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360 degree feedback is often touted as the most used and even misused feedback exercise in the stack of performance management and employee development tools. This comprehensive guide to 360 degree feedback will help you understand its fundamentals besides delving deeper into its process and intricacies.
Aside from detailing the elementary ‘what’ and ‘why’ of 360 degree feedback, we will answer some other practical questions concerning the feedback mechanism, such as:
We will also strive to respond to some frequently asked questions on 360 degree feedback, besides including excerpts of quotes from people we asked about 360 degree feedback.
We understand that most organizations are gearing up for their annual review process. Thus, if you seek a more holistic approach to conducting reviews and planning employee development initiatives in the coming year, this guide is just for you!
Whether you are a startup of 20 people or a conglomerate with thousands of employees, whether your primary business is technology-powered products or offering services and expertise, your people, your employees are your company’s most valuable asset. And people require continual growth, which can manifest in individual growth, performance-linked growth, and organizational growth for success. This is where performance management takes center stage.
One-way feedback is often deemed to be counterproductive as it is more susceptible to bias. Many practitioners also realize the shortcomings of face-to-face feedback, a widely practiced process in organizations worldwide. Many stakeholders feel uncomfortable giving feedback, especially when it is less than favorable. Face-to-face feedback also narrows the objectives as the current performance takes precedence over future growth and development.
A holistic and multi-way standard performance management and development process is critical to addressing the one-way feedback challenges.
360-degree feedback is a process in which employees receive anonymous, confidential feedback from the people who are associated with them, which typically includes the employees’ supervisors, peers and direct reports. In this process, some people are asked to fill an anonymous online feedback form that includes questions covering a wide range of workplace competencies. The feedback forms come with questions that are gauged on a rating scale, and raters should provide written comments in response to those. The person obtaining feedback also fills out a self-rating survey that contains similar survey questions that others get in their forms.
Leaders and managers within organizations use 360-degree feedback surveys to understand the strengths and weaknesses of those being surveyed. The 360 feedback system automatically furnishes the results in a format that enables the feedback recipient to come up with a development plan. Individual responses and other people’s responses are put together in the same rater category (direct reports, peers) to keep the process anonymous and transparent.
Anonymous feedback enables employees to get broader feedback with more ease than getting stuck in the intricacies of what and how each rater has rated them. 360 feedback is solicited from stakeholders from all levels of the hierarchy, allowing employees the opportunity to understand how their work is being viewed. It offers them a well-defined reference for their work in the broader organizational context.
More importantly, 360 degree feedback covers a wider gamut than just performance evaluation. The exercise’s objective is to offer a wider focus and help gauge not just apparent but also the employees’ hidden strengths and weaknesses. Such a mechanism helps them through focused development plans and places them in the right direction to contribute better toward achieving organizational goals.
The Balance Careers notes, “The goal of the 360 degree feedback is to provide a balanced view to an employee of how others view their work contribution and performance, in areas such as leadership, teamwork, interpersonal communication and interaction, management, contribution, work habits, accountability, and vision, depending on the employee’s job. The review allows co-workers to assess the employee’s impact on furthering their goals, objective accomplishments, and positive customer results as observed by team members.”
360 degree feedback is important because it creates a bridge between individual developmental goals and the organization’s growth and vision. 360 degree feedback enables every employee to gauge himself/herself from others’ perspectives, uncovering strengths and weaknesses that can help them succeed in the organizational context. Further, 360 feedback evaluates employees beyond just their performance and focuses on their behavioral competencies and aptitude, augmenting the mechanism’s importance.
360 degree feedback allows employees to develop the skills and competencies required to succeed in the organization, thus putting the onus on their success on their personal development. From an organization’s perspective, 360 degree feedback is a great initiative to encourage employees to set their personal goals and work toward them with determination, creating a culture of development and appreciation.
While there is a debate on the importance and effectiveness of 360 degree feedback, like everything else, it has its pros and cons.
