What is 360 degree feedback

The definition
360 degree feedback is a process for providing a person with structured feedback from a group of people who have a range of different perspectives.

For example, a manager can receive feedback on their leadership, communication and planning & organising capabilities from their direct reports, peers, their own manager and possibly internal and external customers.

Now what I think about 360
It is a gift. It’s like asking people to help you become more successful and them saying, OK sure.

You know how you can always see things in others that they can’t see themselves. You can see things that they’re good at and sometimes you wonder why they don’t put them to better use. Other times you can see things in people that are holding them back. You wonder why they can’t see those things themselves. If only they did such and such they would be so much more successful – why don’t they do it.

Well, we have a single perception of ourselves and we can’t see outside that. It stops us from seeing those things that others see in us.

360 degree feedback is all about breaking through that single perception to help you be more successful. It’s about giving you confidence in your abilities, seeing the strengths that other people recognise. And it’s about identifying the areas where you can develop and grow – the things that’ll help you be more successful.

360 degree feedback is like being Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want. Being able to see himself as others saw him and benefiting as a result.

Getting back to David’s questions
This is the second post in a multi-part article where I’m addressing the questions raised by David in response to my post on 5 tips for writing objectives that produce results.

Last post we looked at the problem of 360 degree feedback becoming a replacement for quality objectives.

In this post I’ve talked briefly about what 360 is capable of doing. What would be great to know – if David is willing to comment on it – is how 360 is seen by himself and the people he’s working with? Is it helping him to be more successful?

When David says “360 has become a crutch because KPIs are almost always vague and unmeasurable” – I suspect that like many organisations 360 is being used as quasi assessment or performance review tool. This is largely a problem of perception. But it isn’t helped by the majority of companies who run it as part of the end of year review. This is the wrong time to use 360.

Coming up . . .
To continue shedding light on the answers to David’s questions, in the next series of posts we’ll be looking at:

  • The need for 360 degree feedback and how it works
  • What is 360 degree appraisal.
  • The best time to run 360.
  • Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals.

About Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. View all posts by Jon Windust

20 responses to “What is 360 degree feedback

  • Aloys Hosman

    Jon, do you think a 360 will work in companies with a strong hierarchical culture? It seems to me that this is a rather prohibiting factor for a 360. I mean, in these types of cultures people judge any review as a “did-I-do-well-or-not” type of review (“will my boss like me now?”). The 360, if I understand you correctly, is not about good or bad, but about improve or not. Also, I would like to see the dominant boss in a strongly hierarchical company accept that a subordinate tells him/her to improve!

    Looking foreward especially to your post about “Setting SMART objectives when there’s little clarity of business goals”. That has kept me puzzled for a long time!

  • jon

    Hi Aloys, thanks for some great comments.

    Strong hierarchies – yeah that’s a really good point. Feedback is generally one way with a dominant boss. One of the organisations that I work with has a strong hierarchy. They are changing their culture through leadership development, but this is very much a long term cultural process. Instead of 360 they use a competency based assessment process where people are required to show an assessor evidence they can do something. Much more time consuming, but also more robust in some respects.

    “did-I-do-well-or-not” / “will my boss like me now?” – I love that way of characterising how many people see their 360.

    360 is not about good or bad, but about improve or not – the first time I received 360 feedback, the results showed I needed to work on coaching. I guess you could argue that this was because I was bad at coaching, but I think that’s a poor characterisation. My performance in terms of what I achieved certainly wasn’t bad and nor was the teams. So from this perspective it was just an opportunity to improve – to do a lot better than I was at the time and have a much better relationship with my team. I didn’t accept the feedback, I remember at the time thinking “you’ve got to be kidding, I do that really well”. Looking back now, not working on coaching and some other leadership skills made things a lot more difficult for me than they needed to be.

  • Aloys Hosman

    I think that 360 review could much better help that company change their culture. It looks like competency thing is the same hierarchical excercice, but at a different level (off course I can’t judge from here, but it is alsways nice to pinch in a few opinions 🙂 ).

    The one time I had an 360, it did wonders for me. It eventually led me to change jobs. I realized my leadership skills would bear much more fruit in an advisory firm ratter than in a hierarchical organisation. Learned a lot there! It worked in this company because it was a one-time excercise without naming names and without feedback to the boss. It was there purely for your own benefit.

  • jon

    That’s an interesting question – at what point in the culture change process can 360 be used to actually assist the change.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with 360 Aloys.

  • David

    sorry it took me a while to respond to this post. I have been on holidays. However I would like to provide my thoughts on “how 360 is seen by myself and the people I’m working with? Is it helping me to be more successful?”

    I’ll see if I can provide the information I think you have asked for…let me know if I miss the target. For info, I went through our company’s performance appraisal process just before I went on holidays – both as reviewer and reviewee – and came out of it rather frustrated and dissatisfied in both roles.

    There is a very large gap between the way I would like to see 360s done and how it actually is done currently in my company. As per my previous comments, it currently is currently run as part of the annual appraisl process and used more as a crutch for managers in providing performance assessments – rather than setting clear personal performance goals set for each person that can be traced back to company performance objectives the 360 responses are used to rank the individuals.

    Specifically, our performance appraisals have two core sections. KPIs in one and 8 separate competency areas in the other. These competency areas include communications, leadership, personal attributes, problem solving, technical , etc and are different criteria for different seniorities and disciplines (admin, marketing, engineering, management, etc).

    The 360s are done on the 8 competency areas – that is, 6 to 10 people who have worked close enough with the individual are asked to rank them on each these competencies with a score of 1 to 5. The manager then gets the set of scores back and any written comments, but does not know who out of the selected 360 reviewers provided which scores or comments.

