360-Degree Feedback

Best Practices: 360-Degree Feedback

360-degree feedback is – and always has been – one of the most effective tools for increasing self-awareness. Here are some best practices for you to follow.

What exactly is 360-degree feedback? Simply put, 360-degree feedback is a system or process in which an individual receives confidential and anonymous feedback about their behaviour from their managers, peers, direct reports – and in some instances – customers and suppliers.

360-degree feedback is not a replacement for annual performance reviews. It is however one of many tools that should be incorporated into your performance management framework.

What are the benefits of 360-degree feedback?

There are numerous benefits to a well-planned and implemented 360-degree feedback, but here are the really important ones:

  • Increased Self-Awareness. One of the obvious benefits of 360-degree feedback is the increased self-awareness brought about by giving the individual the opportunity to compare their self-assessment against the perspectives of those around them.
  • Balanced Perspective. In comparison to traditional feedback methods and the use of psychometrics, 360-degree feedback provides a more fair, accurate and balanced view of an individual’s behaviour, as the feedback is provided from multiple sources.
  • Exposes Blind Spots. Addressing blind spots is critical to an individual’s development, and 360-degree feedback helps individuals to identify and understand their behaviours, and the impact of those behaviours on those around them.
  • Self-Directed Development. The ability to know where to start is the most important benefit of 360-degree feedback, as they provide the individual with the opportunity to define what behaviours need to change and how they are going to change it.
  • Reduced Discrimination. Given the multi-rater nature of 360-degree feedback, individual discrimination and bias is reduced as the feedback is provided from multiple sources. 

Why do 360-degree feedback programs fail?

There are a host of reasons why 360-degree feedback programs fail, most of which can be summed up in 3 key points:

  • Wrong Environment. 360-degree feedback programs require the right environment to flourish. Organisations with high levels of turnover, frequent re-organisation and low levels of trust will struggle to garner accurate and reliable data.
  • Lack of Commitment. 360-degree feedback programs require a substantial commitment. Organisations who do not fully embrace the process will take shortcuts and inadvertently diminish the effectiveness of the program.
  • Poor Administration. 360-dgree feedback programs are highly effective when properly administered. Organisations that do not have a clear understanding of administering 360-degree feedback will struggle to design and deploy an effective program.


Best Practices

Stage 1: Assess the Need

  • Needs Assessment. A needs assessment should be conducted to identify departmental / functional / organisational requirements for now, and in the not too distant future. Where are the important gaps? Are we ready?
  • Establish Business Case. A business case should clearly identify the departmental / functional / organisational need for the 360-degree program. In other words, do we really need one, and how will it benefit the organisation? 

Stage 2: Identify the Requirements

  • Define Objectives. The purpose and objectives of the 360-degree program hould be clearly defined (leadership development, performance evaluation and succession planning).
  • Stakeholder Commitment. Relevant stakeholders need to be identified and educated on the business case and objectives of the 360-degree program. There needs to be a clear committment!
  • Ideally the program should start at the top!

Stage 3: Design the Solution

Define Competencies. Define the competencies to be measured in the 360-degree program. If a competency framework does not exist, you may have to assess a cohort of high-performers to define them.

Identify 360 Tool/Method. Using the competencies to be measured, identify and select appropriate 360 tool to adequately assess the required competencies. 

  • Off-the-shelf 360's may save time, but may not have the required competencies
  • Some 360 tools have the ability to customize questions
  • In some instances, it might be better to conduct interviews rather than use a web-based system
  • Whatever tool or method is chosen, reports need to be clearly articulated
  • Reports should emphasise gaps more than raw data

Design the Survey. Whether you chose to use an off-the-shelf 360-feedback program or customize your own, it's important that the following practices be adhered:

  • The survey should take between 15 - 20 minutes to complete
  • The questions should be single-minded and based on observable behaviours
  • Questions should be clearly structured and grouped to avoid confusion
  • Rating scales should be clearly articulated and use a 7-10 point range
  • The survey should provide the option for rates to write comments or explain their rating

Design the Format. Identify the required resources (time, # of raters, administrators etc.) to effectively deploy the 360-degree program and design the format, timetable and logistics.

  • 360-degree programs should be voluntary
  • The individuals should have the right to select their raters
  • The individuals should have to rate themselves as well
  • At least 3 raters per category (direct reports, peers, externals) should be surveyed
  • Rater feedback should be anonymous

Develop the Program. Develop all the required 360-degree program communications, instructions and manuals etc. The administrators guide should be clear and concise. Whoever is involved in the program needs to know what to do and how to do it. 

Stage 4: Execute with Precision

Communicate. The purpose, objectives and administration process of the 360-degree program should be clearly communicated throughout the organisation.

Train Administrators. Ensure that administrators have been adequately briefed on how to administer the 360-degree program in a fair and consistent manner.

  • Administrators who will be providing feedback should be trained in how to provide feedback using a coaching approach
  • Managers who will be providing feedback should be trained in how to provide feedback using a coaching approach
  • Pilot Survey. Conduct a pilot to confirm whether the 360-degree program design is fair and operates according to the design. Refine where necessary!

Deploy Program. Deploy the 360-degree program in accordance with the administrators guide to ensure they are done in a fair and consistent manner.

  • There should be a support mechanism whereby individuals can have the feedback interpreted
  • Judgmental comments should be edited or removed from the feedback report

Monitor & Adjust. Monitor the 360-degree program and adjust when necessary. Ensure that outcomes are consistent with the objectives. 

There are many other factors that need to be taken into consideration when implementing a 360-degree program, but these few points will help to keep you on the right track.

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