are the subjects of 360-degree reviews.
The responsibilities of the administrator are as follows:
- Explain the objectives and benefits of the 360-degree review to all stakeholders.
- Ensure the review process is understood by the reviewers, manager, and employee and answer any questions they may have.
- Distribute or initiate the review.
- Collect, aggregate, and analyze the outcomes and feedback received.
- Schedule a meeting with the employee’s manager to help them understand the results of the review.
- Meet with the employee to discuss the results of the review and the feedback received.
- Finally, work with both the manager and the employee to develop an action plan and coordinate any follow-up meetings.
Employees who are the subjects of 360-degree reviews must understand that their purpose is to gather constructive input and help to improve their performance. This will avoid the employee feeling apprehensive or fearful about the process.
If you’re an employee about to be the subject of a 360-degree review, here are some thoughts to bear in mind:
- The people who are giving feedback about you are not out to judge or victimize you. They’re giving of their time to share their honest thoughts and perceptions.
- You are under no obligation to act upon the feedback and advice that you receive. Of course, if you refuse to consider making any changes to your behavior, you might be missing out on a chance to improve your skills. You also might be passing up an opportunity to forge better relationships with your colleagues and team members.
- Don’t be surprised if you hear things you don’t like or disagree with.
- Try to see the review as an opportunity to learn about yourself and a platform to build your career goals upon.
Reviewers are the people who give answers to the 360-degree review questions about individual employees.
To be most effective, reviewers should have some form of working relationship with the employee. They could be a co-worker, team member, direct report, or even a customer with whom the employee regularly engages.
The reviewer is expected to give feedback about the employee in several areas, as defined by the 360-degree review questionnaire. It’s also common for reviewers to be asked to rate the employee on a range of key skills.
If you’re asked to perform the role of a reviewer, here are some key things to keep in mind:
- Try to make sure that the feedback you offer is honest and constructive.
- If you feel you need to provide feedback that won’t be well-received by the employee, don’t let that put you off. Remember that 360-degree feedback surveys are designed to be completely anonymous. Nobody other than the administrator will know that you participated in the review or what your feedback comprised.
Managers usually take part in the 360-degree reviews of their direct reports. Given the close relationship between the two parties, the manager’s feedback is tracked, gathered, and delivered separately from the other reviewers. Managers generally have a deeper understanding of their direct reports than other stakeholders, and their perspective is often entirely different.
That being said, the tasks required of a manager during a 360-degree review are quite similar to those required by the other reviewers. They will be asked to answer a series of questions about their direct reports. This will typically include questions about their attitude, team spirit, and skills, among others.
A 360-degree review should never be deemed a replacement for regular 1-2-1 catch ups between the employee and the manager. Regular monthly or quarterly check-ins also offer a valuable opportunity for managers to provide continuous feedback and coaching.
Once the 360-degree review has been wrapped up, the manager and the administrator should regroup to craft a development plan for the employee. This should include details about where and how the employee could improve their skills and relationships and, where necessary, adjust their behaviors.
How Tesco transformed their people strategy with 360-degree feedback
Faced with a changing retail landscape, Tesco conducted a review of their business, leading to a new strategy and business priorities. One aim was to foster a warmer culture where colleagues felt listened to and inspired by their managers.
360-degree feedback was identified as the first step for managers to understand their strengths and development needs.
Tesco created an intuitive 360-degree feedback program that was aligned with its culture. This involved designing questions that replicated the same language used by Tesco internally, using a conversational style.
The 360-degree feedback system that was devised enabled quick completion with users guided through every step. Reports were also designed to be equally user-friendly.
Look and feel was also important for Tesco, as the Group Head of Talent at Tesco explained:
“We needed the 360-degree tool to feel the same as the other materials our people were already using in relation to the key leadership skills. Everything at Tesco should be simple, and we wanted this to be too – quick to use, simple to complete, ensuring our colleagues would ‘get it’ – and more importantly, want to use it.
“Also, the introduction of a summary report gives our 360-degree feedback participants a really quick and accessible overview of their results. They’ve found it particularly insightful to see their strengths, development areas, and perception gaps in one place.”
Drawbacks of 360-degree reviews
While the merits of embracing 360-degree feedback are widely accepted, and it’s been adopted by many industry leaders, it’s not without its downsides.
HR leaders should appreciate that it’s not a silver bullet that will solve more deep-seated cultural defects, complex personal conflicts, or leadership shortcomings.
Let’s take a look at some of the limitations of 360-degree reviews that are often overlooked.
- 360-degree reviews won’t change people if they don’t want to put in the work: There’s little point in investing time and resources in these reviews if your people can’t or won’t work on themselves in between reviews. You can’t force people to change if they don’t want to or don’t believe they need to.
- Regular performance reviews and feedback still play a role: 360-degree reviews can’t be used as a substitute for these interventions. What’s more, if a manager has a specific problem or performance issue with an employee, they should discuss it with the employee as soon as possible. They should not wait for the next review cycle to arrive.
- Leadership buy-in is vital to success: The impact of 360-degree review programs will be limited if your executive team doesn’t embrace and participate in the process. It’ll also be impossible to fully integrate these types of reviews into your company culture if such support is lacking.
Embrace the future of 360-degree feedback
Encouraging the exchange of honest and constructive feedback is the way forward for businesses seeking to build a high-performance culture.
Correctly implemented, this approach will inspire employees to note their strengths and weaknesses and encourage them to push their boundaries.
However, conducting 360-degree feedback would triple the workload, so using self-serving tools - like Sprynkl, is highly recommended. With Sprynkl, employees are empowered to give feedback and praise their peers on a daily basis. These honest and unbiased reviews are valuable inputs for the 360-degree assessment. Plus, help you to stay in control of the company culture.