360 degree feedback for effective employee and leadership development
360 degree feedback delivers high-quality insights, underpins effective leadership development, and improves employee performance. Thanks to these benefits 360 degree evaluations are increasingly replacing traditional feedback methods, especially when it comes to leadership development. This is because modern, flat organizational hierarchies require a culture change when it comes to feedback. Find out what 360 degree feedback is, how it works and why companies should use it today.
Are you looking for software that evaluates your leaders holistically and enables effective leadership development? Tivian’s Leadership 360 helps your organization implement, deliver, and evaluate 360 degree leadership feedback – bringing out the best in your leaders.
Jump to specific sections:
- What is 360 degree feedback?
- What are the goals of 360 degree feedback?
- When does using 360 degree feedback make sense?
- Why is 360 degree feedback so effective?
- How do you carry out a 360 degree survey?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of 360 degree feedback?
- What are the challenges of running 360 degree surveys?
- How can you successfully run 360 degree evaluations?
- Carrying out 360 degree appraisals with the right tools
- Conclusion: Every company needs 360 degree feedback
What is 360 degree feedback?
360 degree feedback (360° feedback), also known as 360 degree appraisal or multi-rater feedback, is a method of comprehensively assessing leaders and their performance, based on collecting perspectives from a range of people.
The 360 feedback process gathers information from:
- Direct and indirect managers
- Team members
- Other employees that interact with the leader
- Customers and partners
It is an all-round survey, providing a holistic, independent assessment of the individual. As part of the 360 appraisal, the leader also carries out a self-assessment. In contrast to traditional performance appraisals, 360 degree feedback covers the entire working environment of the person receiving the feedback. It then uses this combination of self-assessment and external evaluation for leadership development.
360 degree evaluations are about recognizing strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas for improvement. The aim is to identify which skills and competencies the person needs to develop in order to successfully fulfil their role and grow as a leader. As part of this the 360 degree performance appraisal focuses on competencies that can be practically learned and developed.
To start, here are the differences between 90, 180, 270 and 360 degree feedback:
- 90 degree feedback includes the traditional employee performance review, where managers assess their employees.
- With 180 degree feedback, a leader is evaluated by their team and direct managers, while also carrying out a self-assessment of their performance.
- A 270 degree appraisal adds input from colleagues at the same level as the person being evaluated to feedback from their managers and team.
- The most comprehensive performance review collects 360 degree feedback, adding the external view of customers and/or partners to the mix – thus closing the feedback circle.
What are the goals of 360 degree feedback?
The goal of a 360 evaluation process is to paint as diverse a picture as possible of a person’s professional and leadership qualities. This is vital as every leader interacts with different people inside and outside the company in their daily working lives. This is why it is critical to collect and act on holistic feedback.
It is important to understand that a 360 degree survey is not a simple performance appraisal. Rather than just covering the work they have done, it is more about evaluating and supporting their professional and personal development, based on valid data. It enables their strengths to be identified and developed through a holistic assessment, their weaknesses highlighted and plans put in place to overcome them, enabling their full potential to be exploited.
360 degree feedback is therefore an important tool for personnel development and is now standard in many organizations of all sizes. It primarily helps companies develop their leaders but can also be used for employee development. Thanks to this, 360 degree surveys ultimately increase employee retention. This is because top talent wants to develop – if you don’t invest in supporting their professional growth, you risk losing them.
Developing leaders ensures that their wider team and ultimately the entire organization improves. 360 degree feedback therefore also provides a means of advancing and strengthening organizational development.
When does using 360 degree feedback make sense?
360 degree feedback is helpful for companies of all sizes and is primarily used for leadership and employee development.
Typical 360 degree feedback examples include:
- To enable the creation of personal development plans for leaders
- To further develop skilled workers
- To select those that would benefit from specific training
- To identify the right candidates within internal recruitment
- To monitor the impact of development activities or training courses
It is important to understand that 360 degree surveys should not be used during a crisis or shortly before a new appointment is made. At these points there is a heightened risk that any feedback provided will not be representative. Additionally, small teams are unsuitable for anonymous surveys as respondents can be easily identified through their answers.
Why is 360 degree feedback so effective?