Having discussed 360 degree feedback advantages and disadvantages, it is well-established that it offers umpteen potential when done right. If you are still wondering how your organization can gain from 360 feedback, read ahead to know how it can be incorporated in reskilling and training initiatives, leadership development, high-potential identification and succession planning.
360 degree feedback can be an excellent developmental tool as it helps identify training needs and improvement areas. 360 feedback provides employees with insights into how developing certain competencies and skills can help them excel at their jobs.
360 degree feedback presents a holistic overview of an employee, considering their present performance and future potential. When you detail an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, eyeing his/her professional growth, it lays a foundation for development. The feedback collated from the manager, co-workers and others, with a comprehensive competency-based questionnaire, carefully present the gaps in an employee’s abilities. 360 degree feedback can motivate employees to continually develop themselves and achieve their training goals.
360 degree feedback also helps determine team or group development needs, which can alleviate an organization’s collective performance. 360 feedback is an effective way to gauge training needs and encourage employees to work on them with individual development plans.
360 degree feedback is lauded for its integrated approach, allowing the raters to evaluate an employee beyond his or her performance level, making 360 feedback an excellent organizational planning tool.
Identifying an organization’s most valuable employees is often a challenge. 360 degree feedback, owing to its full view of an employee from multiple hierarchies and vantage points- supervisor, subordinates, peers and customers, can help organizations find their high-potential employees, the next managers and business successors and leaders. 360 feedback can help identify the obvious competencies required to succeed in an advanced role – effective decision-making, strategic problem solving, risk-taking appetite, result orientation, propensity to lead, adaptability and agility, etc.
Organizational planning requires a thorough evaluation of employees to gauge their potential and set them on the right course of taking up critical roles in the future.
360 degree feedback is often used as a performance appraisal tool. It helps capture feedback from various perspectives, lending enhanced objectivity to the appraisal process. In many cases, if the manager alone gives feedback, the process may become prone to subjectivity and bias.
Active involvement of the employee is another notable upside of using 360 degree feedback for performance appraisals. Every rater in the 360 degree feedback process shares an equal weightage rather than the manager’s feedback and ratings getting more importance, making the process fair and equitable.
We believe that 360 feedback can definitely be used in the performance appraisal process. However, it is best suited as part of a broader individual and organizational development plan. 360 degree feedback should be used cautiously for performance appraisals. Proper sensitization is a must to streamline the process and make everyone aware of the repercussions of misleading feedback. The ‘sensitive nature’ of approaching performance appraisals and compensation through 360 degree feedback can not just damage morale but also lead to employees leaving the organization.
360 degree feedback is a valuable addition to a comprehensive performance management process, but limiting it to performance appraisals is trivializing its broad applications.
Now that we know all about the possible use cases and benefits of 360 degree feedback, it is high time we tell you how to actually conduct a productive 360 degree feedback process. The next section helps you delineate every step of the process to make it a resounding success.
How it is implemented is the most critical factor for the success of 360 degree feedback. Each aspect of the process, starting with choosing the raters, designing the questionnaire, streamlining its management, analyzing results to taking action, needs a certain kind of expertise. But the foremost question that needs asking is about the involvement of different stakeholders, who they are, how they are chosen, and how they impact the process.
All the people whose work is directly impacted by or related to the employee’s work can be involved in the 360 degree feedback process. Usually, the employee, i.e., the feedback seeker, along with the HR or their manager, chooses a balanced panel of raters.
While raters can be chosen randomly, having the right raters can significantly affect the feedback process. The right mix of raters, their interpersonal relationship with the employee, and their duration’s association can all impact the success of 360 degree feedback.
The 360 degree feedback process is an exercise through which an employee receives inputs on their skills and competencies from multiple stakeholders with whom an employee has a working relationship.
The 360 degree feedback process is carried out in three core steps:
Once the raters are agreed upon, designing the survey is the next vital component that shapes the direction of the 360 degree feedback process. Whether you choose to do it yourself or partner with a web-based tool, you will find many 360 degree feedback templates and questions to choose from.
