360 degree feedback - A guide
If you’ve heard of 360 degree feedback but don’t know what it is, or you aren’t sure how this style of appraisal can support your workforce, this guide is for you.
We’ll be taking a look at what exactly it is and sharing examples of useful 360 feedback questions to get the most out of the experience, as well as examining the advantages and disadvantages of this method.
Whether your company is large or small, there are huge benefits to be gained from creating an open, honest dialogue with your employees. When used well, 360 feedback is an effective tool that can help your team to achieve more.
In this article we will be covering:
- What is 360 feedback?
- How is 360 feedback usually carried out?
- 360 feedback examples
- 360 degree feedback advantages and disadvantages
- How can 360 degree feedback be used effectively?
What is 360 feedback?
Sometimes called multi-rater feedback, 360 degree feedback is a method of employee appraisal that takes information from multiple sources to create a well-rounded view of a person’s performance.
Whereas traditional appraisal systems tend to be based solely on the input of managers or team leaders, 360 feedback may include perspectives from colleagues, direct reports and even customers. This means that an individual is able to receive more in-depth information about their skills and working relationships, as feedback is provided by multiple people who witness them throughout different aspects of their working day.
To ensure a productive outcome, 360 feedback usually uses a questionnaire format, giving each person the same set of questions to answer. The aim of the process is to help the individual to understand how they and their efforts are being perceived by those around them, with a view to improving any blind spots.
360 feedback is not a way to measure employee performance objectives, but to help employees recognise strengths and weaknesses and become more effective. This appraisal style focuses on the person rather than the job they are doing, helping them to develop their business and interpersonal skills.
How is 360 feedback usually carried out?
Let’s look at the steps usually used to carry out 360 degree feedback. The below is just a guide; it’s important to tailor your own approach to suit your organisation and employees to ensure the best outcome.
Step 1: Write the feedback questions
The first step is to put together your 360 feedback questions. We’ll look at this in more detail below, but here are a few important things to remember.
Use a combination of closed questions that can be answered by yes/no or a scale of 1-10, as well as open questions that invite more detail. The questions should focus on the person and their attributes, not their performance. The appraisee themselves should also answer a version of the same questionnaire.
Step 2: Distribute the questionnaire
Next, the questions should be distributed to your chosen respondents. You’re looking to gain a variety of insights without feedback analysis becoming too time consuming. Between 6 and 10 respondents is a good amount.
Try to select a mix of different relationships with the appraisee, including senior, peer, junior or customer. The more varied the feedback sources, the more detailed the overall picture. Who you choose for this, and how many people, will vary depending on the size and structure of your organisation, as well as the specific role of the appraisee.
The questionnaire can be delivered however works best for your organisation, whether that’s through email, specialised HR software or on paper. However, it’s important to be mindful of anonymity and to ensure that responses are not seen by the appraisee in advance of the 360 feedback review.
Step 3: Review the answers
To make sure the feedback given is concise and productive, it’s important to review the answers received prior to discussing them with the appraisee.
Preparing a report can be useful, as this allows you to distil any similar comments into a single concept instead of going over the same points multiple times. If needed, you can use this time to gain any further insight or clarification from the respondents where their answers are unclear or at odds with the majority of the feedback.
All feedback given should be completely anonymous to encourage colleagues and customers to provide honest answers. You might choose to paraphrase the responses rather than directly quote them for additional anonymity. Remember that 360 degree feedback is not about performance. Your main focus should be highlighting key opportunities to help the appraisee to make personal improvements.
Step 4: Deliver the results
Wherever possible, the outcome of the 360 feedback should be delivered in person to invite constructive conversation. If an in-person meeting isn’t practical for your organisation, a video call or phone call is preferable to email.
Avoid sending the report to the appraisee in advance of the feedback meeting. Some findings may be hard to hear, or could be misunderstood out of context. A guided approach will help to make them feel supported rather than criticised.
Celebrate areas where the appraisee performs well, but don’t focus on ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feedback; all feedback is useful when framed in a positive way. Make sure they have the chance to voice their own opinions and discuss any of the information presented in the report.
Step 5: Post-feedback support
360 degree feedback is meaningless if proactive steps to support the appraisee are not taken once the feedback has been gathered, analysed and delivered. It’s important to combine the feedback with the appraisee’s personal and professional goals to create a roadmap for self-development.
Again, remember that this process should not be performance driven. Focus on soft skills, interpersonal relationships, and the individual’s unique abilities rather than more quantifiable results like sales made or projects delivered.