Provides multiperspectivity: Feedback from all angles
Subjectivity is a central problem with traditional 90 degree feedback exercises. In these classic appraisal interviews, the manager assesses the employee, making subjective evaluations almost unavoidable.
By comparison, 180, 270 and 360 degree feedback are multi-rater feedback methods. They involve more participants in the assessment process and thus follow the principle of multiperspectivity, collecting a range of perspectives and insights. This prevents subjective assessments and enables a more objective evaluation.
Enables self-assessment to be compared with external views
Comparing external and self-assessment insights makes 360 degree feedback for managers particularly effective, as leaders and those they work with often assess their skills and competencies differently.
To underpin this self/external comparison, the leader answers specific questions about what they feel their strengths and weaknesses are as part of the self-assessment. These are compared to the answers to the same questions from colleagues, reports, managers, and customers. This provides insight into how the leader sees themselves and how others view them, laying the foundation for successful personnel development.
Identifies blind spots
As opposed to traditional performance reviews, 360 degree feedback identifies potential areas that a leader or their reviewer would probably never have thought of otherwise. It uncovers blind spots that are important for further development.
How do you carry out a 360 degree survey?
When it comes to the 360 degree feedback process, careful project management is vital, as is open, targeted, and active communication so that everyone involved understands the benefits of 360 degree feedback and what is required from them. Effective communication is the only way to create trust among all parties involved, which is critical to ensuring answers are honest and that there is a high level of participation in the process.
The three project phases of a 360 degree survey
1. Preparation and planning
Designing 360 degree surveys is normally the responsibility of the organization’s HR department. The first important step is to define the goal of the survey and the information required to meet this goal. After this, feedback givers are identified, the survey itself is created and an evaluation and follow-up process is put in place.
Ideally, you should create a project schedule in which you clearly define the duration and time periods of each phase. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the survey triggered by leaders themselves or is timing centrally controlled by the HR department?
- What levels of management will undergo 360 degree feedback?
- Who will be assessed?
- Who determines the feedback givers and when will they be approached?
- What information (questions and other variables) is collected?
- Which of this information is shared?
- Who has access to specific information to guarantee confidentiality?
- How will the information be used later?
This is followed by a step that many companies forget or underestimate. This is about building trust, raising awareness of the goal of the survey and convincing all parties involved. It is essential to involve any unions at an early stage in order to get their backing and to demonstrate to them the data protection and anonymity standards that are in place. Stress that it’s not about individual opinions, but about a holistic assessment.
To do this, contact and brief all those involved during the preparatory phase, explaining about the survey itself, how data will be handled and why the exercise is being carried out..
2. Conducting the 360 degree survey
The data in a 360 degree feedback exercise is collected using standardized questionnaires. Traditionally, many companies brought in independent experts to design these questionnaires. However, there are now a range of software tools that significantly simplify the design phase. Based on proven models, Tivian’s Leadership 360 is one such solution.
Create the 360 degree feedback questionnaire based on the purpose of the survey and the information you have committed to collect.
When building your survey it is imperative that the questions are carefully selected and formulated and meet the following criteria:
- They relate to the overall purpose of the survey
- They are relevant to the professional role of the person to be assessed
- They are formulated in a clear, easy-to-understand way, ensuring that they can be answered without misunderstandings or misinterpretations and without requiring specialist HR knowledge
- There are no leading questions
In addition, as with all feedback exercises, the survey must meet the quality criteria of being objective, reliable and valid.
To ensure you collect sufficient feedback adapt the number of questions to the willingness of your target group to provide information. Ask sufficient questions so that the assessment gives a comprehensive impression, however don’t include so many questions that feedback providers give up before completing the survey. Structure the survey in a logical order. Start with simple, straightforward questions and then move onto more important, challenging questions.
Also, keep in mind that in many cases, questions need to be worded differently depending on the feedback group, even if the same competence is being covered. For example, a question for customers will be worded differently from one for employee 360 feedback.
Make sure that you only ask about competencies that can be changed and developed. For example, you can query aspects such as:
- Leadership style and leadership skills
- Ability to act as a role model
- Strategic or entrepreneurial thinking
- Conflict behavior and problem-solving skills
- Communication skills
Using an intelligent software solution makes it simple to design your 360 degree feedback questionnaires, ensuring that quality criteria are met and that results meet your needs.
