Guide to 360-feedback (service leaders)
360-degree feedback is a method of assessment that gathers feedback from several sources, including peers, direct reports, senior colleagues and customers. This variety of feedback can offer line managers a wide-ranging perspective and help to make performance management a more objective and fair process.
This factsheet offers guidance on how to use 360-degree feedback effectively and identifies several factors to consider when building the process, including an overview of feedback questionnaires and feedback reports. It will assist you in identifying when to use this development tool.
What is 360-degree feedback?
Gartner defines 360-degree feedback as:
A component of the performance management process whereby evaluations of employee performance are collected from supervisors, subordinates, peers, and customers. This feedback can be used for employee performance appraisal and development.
The 360-degree questionnaire usually consists of several statements clustered against the competencies that the review intends to measure. These can be linked to the organisational goals, behaviours and values.
The employees who provide the feedback, known as raters, grade several organisationally defined statements on a scale, for example from 1 to 5, and often include written comments. The ensuing report summarises the ratings given for each statement, as well as averages for each competency and any written comments.
What are the benefits of 360-degree feedback?
The graphic below illustrates the benefits of 360-degree feedback.
360-degree feedback increases people’s self-awareness. When others provide feedback, a person gets a full view of themselves that is less prone to being one-sided and biased. The feedback reveals ‘blind spots’ in a safe and controlled way.
Broad perspective on strengths and weaknesses
360-degree feedback is a great vehicle for highlighting employees’ strengths and areas for development. Traditionally, employees get feedback from only their manager, which produces a one-dimensional perspective.
A culture of openness
360-degree feedback boosts transparency if employees get proper training before they begin the process. This openness can lead to more productive people and teams and a more cohesive environment.
Open, constructive communication helps to expose hidden issues. It also increases the sense of empowerment and voice of your employees. Your employees feel heard and remain with the service in the sector because they feel valuable and affirmed.
Development planning and continuous improvement
Feedback is a starting point for individual personal development and it ensures that the service creates the right learning solutions. Long-term development plans can target those areas that need to be addressed, which drive the ongoing process of continual improvement. 360-feedback is designed to work within a training and talent management programme that is meant to grow and develop your people. However, it is important that a training and talent management programmes are customised to suit a service’s specific set of needs.
An important feature of 360-degree feedback is its capacity not only to challenge recipients’ perceptions of their skills and performance but also to provide the motivation to change. This can happen in three main ways:
- The feedback on an aspect of behaviour is the opposite of what the recipient expects
- An aspect of behaviour is shown to be more (or less) important as an explanation of individual performance than the recipient perceives to be the case
- Findings can highlight specific relationships between aspects of behaviour
360-degree feedback should not hold any surprises for individuals; its focus should be on helping them understand how their behaviour is perceived by others and confirming the behaviour that is most likely to get results. If implemented appropriately, it can achieve several key objectives, including:
- Identifying differences between the way individuals see themselves and how they are perceived by others
- Establishing differences between the perceptions of different groups of respondents, such as the recipient’s direct reports and line managers
This helps to make performance management a more objective and fair process.
Getting the most out of 360-degree feedback
Regardless of job role, 360-degree feedback is a powerful tool that can help you identify not only where your strengths lie but also aspects of your work that could be improved or developed and where you might benefit from specific assistance.
However, for it to be effective, all employees must feel confident that the 360-degree feedback process is trustworthy and fair. If raters believe their responses will not remain confidential, this can lead to issues related to honesty in giving feedback, increased fear of retribution, negative experiences and/or organisational culture decline.
This is a risk as the process can lend itself to being ‘gamed’, which is a term describing when raters’ input is biased by an interest they have in showing the employee in a good light or some other personal agenda.
Some things that can help include:
- Briefing employees and raters (see ‘How to give meaningful feedback via 360 from Cheshire FRS’) clearly on the aims and objectives of the exercise, what the feedback will be used for and how it should be given
- Explaining the process, including how raters are selected, how feedback is collated and how it will be presented
- Giving employees the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns
- Maintaining confidentiality and not attributing feedback to an individual without their permission; employees and raters should know who will have access to the data, for what purpose it will be used and how feedback will be given and by whom
- Offering support to employees so that they can act on the feedback
- Constantly monitoring and evaluating the process, with all concerns acted on and any changes adequately communicated
Making 360-degree feedback work
There are three main components:
- The assessment. This can be a paper-based or online questionnaire, completed confidentially and anonymously by the raters.
- The feedback. Participants should receive their feedback report in a confidential meeting with someone who is experienced in giving such feedback. This might be a coach or another professional who has been trained to deliver the specific 360-degree tools being used.
- The development. Ideally, the participant should be offered development support (refer to NFCC 20 ways to develop and NFCC personal development planning), according to their individual needs and based on the feedback provided in their 360-degree review.
