360-Degree Feedback: A Holistic View of Employee Performance

360-degree feedback: a holistic view of employee performance

What is 360-Degree Feedback?

360-degree feedback is a process that gathers insights from supervisors, peers, and external stakeholders on an individual’s skills, competencies, and workplace behaviors. The goal is to gain a holistic understanding of an employee’s performance by collecting feedback from multiple sources, thereby eliminating potential bias. 

This feedback aims to provide personal and professional coaching and development that empowers the employee’s growth.

360-Degree Feedback or Performance Review?

Healthy organizations that have continuous feedback practices embedded in their culture utilize 360 feedback in tandem with the performance reviews. When both processes are used together, they provide a comprehensive view of employee strengths, weaknesses, and coaching needs. Multi-rater feedback captures employee efforts from varying experiences and timeframes, whereas the performance review measures employee contributions against a set of standards. The responses gathered from a 360, such as how the employee behaves around colleagues, supports customers, and contributes to team projects, gives managers helpful information for coaching and development. “Good 360 programs are purely developmental,” says Allan Watkinson, Gallup Business Consultant.  This information can be useful in the performance review conversation as managers are equipped with specific examples for their team members. 

360 feedback reveals how the employee is perceived. Performance reviews assess how the employee performs. When combined, both forms of feedback allow for employee empowerment. 

7 Benefits of 360-Degree Feedback

According to Forbes, 360-degree feedback is a way to gather feedback on an individual “all directions.” George Bradt contributing to this article continues, “It depersonalizes feedback by enabling a reviewer to downplay their own personal views. It personalizes it by bringing in the personal view of others.” The following list details a few major benefits of multi-rater feedback for your employees. 

     1. Mitigates Potential Bias

Without multi-rater feedback, organizations run the risk of myopic viewpoints of employee performance and contribution. If the manager is the only person providing feedback, there is a higher potential for personal feelings and opinions getting in the way of accurate evaluations. Inviting multiple perspectives broadens that scope and ensures the employee is assessed fairly.

     2. Increases Self-Awareness

An employee learning how their colleagues perceive them helps to increase an employee’s own self-awareness by more closely examining how his/her actions affect others. Peer feedback can reveal blindsides that were holding the employee back from better working relationships or improved performance. When executed properly, 360 feedback is a gift to the person receiving it.

     3. Enhances Accountability

When employees know they will be evaluated by their peers, it encourages more thoughtful behavior. Holding team members accountable and being held accountable by team members creates a culture of integrity that empowers employees to work with greater intent and care.

     4. Equips Managers/Supervisors With Coaching Tools

Most people leaders have received insufficient leadership training but are expected to effectively coach employees. Giving these leaders access to 360-degree feedback equips them with a powerful coaching tool they can use to address specific development needs or strengths of their employees. Because employee development is rarely the only job requirement of a supervisor, the additional perspectives help to fill in any potential gaps about the person they are leading. In rare cases of disgruntled employees, multi-rater feedback helps to protect the manager from accusations of bias or development neglect.

     5. Develops a Culture of Continuous Feedback

Implementing a 360 review process prepares employees to expect and contribute to continuous feedback. If the performance review is the only method for giving feedback, it may be met with fear and anxiety for those who have not been primed to receive constructive coaching. Frequent use of 360 feedback will also empower employees to become good at giving helpful, specific feedback to their peers.

     6. Increased Motivation to Make a Change 

When people hear feedback from others, especially when unprompted by them, they tend to take it seriously. Peer pressure is real, even as adults, and in this case, it is used in a positive way to shape and mold employees to be a better version of themselves.

     7. Better Business Outcomes

When helpful feedback is given and received by all members of the same team, it takes the blinders off of potential weaknesses and reveals areas of opportunity and strength. When all employees are willing to respond to helpful feedback, it creates a culture that is adapting as necessary and working together toward the same goal. This type of culture produces better business results.

Who is involved in of 360-Degree Feedback?

For the most accurate assessment of an employee’s performance and behaviors, it is best to include peers, leaders, clients/customers (if applicable), and the employee. The following list details how to approach each feedback participant.

  • Employees– Incorporating a self-evaluation gives employees the opportunity to share their own perspective, have a voice in, and take ownership of their development. For the supervisor responsible for distributing the feedback, the self-evaluation provides insight into how the employee perceives himself/herself vs. the employee’s colleagues’ perceptions. Comparing the two perspectives can highlight potential blindspots and further elevate areas of strength.
  • Managers/Supervisors– While the employee’s direct supervisor may be an obvious choice to include, inviting dotted line managers, higher level leaders, and supervisors who only interact with the employee for specific projects should also be considered. 
  • External Stakeholders- Collecting feedback from outside the organization can be highly valuable, as external parties have less concern with anonymity, and therefore are more likely to be direct and honest in their responses. When applicable, requesting feedback from clients/customers allows the employee to understand performance and areas for improvement, and can then adjust accordingly.
  • Peers- Gathering peer feedback is beneficial for two major reasons: it trains employees to become skilled in giving constructive feedback and it trains the feedback recipient to be resilient. Hearing 360 review responses from your peers can be challenging but organizations who implement it often produce employees that are humble, coachable, and willing to adapt their efforts for the betterment of the organization at large.

What is Included in a 360-Degree Feedback Form?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for a 360 review process. The form itself should be customized to align with the organization’s culture and ultimately achieve the desired end result. Some questions to consider are: What information are you hoping to capture? What plans are in place for implementing the feedback once the forms are completed? Who will lead the 360 review process? What happens after all feedback is given is often more important than the form itself?

Below is a thorough (but not exhaustive) list of what should be considered when creating the 360 feedback form.