3. Evaluation and implementation of the results
When the collection phase is finished, the next step is to evaluate and analyze the data, summarize and share it, and then create action plans for development.
As with all feedback exercises, it is important that 360 degree feedback is analyzed promptly. Evaluation needs to be as timely as possible to ensure it is still relevant. Additionally, demonstrating that the exercise produces results is the only way to ensure a high level of acceptance of the process amongst both the recipients and providers of feedback.
Give all employees confidential access to the reports that matter to them as this will also increase acceptance. Bear in mind that feedback can be taken personally and lead to emotional reactions. Therefore, provide leaders with sufficient time to absorb the feedback and take any points on board. Jointly develop action plans – for example, further training or coaching – as well as a concrete timetable for implementation. Put in place a monitoring process to check that actions are completed, with a timeline for evaluation to understand their effectiveness.
Intelligent software solutions support you in evaluating results, creating an individual, clear report and, thanks to AI, even recommending actions and next steps. This reduces the time required to manage the process and increases efficiency.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of 360 degree feedback?
The benefits of 360 degree feedback
By combining comprehensive self-assessment and external insights, 360 degree feedback provides multiple advantages to both the company and the individual. It delivers a comprehensive overview of the strengths and weaknesses of leaders, identifies untapped potential, and uses valid, objective data to plan future training and development activities.
In contrast to traditional surveys, 360 degree feedback has the following key benefits:
- Highly objective: By surveying a range of people with different perspectives, results are much more objective. Subjective prejudices (both positive and negative) have much less weight. The so-called “halo effect”, in which individual personality traits overshadow other characteristics and thus influence overall perception by reviewers, is also much weaker.
- Holistic all-round view: 360 degree feedback offers the chance to identify greater potential, as a comprehensive view makes it easier to spot unused skills, talents and possibilities.
- Greater acceptance: Everyone has a hard time with negative criticism at first. However, it is easier to accept such feedback if it is expressed objectively several times by a range of people. This overcomes the suspicion that feedback is simply an individual, subjective opinion.
- Increased employee engagement: In an environment that is open and built on feedback, employees know that their opinions count, which strengthens engagement. They feel confident that they have use multiple opportunities to express their opinions and share their own ideas.
- Targeted development: 360 degree feedback offers the opportunity to develop skills and competencies further based on valid data. Leaders are more likely to accept feedback from the exercise and use it to drive their development.
- Higher motivation: If you invest in the development of employees, you increase their motivation. At the same time, with 360 degree feedback, you can listen to everyone involved. This also has a positive effect on engagement.
The disadvantages of 360 degree feedback
While 360 degree assessments deliver significant benefits, they do have some disadvantages that need to be understood:
- High levels of effort: Due to the number of people involved, the time required to run a 360 degree appraisal is significantly higher than traditional performance management processes. However, intelligent software solutions can now simplify the process, dramatically reducing the time required to scale 360 degree feedback.
- Anonymity makes deep conversations more difficult: Although survey anonymity is key to collecting genuine answers, it can sometimes make it difficult to drill-down deeper into specific issues and brainstorm effective solutions.
- Bias and internal politics: As with any feedback exercise, there is always the potential for employees or customers to use 360 degree surveys to share their wider frustrations or personal grudges. Knowing that a 360 degree survey is going to happen could also lead to the recipient trying to make themselves popular, rather than focusing on their wider development. To combat these risks, HR departments need to put in place measures to mitigate and understand any potential biases.
What are the challenges of running 360 degree surveys?
Establishing a feedback culture in the company
For many companies establishing a healthy feedback culture across the organization is one of their biggest challenges.
To get buy-in all parties involved must know the meaning and exact purpose of the survey. They need to be confident that their feedback will make a difference. At the same time, it must be clear that their feedback is confidential and anonymous, i.e. that they cannot be identified – no matter what they say.
For this to succeed, companies must communicate openly and transparently, creating and continuously strengthening their feedback culture.
Predicting future capability needs
Developing effective leaders requires HR teams to understand the skills and capabilities they will need in the future. Particularly at a time of major change, achieving this prognostic validity can sometimes be challenging. It obliges companies to keep a close eye on how the world of work is developing, as well as understanding how their specific market is changing. HR teams need to constantly ask themselves the question: What skills and capabilities will our company and our leaders need tomorrow?
