What is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback has never been more relevant. Companies are changing faster than ever and they all require innovative ways to get feedback to employees are needed every day.

In this post we will explore:

What is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback, or multi-rater feedback, is a process whereby employees can receive both confidential and anonymous feedback from the people that they work with so as to improve their performance.

360-degree feedback is generally sourced from people that work around the employee. This can include managers, peers, direct reports, and in some instances, customers may become part of a 360-degree performance appraisal. 360-degree feedback is also known as multi-rater feedback.

The advantage and disadvantages of 360-degree feedback

When done properly, the advantages of 360-degree feedback include:

  • Improved performance.
  • Greater self-awareness.
  • Improved morale.
  • A more open culture.
  • Continuous improvement.
  • Greater empowerment of leaders and staff.
  • Improved communication.
  • Greater transparency.
  • Improved retention.
  • Greater accountability.
  • A more engaged workforce.

In contrast, the disadvantages of 360-degree feedback include:

  • Feedback focuses only on the negatives so incomplete.
  • Absence or gap in actual feedback.
  • Fewer sources of feedback in smaller organizations.
  • Questions can be vague or misleading.
  • Accuracy in completing entries is not consistent.
  • Conflicting data unusable
  • The process doesn’t suit everyone.
  • No follow-ups.
  • Data not properly anonymized.
  • Used solely as a performance reviews
  • Feedback is based on personal qualities rather than roles being performed.
  • Lack of customization within the organization.

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Key characteristics of a 360-degree feedback process

So far, we have introduced what is 360-degree feedback, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of 360-degree feedback within companies, and introduced a simple ten-step 360-degree feedback process. However, it is important to dive a little deeper to understand that effective 360-degree feedback systems must be:

  • Continuous.
  • Individualized.
  • Consistent.
  • Supportive.
  • Honest.
  • Specific.
  • Transparent.
  • Clear.
  • Confidential.
  • Timely.
  • Appropriate.
  • Non-judgemental.

With this understanding, we believe that companies need to structure 360-degree feedback initiatives from the perspective of all stakeholders and to focus on achieving three main objectives.

First, that the process is an opportunity to provide feedback to employees.

Second, that the process acts as a vehicle for changing behavior towards what would be seen as more desirable by the organization.

And third, to provide information for managers to help them allocate resources in the future.

Key implementation areas

Companies tend to use a 360-degree feedback process in one of two ways – employee development and performance appraisal.

Within the area of employee development, 360-degree feedback needs to focus on the development of skills and competencies to meet organizational objectives. This allows for the identification of training and development needs and areas for improvement. This, in turn, facilitates the development of action plans and highlights career development opportunities.

Within the area of performance appraisals, 360-degree feedback will help set performance objectives, review past performance so as to improve current performance. Ultimately, the process will assist career development and promotion opportunities and assess salary/position levels for the employee. It is important to add a word of caution when using 360-degree feedback in the area of performance as 360 feedback focuses on competencies rather than exact performance objectives. As a result, some discussions are best left to annual performance reviews.

Are You Ready For 360 Degree Feedback?

Now that you know how to introduce a 360-degree feedback process it is essential that you decide are you ready to introduce this process? Research and experience have demonstrated that you will need to consider the following key aspects.

Top management buy-in: As with any change process, top management needs to be fully bought into the advantages of 360 Degree Feedback. They need to champion the process and ensure that all stakeholders participate fully in the process.

Past history: To determine whether past history may impact the introduction of 360-degree feedback you will need to ask yourself the following questions – Has 360-degree feedback been used previously within the organization? What were the results? Where was the process a success and why? Where did the process encounter difficulties and why?

Coaching and management skills: As with past history, you will need to ask yourself the following questions – Do management possess the required skills and knowledge to implement the process fully? Have the necessary mentors and coaches been introduced across the organization to ensure the smooth application of 360-degree feedback?

