Over the years, 360-degree feedback programs (360s) have become an integral piece of many human resources processes. Whether used for formal performance reviews or for development, companies around the world have realized the value that unique perspectives (e.g., managers, peers, customers, etc.) can bring to feedback. For example, a peer might have better opportunities to observe behaviors that a manager might miss, enhancing the quality and quantity of information provided in a review. Theoretically, higher quality feedback leads to higher quality outcomes. Managers are given deeper insight into their teams, and employees are made aware of strengths and growth opportunities, all leading to a well-developed, high-performing workforce.

With that being said, 360s are challenging to get right because there are many pieces that need to be considered. Who should serve as raters? How should data be collected? How should the data be used? How should feedback be provided? These are just a handful of the many questions that will need to be answered when implementing a 360 or multisource feedback program. Below are some ways to maximize the effectiveness of your 360.

 

Before Implementing a 360-Degree Feedback Program

  • Determine the purpose of your 360s. Will your 360s be used for employee development or for employee evaluation? What decisions will be made by the results of the 360s? Answering these questions and establishing a clear purpose will influence the questions and how the 360 will be approached to help reduce confusion around its use. It is recommended that employers who are implementing 360s for the first time do so for development. This will help build trust in the process and improve its effectiveness over time.
  • Consider how the organizational context can impact your program. Implementing a 360-system is a change for your employees. If there are already changes in the organization that may be creating turbulence (e.g., restructuring, other new systems, etc.), it may impact how employees will react to the implementation of 360s. It is recommended that employers wait until things settle down before implementing a 360-system.
  • Know your team. People are different, and they are going to have different reactions to feedback. For example, people who are less extroverted and open to experience are less likely to perceive unfavorable feedback as useful, which can hinder development. Therefore, it is important to take the time to understand how participants might respond to feedback and work with them to overcome initial negative reactions that they might have.

 

Collecting 360-Degree Feedback

  • Ensure the anonymity of respondents. 360s only work if participants respond honestly to surveys. For example, a subordinate that is answering a survey about his or her manager may be hesitant to provide negative feedback, worrying that they may face retaliation after their responses a traced back to them. This can damage the quality of feedback provided to the manager, making the 360 less effective. Therefore, it is critical to guarantee the anonymity of responses.
  • Ask smart questions. Which factors are considered important for individual and organizational success? While a one-size-fits-all approach to survey design may be appealing, a more intentional approach may be more effective. For example, is it a good use of resources to collect data about an individual contributor’s supervisory skills? Maybe. Maybe not. Doing a thorough job analysis will help uncover the factors that are directly related to success in any job, and knowledge of these factors will help determine the right questions to ask on a 360 survey.

 

Using 360-Degree Feedback

  • Create an Action Plan. Whether for development or evaluation, 360s present an opportunity for employees to identify growth opportunities, but just providing feedback is not enough to create change. Some will seek to learn from feedback, while others might not. Creating an action plan, which identifies developmental goals and specifies the actions and timeline needed to accomplish those goals, can help increase the amount of growth in your team by helping employees keep track of their development.
  • Include participants in the creation of their Action Plans. One of the most popular and well-researched theories in psychology suggests that people are more likely to be motivated to accomplish goals that they identify with. The best way to facilitate identification with goals is to include people in the creation of their action plans. The ownership and autonomy that comes with the process will help people internalize their developmental goals and help keep them motivated throughout the process.
  • Support the growth of your team. All of the above is unlikely to be useful unless people feel that they have support in their growth. To successfully act on feedback, people need to know that they have support from their supervisors and the organization to change their approach to work and learn from mistakes. Otherwise, they will be reluctant to take any action. Therefore, it is important that support for growth is communicated and guaranteed, giving employees the freedom to grow.