This part of the process takes the most time and won’t happen overnight. You may choose to set up regular check-ins to assess progress and offer any additional support, or hold a second session 6 or 12 months later using the same 360 feedback questions to gauge improvement.
360 feedback questions
The majority of 360 feedback questions tend to be closed questions that can be answered with yes/no or on a scale, e.g. from 1-10. This makes data collection and analysis more straightforward, as answers can be directly compared.
However, open questions that invite detailed discussion are also useful to gain broader insights that may not otherwise be covered. It’s important not to include too many of this type of question, as they are more time consuming to write and analyse. After a closed question, you might choose to ask “Why have you answered this question this way?” or “Please provide more detail” for respondents to elaborate on their response.
Tips for writing 360 feedback questions
Rather than using a single 360 feedback template for all employees, make sure that the questions asked are relevant to the appraisee. You might need to create different sets of questions for specific roles or departments.
Remember to focus the questions on the appraisee’s attributes rather than their performance. Standard KPIs may be easier to quantify, but they are less helpful in terms of personal development. Consider questions based around communication skills, how they work with others, and what motivates them. To get the best out of each question, only focus on one competency at a time.
Make sure questions aren’t leading or accusatory; try to be clear and unbiased in your phrasing. When providing a set of responses to choose from, make sure the language used doesn’t influence respondents to answer a certain way.
360 feedback examples
Some examples of good 360 feedback questions include:
- Does [appraisee] consider other team members’ opinions before making a decision?
- Is [appraisee] responsive to their team’s needs and questions?
- Can [appraisee] work under pressure to meet deadlines?
- Does [appraisee] demonstrate leadership on a daily basis?
- Does [appraisee] listen well to other team members’ suggestions?
- Does [appraisee] communicate effectively with customers?
- Does [appraisee] regularly engage in conflict with others?
- Does [appraisee] effectively manage their stress levels?
- Do other team members look to [appraisee] for advice?
- Does [appraisee] provide creative solutions to problems?
- Does [appraisee] appear to be motivated by their job?
- Does [appraisee] motivate others in a group task?
You can follow up some or all of your closed questions with an invitation for respondents to include more information about their response if they wish.
At the end of the questionnaire, you may want to include some more open questions, such as:
- What else would you like to share about [appraisee]?
- What would make [appraisee] more effective in their role?
- What has [appraisee] done particularly well?
- Are there any attributes that [appraisee] demonstrates that have not been covered in the questions above?
- What other comments do you have?
Remember to tailor your 360 feedback template to your specific organisation, as well as to each role or department where necessary, to ensure the most beneficial feedback.
360 degree feedback advantages and disadvantages
As with any methodology, there are various pros and cons associated with 360 degree feedback. To determine whether this approach is right for your organisation, take a look at the advantages and disadvantages we’ve outlined below.
Advantages of 360 feedback
Here are some of the advantages of 360 degree feedback.
- It is a useful data gathering tool for setting SMART goals for departments and the wider company
- Providing a variety of perspectives helps to create more balanced feedback and paint a clearer picture of the appraisee’s behaviour, impact and skills
- It helps appraisees to develop self-awareness about their strengths and weaknesses and identify skills gaps
- Feedback from peers can help to boost morale and improve working relationships
- The insights gained through 360 degree feedback supports continued personal development
Disadvantages of 360 feedback
Here are some of the disadvantages of 360 degree feedback.
- The process of gathering, analysing and delivering feedback can be time consuming
- It requires complete trust and anonymity to ensure accurate, constructive feedback
- Opinions shared could be biased, and a spectrum of respondents is required to avoid skewed results
- It can be easy for appraisees to focus on negative feedback rather than feel that their achievements have been celebrated
- 360 degree feedback requires an ongoing effort and support from management to effect change and improvement
How can 360 degree feedback be used effectively?
Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind to ensure that your 360 feedback is used effectively.
- 360 degree feedback works best in organisations where there is a culture of trust, honesty and open, unbiased communication
- All questionnaires must be anonymised to allow for honest feedback without causing friction
- Questions should focus on the individual, not on their performance
- Using a mix of closed open questions helps to balance ease of analysis with useful insights
- Questionnaires must be filtered and reviewed before being shared in person with the appraisee to encourage a productive discussion
- Following delivery of the feedback, appraisees should be supported to make improvements and learn new skills as required
- The 360 feedback process should be repeated annually to monitor progress and ensure continual personal development within the team
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