Trust & Interdependence: Given the often sensitive nature that can be discussed 360 Degree Feedback requires trust and confidentiality. Ask yourself, what are the trust levels within your organization? How can trust levels be increased?

Organizational stability: The introduction of an effective 360 Degree Feedback Process can often be impacted when there is a level of un-stability within the organization. You will need to determine what is the current position of the organization? Are changes are foreseen that may affect the implementation of an effective 360-degree feedback process? Can they be avoided and/or integrated within the purpose of the 360-degree feedback process?

Clear performance plans: The last area that will determine whether your organization is ready for 360-degree feedback refers to the performance metrics of the organization. Ask yourself what are the performance metrics within your organization? Are they clear to all stakeholders? If not how can they be made clear?

A simple ten-step 360-degree feedback process

At this stage, we can introduce a simple ten-step feedback process.

  1. Decide the purpose: The first step is to decide the process and as indicated in the last section there are two main applications within the organization (e.g., employee development, performance evaluation. Once decided it is necessary to communicate the purpose of the process to all stakeholders or those that will be involved or impacted by the 360-degree feedback process.
  2. Choose the collection instrument: There is a range of instruments that can be employed as part of the process. The two most frequently employed are questionnaires and interviews. For many organizations, a combination of the two is utilized. To illustrate, questionnaires are most commonly employed based on competencies identified by the organization. And, interviews are less commonly utilized along with off-the-shelf instruments.
  3. Decide on the behaviors to be collected: When you begin to employ 360-degree feedback within your organization you will soon learn that it is essential that you decide the behaviors that need to be collected by the instrument employed. This will assist you to focus on actual behavior in the organization rather than general traits. Base ratings on particular work also set a context to reduce rating error and ensure that rated behaviors are tied closely to the organization’s strategy and vision.
  4. Identify the feedback recipients: The next stage involves selecting employees who will receive the feedback. Remember self-selected employees are always more conducive to the process. And, always ensure that all recipients are aware of their involvement within the process.
  5. Train the Raters & Ratees: For many organizations, 360-degree feedback is a new event within the organization and as a result, it is important that both raters and those rated receive adequate training. This means that the organizations need to communicate, communicate, and communicate again. Ratees need instruction on accepting negative feedback and on rating errors (e.g., central tendency, halo errors, etc). And, raters and ratees need constant updates on progress to ensure necessary buy-in.
  6. The recipient chooses raters: Within an effective 360-degree feedback process it is important, where practical, that the recipient of the feedback chooses approximately 10 raters. On the whole, these tend to include self, boss, subordinates, co-workers, etc. Caution: Recipients may choose more lenient raters. A properly planned process will help to avoid this situation.
  7. Questionnaire distribution: Should you decide to employ questionnaires, they will probably include either paper and pencil or computerized (more efficient as data can be collated using customized software). Raters should be allowed the opportunity to forward the completed questionnaires to an external source to protect confidentiality. This may involve a financial cost but it will maximize buy-in with staff. Larger organizations with high levels of transparency may not need to include the external collation of results.
  8. Analyze the feedback data: Within many feedback systems, not enough care is taken in the analysis of the feedback. This needs to be carefully planned at the beginning of the process. Without this planning either too much or too little feedback data can be collected. For larger organizations reports tend to collate and feedback delivered by external consultants using specialized software. With this approach, recipients can compare scores from raters in column format or graphical format. Additional comments from individual raters can be appended to the reports.
  9. Feeding back the feedback: This is one of the major steps where the process can fall down. Reports should be discussed within a workshop session whereby they can openly discuss the feedback received. It is essential that adequate time is provided for staff to take in the feedback and that the whole process is transparent. There is nothing more dangerous within organizations where staff is asked for feedback and it is then omitted or ignored. Staff will know what has been said so don’t ever hide information! Again this step may be best facilitated by an external consultant. Although the need for external assistance is dependent on the culture and financial status of your organization.
  10. Follow-through: Another extremely important stage in the process that is often overlooked is the follow-through on the feedback received. After all the feedback is what you were looking for in the first place. Three important steps are involved are 1) Establishing improvement areas, 2) Designing action plans, and 3) Identifying coaches or mentors to assist ratees in their future development.
  11. Bonus step – repeat the process: 360-degree feedback is a continuous improvement process that will greatly benefit the organization. The process should be repeated following an agreed period to review progress and identify future action plans.