However, a web-based tool, such as Mercer | Mettl’s 360View, can markedly simplify the process by allowing you to choose from a library of pre-built 360 feedback templates, developed by experts who have studied the industry for many years. You can also choose to create a fully- customized feedback template aligned to your organizational requirements, in tandem with a dedicated team of subject matter experts of 360 degree feedback, with questions designed to assess your targeted group and focussed competencies.
Rolling out the surveys without a 360 degree feedback tool may be cumbersome. However, a web-based tool such as Mercer | Mettl’s 360View allows you to easily add all the participants – employees and raters – in bulk using an excel sheet.
One of the many challenges in conducting 360 degree feedback is the completion rate. 360View is especially known for its ease-of-use and is designed to enhance the completion rate with its in-built functionalities.
To successfully roll out the survey, you need to set up multiple emails to invite and remind participants to complete their ratings. Every stakeholder needs to understand the objective and outcome of the exercise for it to offer meaningful outcomes.
A tool like 360View can help you send personalized and automated emails to different stakeholders to increase the completion rate. It can also help schedule auto-reminders to be sent for follow-ups to streamline the process.
Since 360 degree feedback questions can be answered on-the-go, it is an added advantage if the tool is mobile-friendly and allows the participants anytime, anywhere access. This can greatly improve the completion rate. Often, participants start the survey but have to leave it midway to attend to more pressing work. In such situations, a tool with an autosave option is a savior, enabling participants to pick up from where they left without losing data.
While it is as much about having the right people answering the right questions, it is also equally about ensuring an easy and seamless process. A web-based 360 degree feedback tool, such as Mercer | Mettl’s 360View, can do just that by providing a single dashboard for end-to-end setting up of surveys, tracking the status of all respondents, adding more participants, sending ad-hoc reminders, one-click report downloading, etc.
The 360 degree feedback process doesn’t end with all the raters completing the survey questionnaire. In fact, that is just half the process. The other half is collating the results, analyzing the reports at an individual, role and department level to create actionable developmental plans.
As this part of the undertaking can drive the maximum ROI of the 360 feedback process, organizations must reach out to a team of well-qualified psychometricians to create industry-leading reports with actionable insights that identify gaps in perception across self, managers, peers and others.
A report of a good 360 degree feedback tool should have a detailed competency summary, open-ended feedback, a personal development plan, and offer powerful customizations. Some other features of a comprehensive report are:
Auto-graded and customizable reports can add significant efficiency to the process. The results are also easy to gather and share with the employee. Using a web-based tool such as 360View automates the process, making it more time-efficient, objective and seamless. In fact, 360 degree feedback can also help understand organizational dynamics. The 360View tool has an additional feature known as ‘group analytics,’ through which one can gauge the relationship shared among various people from different departments, geographical locations, experience levels, etc.
Now that you are well acquainted with the process of 360 degree feedback, you may agree with us when we say that 360 degree feedback requires certain expertise and experience to achieve its end goal.
There are various 360 feedback tools on the market that help organizations conduct systematic and effective 360 degree feedback. While we can’t recommend which tool to choose, we can provide you the information you need to select the best from the lot.
Here’s what you need to consider when selecting a 360 degree feedback tool:
Dr. John Sullivan lists the 40 ‘most impactful problem areas’ of 360 degree feedback that can deter maximizing its effectiveness. 360 degree feedback has great potential and has a high-yielding impact on employee productivity. But it often fails at the most fundamental level – the building blocks – the right set of survey questions, the right panel of raters, the right tool for the right execution, and the right way of measuring its success rate.
The right questions are not the ones available on the internet, but the ones formulated by understanding your organization, its vision and goals, the competencies it desires in its employees that will help achieve those goals, the importance of the roles and responsibilities in the organizational context, etc. The right questions and the right type of content is the basis of reliable and valid 360 degree feedback questions.