Accepting and processing feedback
As valuable as feedback is, it’s sometimes difficult to face open criticism, even if it’s constructive. If self-perception deviates greatly from the perception of others, a 360 degree survey can become a stressful, traumatic experience. In such cases, the feedback recipient goes through a four-step emotional processing process, similar to the typical reaction to dramatic changes in life. The SARA model covers these emotional stages:
- Shock: When external perceptions are shown to be dramatically different to self-image, people initially fall into a state of shock. Those affected deny the results of the survey and question the accuracy of the feedback.
- Anger: When the initial shock turns into anger, people usually go on the offensive and blame others to distract from their own shortcomings.
- Resistance: In the third phase, those affected have understood that change is necessary, but are still resisting it.
- Acceptance: Finally, insight follows – the person being assessed accepts the feedback and understands that action is required.
Both the person being evaluated and their manager should therefore be prepared for the fact that processing feedback is not always easy and takes time. If a company manages to create an open culture in which regular sharing of feedback is the norm, people learn to deal better with criticism and not take it personally. Essentially, when feedback becomes the norm, processing it becomes easier. The more regular that assessments are, the less of a gap there is also likely to be between self-perception and external views.
How can you successfully run 360 degree evaluations?
It must be clear to everyone involved that feedback provided during the assessment is anonymous. If people are worried that any feedback they give can be traced back to them, they will provide superficial evaluations, meaning the recipient will not benefit from useful, deeper feedback.
Relevance and a focus on what can be changed
Feedback must be job-related and focused on leadership development. The entire survey should cover relevant skills and competencies and be focused on areas that can be developed and improved. Equally, the data collected must be relevant to the company itself, and the role of the person being evaluated.
Follow-up process and communication
360 degree surveys are only successful if actions are taken from the data collected. Having a follow-up process in place is also crucial for the success of the next survey. If participants see that nothing has changed after their feedback, their motivation to take part in future exercises is likely to decrease.
The entire process must also be accompanied by open and transparent communication – from explaining and introducing the program to carrying out follow-up actions.
Tivian’s Communicate XI makes communicating with every employee simple and seamless. It enables you to reach each individual with tailored video, email and SMS campaigns, helping you to communicate important messages in a personalized way. As part of this, it can be used to underpin transparent communication during the 360 degree survey process.
Carrying out 360 degree appraisals with the right tools
Today, modern feedback tools dramatically reduce the time required to conduct 360 degree surveys and increase their overall effectiveness.
Make sure you pick a tool that is simple and intuitive to use. This improves the experience and values the time of those asked to provide feedback, while making it easier for managers to understand the data that has been collected.
In addition, the tool should support your managers and HR teams in creating relevant actions based on the feedback collected. After all, feedback serves no purpose if it is not put to any use.
Tivian’s Leadership 360 – Feedback that empowers leaders
Tivian’s Leadership 360 is built to support effective leadership development. It democratizes feedback, giving leaders at all levels access to 360 degree feedback. At the same time, it makes the collection, evaluation and action planning seamless thanks to AI.
And that’s not all: You can easily check whether your actions have made a difference by running pulse surveys across your teams. Our Employee Experience Suite uncovers what your employees really think.
Conclusion: Every company needs 360 degree feedback
Many companies still limit feedback collection to the annual appraisal interview, which is solely based on 90 degree top-down feedback. This is no longer enough, given the growing desire for continuous feedback, both from employees and managers. Younger generations in particular demand regular feedback to drive their future development. If you want to win over and retain Generation Y and Z, you have to take action now.
It’s also clear that as hierarchies flatten and change accelerates, collecting feedback annually is not sufficient. Many companies have already put in place agile processes to harness feedback and use it to drive continuous improvements.
Equally feedback must be democratized and available to everyone. It’s not enough to limit 360 degree feedback to a small group of senior leaders – it has to be accessible across the organization.
Invest in employee and leadership feedback to retain top talent and ensure your company’s success. Build a feedback culture and act on the insights that your people to provide to achieve your goals. Tivian is here to help.
Leadership development through 360 degree feedback
Today’s ever-changing world of work is characterized by uncertainty. Companies therefore need to focus on developing leaders at all levels.
You can find out how to do this in our free Solution Sheet.
Or learn more about Leadership and Leadership development here.