Why 360 Degree Feedback Programs Fail

At this stage in the study guide, it should be clear that the introduction of a feedback process is not as difficult as it first may have seemed. In fact, with appropriate planning and the sequencing of activities as presented earlier, it should be possible to successfully introduce within your organization.

In the final session, we want to briefly highlight some of the reasons why some feedback programs have failed in other organizations which we believe will help you not make the same mistakes.

No Clear Purpose: All programs must be firmly rooted in a purpose for the organization. You will need to ensure that stakeholders understand and share this purpose to ensure that the outcomes are relevant.

360-degree feedback is not a substitute for managing poor performance: The feedback should also not be viewed as a substitute for managing poor performance. Instead, it should be seen as a methodology for discovering areas whereby performance can be increased.

Not conducting a pilot: 360-degree feedback is not initially an easy process to introduce. For organizations where 360 Degree Feedback has not been implemented previously a pilot should be undertaken to familiarize both management and staff with the intricacies of the process.

Not involving key stakeholders: Reduces ownership of the feedback results and process. Undermines the overall process. Reduces trust and confidence levels within the organization. Minimizes the potential success of the feedback.

Insufficient communication: For feedback to be effective within an organization all stakeholders need to be informed of the purpose of the feedback, how this process will work, and be confident of the relevance and transparency of the exercise.

Compromising confidentiality: 360-degree feedback must always respect the confidentiality of all material collected. Within strict attendance, to this feature, the validity of the process will be undermined along with the future reliability of data collected. Importantly, the Feedback must not be used against staff as it will damage trust relationships within the organization.

Not making the feedback’s use clear: Stakeholders must be fully aware of what the feedback will be used for. Without clarity, the relevance of the feedback obtained will be compromised.

User-friendly scoring and administration: Both users and administrators must find it easy to complete the feedback process. All areas of confusion and ambiguity must be removed. You will need to make sure that it is not just an event but an ongoing process.

360-degree Feedback is not a once-off effort: 360-degree feedback is a continuous process of improvement and must be always perceived as being this.

Not evaluating effectiveness: Evaluation is the cornerstone of successful programs – make sure that you build inappropriate evaluation structures.

Who needs effective 360-degree feedback skills?

  • Senior management that wants to strengthen their relationships with staff.
  • Managers, supervisors, and team leaders need these skills to lead, manage and motivate their teams.
  • Administrative, support staff, and line staff that needs these skills to maximize their engagement and participation within the organization.
  • HR professionals need 360-degree feedback skills to meet the needs of the departments that they support.
  • Project managers need these skills to create more engagement and collaboration with their teams.
  • Organizational development professionals need these skills to secure relationships and participation from all functions within the organization.
  • Consultants and independent contractors who are being asked to play a role in organizational initiatives.

Get training material to deliver your own training courses on 360-degree feedback skills

You can download and use this off-the-shelf and customizable training material to instruct your learners on 360-degree feedback skills.

At the end of this training course, your learners will be able to:

  • Identify the main benefits of performance appraisals.
  • Identify the roles of managers and employees.
  • Understand eight standard performance appraisal techniques.
  • Identify two implementation areas.
  • Use 360-degree feedback.
  • Determine whether an organization is ready for 360-degree feedback.
  • Understand why 360-degree feedback Programs can sometimes fail.

What You Get

  • A 57 Page Instructor Guide
  • A 69 Page Participant Manual
  • 80 Customizable PowerPoint Slides
  • Training Games And Training Icebreakers
  • A Course Advertorial
  • Eight Pre-written Expert Training Guides
  • Customizable Exercises And Tests
  • Further Reading Lists

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