While the thought behind the 360 feedback process is to include the right mix and quantity of raters, not many understand its importance. The right mix includes raters who know the employee in a professional setting. Deep personal relationships can cloud judgment when giving feedback. Also, the mix should not include too many or too few raters. In both cases, the process would fail to entail a 360 degree view of the employee and might have clashing or unsubstantial feedback.
360 degree feedback can easily turn into an HR nightmare if not undertaken with the right set of tools. A bad tool or process can make it an administrative overload, defeating its objectives and turning it into a formality. But a good tool can make the process seamless and ensure a higher completion rate.
Success metrics are often flawed. It is the prerogative of the organization to determine how the 360 degree feedback’s success is defined. Is success only defined by completing the 360 feedback exercise, or does it also factor in the developmental goals set out at the end of each feedback? Then it is an ongoing process of employee development and the resultant increase in productivity.
A poorly executed 360 degree feedback process can do more damage than good to your organization. Organizations must consider these pitfalls and ensure a thorough approach toward 360 degree feedback.
Max Life Insurance used Mercer | Mettl’s 360View and was delighted by its offerings, including powerful features and customizations.
When Max Life Insurance first reached out to Mercer | Mettl, it was already conducting 360 degree feedback but was not entirely satisfied with its erstwhile vendor. Its 360 feedback was largely intended for employee development initiatives, aside from contributing toward measuring performance appraisals.
Some of the challenges Max Life Insurance faced were:
Mercer | Mettl streamlined the 360 degree feedback process for Max Life Insurance.
The solution incorporated:
Through Mercer | Mettl’s detailed reports and developmental plans, Max Life Insurance could scale up its employee developmental initiatives. The individual and personality developmental plans provided by Mercer | Mettl enabled Max Life Insurance to create a culture of learning and development in the organization.
“The evaluation of your employees’ performance can be an agonizing, difficult, or stressful ordeal; that is, if you let it. Or, it can be a positive motivating experience that produces positive results. Performance management can have a significant effect on your own career as well as your staff’s.
Performance management is about improving your employees’ work performance that is measurable and trackable rather than simply discussing your wish list of expectations that somehow always seem to fall through the cracks.
Many organizations are removing layers of management and putting more emphasis on teamwork, empowerment, continuous learning, and self-management. Leading edge organizations are experimenting with multi-source assessment procedures, i.e., 360-degree feedback – a powerful tool to achieve even better performance information and motivate behavioral change. 360-degree feedback tool combines the multi-source feedback from work associates such as the supervisor, peers, and colleagues, subordinates, and even internal and external customers – a “win-win-win” situation for the employee, manager, and organization.” – Elliott Jaffa, Behavioral & Marketing Psychologist, Business Development Consultant, Revenue Generation & Soft Skills Training, Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa Associates.
360 degree feedback is implemented through a careful process in which:
The purpose of 360 degree feedback is to set an employee on the development path by providing them with actionable feedback and recommendations. 360 degree feedback helps personal development that fuels organizational development. 360 feedback can help gauge training gaps, strengths, and areas for improvement for the employee. They are great indicators for identifying employees with exceptional potential for critical roles.
360 degree feedback is a great addition to an organization’s performance management system, and it has its pros and cons.
The pros of 360 degree feedback are that it drives employee and organizational development by making employees aware of their strengths and shortcomings to improve their output. It provides a comprehensive view of an employee’s potential beyond present performance, promoting trust and transparency within the organization.
The cons of 360 feedback are that if not undertaken with the right questions, objectives and expertise, it can fail, resulting in distrust and even discourage employees.
360 degree feedback can improve performance by:
360 degree feedback should be taken positively, and proactively responded with determination and motivation. Individuals are often unaware of their hidden strengths and shortcomings. 360 feedback simplifies feedback from different perspectives and hierarchies and helps an individual or employee act on those insights.
360 degree feedback is a great instrument for self-development and puts employees on a path of success as they get to know the competencies most valued by their organization. If their organization is conducting 360 degree feedback, an employee should make the most of it by working on their personal development plans.
Originally published December 24 2018, Updated February 8 2021
Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.