When using 360-degree feedback, it is important to make sure that certain central principles are followed, including that:
- The questions are short, clear and relevant to the person’s job
- The recipient finds the raters credible
- Raters are given guidance about the information they should be providing, such as using specific examples of certain behaviours or only providing comments that can be supported with evidence
- Feedback is only given by individuals trained to give it. Feedback should be given sensitively and fairly with the recipient remaining in control of the process. Those giving feedback should be encouraged to do so in an objective, positive way by using examples to back up perceived opinion of performance while always respecting confidentiality of all participants.
The six steps to implementing 360-degree feedback
Step 1: Have a clear vision across the service
Having a clear vision and direction for the service helps everyone to work towards a common goal. This clear vision should be aligned to business priorities and goals and understood and shared across the service.
Managers need to make sure that they understand the purpose for which 360-degree feedback is being used, and that they understand the service’s values and behavioural framework. It is also worth considering training for all participants, including the raters.
Also, carefully consider the financial and time costs. Establish limits and boundaries around the process, including the length of the 360-degree assessment and the number of raters.
Step 2: Communicate effectively
Before the review process begins, it is important to establish a clear and consistent understanding across the service of what ‘good’ performance is. It is also important to ensure that the organisational culture enables individuals to give and receive feedback in a constructive manner.
When communicating to raters, and those being rated, make sure to include:
- The purpose of the 360-feedback feedback
- Confidentiality guidelines: raters provide more useful feedback when they know they cannot be identified
- How the data will be used
- What behaviours will be rated
360-degree feedback is only effective if everyone involved thoroughly understands the process (see ‘How to give meaningful feedback via 360 from Cheshire FRS’).
Step 3: Help employees to choose raters
The right people, or ‘high-quality raters’, are those who can provide meaningful feedback based on quality interactions. Making sure that raters have worked closely enough with the individual being assessed will help to ensure that enough detail is provided in their feedback for it to be meaningful.
Choose between 5 and 20 raters. Feedback from more raters will help get a rounded overall view and represent a useful collection of feedback. Generally, if there are three raters in a category, feedback needs to be included as a distinct category, for example, peers. If there are fewer than three, feedback should be amalgamated so people cannot be identified, excluding the line manager.
Consider including in the survey invitations an outline of the process timeline, who to reach out to with questions or concerns, and expectations for next steps. Taking time to set up the process is important and reaps rewards. Always encourage participants to personally contact potential raters to let them know that they will be inviting them (usually via email) to be a rater; it also gives the participant an opportunity to explain how important the 360-degree process, and their feedback, is to them.
Step 4: Make sure you are asking the right questions
In this process, feedback comes from raters’ responses to a set of questions about their views of a colleague’s behaviour or performance. The raters score the statements on a scale, for example from 1 to 5, and often include written comments.
Every service has unique characteristics, a distinct culture and a wide variety of leadership needs. It is crucial that the question contents align with how employees are evaluated elsewhere in the service (from a broader performance perspective).
As well as the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for the employee to meet their objectives and priorities, it is also important that their strengths and development areas complement the service’s larger growth and development model.
Step 5: Monitor and remind
Monitor the process and completion rates. Establish a deadline that is realistic but keeps it front of mind. Consider the time of year, workloads, annual leave, etc.
Send reminders to those raters who have yet to complete their feedback.
Step 6: Feedback and plan
The ensuing report should summarise the ratings given for each statement, as well as averages for each competency, and any written comments.
Feedback can seem overly negative and can be influenced by providers’ personal grudges, so feedback providers should manage it carefully. Encourage constructive feedback and ensure that the questionnaire gives opportunities to describe what someone is doing well.
A lack of follow-up after feedback has been received not only makes the process pointless but also makes employees question how useful 360-degree feedback is. Do not just listen: act. It is crucial that feedback is actioned. Employees need resources to help them develop in response to poor feedback.
Use trained feedback providers to share the feedback report with the participant and help them create a plan of action. Encourage participants to share the plan with their line manager to help them implement their plan.
Several studies (Hazucha et al., 1993; London & Wohlers, 1991; Walker & Smither, 1999) indicate that the use of 360-degree feedback helps to improve employee performance because it helps the evaluated see different perspectives of their performance.
There are clearly several benefits that 360-degree feedback can bring to both the individual and the service, but there are some key factors to consider when employing this method.
In organisations or services that do not have a tradition of open feedback or upward communication, it is likely that 360-degree feedback might create mistrust, so this needs to be carefully addressed.
How raters are selected, manager approval, instrument quality, rater training and orientation, participant training, supervisor training, coaching and accountability all need to be determined before any implementation plan is adopted.
Finally, implementing a 360-degree review might not be appropriate when change or restructuring in a service is underway, so the timing, cost and duration of the process need to be carefully considered.
Hazucha et al., 1993; London & Wohlers, 1991; Walker & Smither, 1999