     1. 3-5 Targeted Questions

It is recommended that feedback forms limit the number of questions so as to avoid responders experiencing form fatigue. Professionals are busy, and fulfilling a feedback request can feel overwhelming if not executed well. Questions should be succinct and formatted in a way that gets to the answers desired. For example, “How likely are you to ask this person for help when you need extraordinary results?” is clear and unambiguous. For a question like this, it is helpful to offer the responders a rating scale, such as 1 to 5, with 5 being the most likely. 

The number of questions is less important than the amount of time it takes to complete the form. It should take no longer than 10 minutes for responders to fill it out in its entirety. 

     2. Incorporate Performance Objectives and Core Values 

For a comprehensive 360 review, it is recommended that the form includes the employee’s required performance objectives and expected core values/workplace behaviors. If the organization uses performance reviews, both of these have likely already been created. Including both in the feedback form forces responders to be clear and ensures the assessment of the employee is fair and based on a set of standards. Including core values specifically helps ensure manager/supervisor coaching is aligned to organizational values. 

     3. Use a Rating System

Allowing open-ended questions may provide helpful context but it can be quite challenging to boil answers down to concrete plans of action. Utilizing a rating system makes the data easier to interpret. WorkDove’s 360 feedback tool uses a star-rating system for performance objectives and core values.. Each star is paired with a statement so responders are choosing ratings that most closely align with their experience with the employee.

How to Conduct an Effective 360 Review Process

The timing and process for conducting 360 feedback will be largely dependent on organizational resources, such as HR leading the process vs. other departments, or when the business “busy season” occurs. The list below includes several aspects to consider when implementing multi-rater feedback, along with best practice recommendations. 

  • Test with a pilot group– Before rolling out a full-fledged 360 review, consider using a small pilot group to walk through the experience and share their thoughts in a group setting. 
  • Decide on anonymous vs. transparent– Depending on the employees’ comfortability with constructive feedback, fully transparent feedback can range from overwhelming to expected. Decide upfront if feedback should be anonymous, optional, or fully transparent. You can always change the decision later.
  • Number of responders– The number of responders will be adjusted according to the individual’s job function but a minimum of 3-5 is a good rule of thumb.
  • Year-long or isolated– Organizations may choose a  process that occurs year-round or as an isolated event, such as right before performance reviews begin or at the completion of big projects. It should be noted that 360-degree feedback should never be used as a replacement for a performance evaluation but rather used to help inform it. 
  • For performance review time, timeline is crucial– If multi-rater feedback is used in tandem with performance evaluations, timing is everything. It is recommended that feedback forms be sent out 4-6 weeks before the evaluation process begins. This gives ample time for responders, managers, and HR to provide and review all relevant responses before performance review conversations occur. 
  • Have a plan for the feedback– There are few things more discouraging to employees than giving/receiving feedback only for leaders to not make it actionable. Processes need to be in place for acting on feedback at every level of leadership.
  • Digital vs. paper- While paper 360 feedback forms are certainly an option, high-performing organizations opt for the speed and efficiency of digital tools. The WorkDove 360-degree feedback tool offers customized questions and templates, aggregated self and peer reports, and seamlessly integrates with performance reviews for easy access to feedback.

360 Feedback Don'ts

The point of implementing 360-degree feedback is to collect valuable insights and improve overall performnace management efforts. Because of the critical nature of this process, it is vital that all participants have a positive experience that is not tainted by frustration, overwhelm, or lack of trust in how the feedback will be used. The following list includes common pitfalls to avoid.

     1. Long forms

If the form takes longer than 10 minutes to complete, form fatigue quickly begins to set in. Long feedback forms are time-consuming for the responder and the supervisor responsible for disseminating the information. 

     2. Requesting feedback during performance reviews

As previously stated, allowing 360 feedback to inform the performance review conversation is recommended. However, requesting 360 feedback at the same time or just a couple of weeks before performance reviews are due can cause unnecessary stress, resulting in inaccurate feedback or no feedback altogether. 

     3. Unhelpful or ambiguous feedback

For responders, it is imperative to remember that feedback should produce positive action. Ambiguous feedback such as, “Great coworker!” does not encourage behavior change or applaud good behavior that should remain. Conversely, unnecessarily negative feedback, such as attacking a person’s character without detailing examples, also does nothing to promote positive change.

     4. Ill-equipped managers

Managers should be prepared in advance, perhaps through training, for how to appropriately read and deliver feedback to their direct reports. Not all feedback is good feedback and managers should possess some level of discernment in this area. Additionally, all supervisors must have the authority to coach and respond to feedback about their employees because otherwise, employees will not trust that feedback is a priority and will quickly lose respect and appreciation for the process. 

     5. Using 360 as the only form of feedback 

Above all else, 360-degree feedback is a tool used for development, but by no means should it be the only tool. In conjunction with continuous communication and evaluation, it is a beneficial resource for growth of the individual and organization as a whole. By itself, it will only be seen as a means of telling employees what they are doing wrong. 

Conclusion: 360 Feedback

While 360-degree feedback can feel time consuming when organizations are just getting started, it is most important that you just start somewhere. Ongoing feedback is valuable even in small doses when implemented with intentionality. Keep in mind that nothing is set in stone- the process for multi-rater feedback can always be iterated along the way.

Creating a process for 360 feedback for employees provides them with an incredibly powerful tool for personal and professional development, especially when it is paired with performance evaluations and other forms of ongoing feedback. When employees are continually invested in, employee engagement is increased, customer satisfaction is improved, and the mission and vision are more strategically attained. Healthy, high-performing teams embrace the 360-degree review process.