    The good point in this system is the anonimity of the reviewers (feedback is more likely to be more honest).

    However, the practical implementation has some bad points. Firstly, because SMART KPIs are never set, the primary evaluation is made against the 8 competency areas and rely heavily on the 360 results.

    Everyone knows this and that bonuses and pay rises are based partially on the score. Unless you have really upset someone, no-one wants to be the “bad guy” so most of the scores come back as 3 or 4 out of 5 – average or above average. Sometimes, you get written comments, but this is an exception rather than the norm and most of these comments are where there is glowing positive feedback and rarely constructive comments on areas of improvement.

    This has essentially defeated the purpose of getting back honest opinions that can be used to help people improve.

    A second bad point is that the way the competencies are focused and defined limits or prevents valuable feedback on personal improvement.

    From personal experience at both ends of the process, I know that I find the written comments more valuable than any of the scores. Unfortunately there are just too few of them to get a good enough picture and most are postive “feel-good” comments and not constructive areas that give me direction for improvement.

    Most of the staff do value the 360 feedback but this is based more on perceived protection from a disagreement with their boss than on valuing the feedback as a basis for personal improvement.

    The focus areas the 360s are based on are important in getting valuable feedback – ours are not right. My feelings are that we need to better focus the areas that we ask for feedback and insist on written feedback – both the positives and negatives. Maybe ask all reviewers to provide three strenghts and three weaknesses in each area?. I would value your thoughts on how to both structure and schedule the 360s to get this feedback.

    Also, as you have stated, the 360 should not be the basis for performance assessment, pay rises or bonuses. If they are, you get distorted results and little value from the exercise.

    However, until we get SMART KPIs in place that allow clear and objective performance measures, I don’t have a lot of confidence that things will change. I am therefore very interested in your future posts on setting SMART KPIs.

  • jon

    Welcome back David – holidays sound great – and they were timed beautifully, right after the annual review!

    The additional info is very helpful and I’m sure other people reading this really appreciate the insight.

    The competencies used with 360 should be chosen to support a company’s goals. You’ve mentioned previously that your company hasn’t published any clear, specific, measurable goals so I wonder how the 8 competencies were chosen.

    One good point is that your competencies have different criteria for different seniorities and disciplines.

    Using 360 to affect pay is problematic and you have illustrated a good example of this. I’ll clarify this further in one of the next posts – you can use 360 degree appraisal to review how well a person has achieved an objective – but this is different to what’s happening here.

    I agree with what you say about written feedback. I see a lot of feedback reports and this really is one of the most useful parts. A good way to get the written feedback is to ask open-ended questions. Your suggestion about asking reviewers to provide three strengths and weaknesses will work. Another classic is to ask reviewers three questions – what should you should start, stop and continue doing.

    Thanks again for some wonderful insights!

  • edylyn

    Hi jon! I’ve read your articles regarding the 360 degrees feedback (and other related articles) and i’m grateful that you’ve shed some useful insights about it. I’ve just transferred to a new company (a basically new one) and we’re just about to set up our performance management system.

    The company has scheduled annual reviews to be conducted on the month of june of each year and the HR team, which i am a part of it, has decided to use the 360 degrees feedback system. I was used to the traditional competency based performance management, where the boss says it all and i would say i have a little knowledge on how the 360 degrees feedback really works for the organization. I’ve read several articles about it but still i’m not sure whether the feedbback system will work for us. Being a new organization, what helpful tips can you give us to ensure that we will start on the right track? What are the do’s and don’t’s in starting it up? How can we make the employees take part on it effectively and create a positive attitude towards it?

    I would greatly appreciate your comments/feedback on the above. Real thanks. 🙂

  • jon

    Really nice to get your comments Edylyn, thanks!

    My next post which will appear in the next day or two will answer your question about what to do in starting on the right track.

    The things that will determine the response from your employees are:

    1. How well 360 has been communicated to them.
    2. Whether they have been involved in setting it up.
    3. Does it give them opportunities for development
    4. Do they get coaching
    5. Do they end up more capable as a result

    Initially your people will be unsure what to expect. Many will be defensive at first when receiving their feedback. How a person’s boss views and supports 360 can make all the difference.

    How capable are your managers on the people management front at the moment Edylyn?

    It’d be great to get updates and hear how it all goes for you.

  • edylyn

    Thanks Jon for the quick reply.

    Currently, we’ve asked our employees to make IDPs and discuss them with their managers/superiors. We’ve set competencies in which those IDPs can be based upon.

    So far our managers are quite capable in the people management side but i’m not quite sure how in depth their knowledge is with the 360 degrees feedback system. We’re planning to provide training workshop for all the employees once we’ve finalized with the system and hopefully give them enough knowledge about it and how it will develop them as an employee and as an individual.

    Which feedback method do you think will be effective for us Jon? anonymous or face to face or a combination of both? Any suggestions on how we can effectively carry out the method? Our company is a treatment and research institute, by the way and most of our employees come from the medical/treatment industry.

    I’ll surely be looking forward for your next articles.

    Thanks again Jon! 🙂

  • jon

    It’s a pleasure Edylyn – thanks!

    You’ve got some positive things already planned. Thanks for the extra info.

    Anonymity – it’s a good idea for a person to know who is providing them with feedback. Individual responses should be anonymous though – this means you shouldn’t be able to tell which peer or direct report provided what feedback.

    Manager feedback isn’t usually anonymous – in other words a person will know what feedback their manager gave them.

    What do you mean by face to face?

    A new post should be on the blog today – I hope it helps.


  • Sarosh

    Being new to this blog let me first share few views of mine on 360 so that I am atleast on the same platform as others and then I would move on to taking some opinion from the blog team here on some issues in my blogs later. hope thats ok with everyone…

    >When is 360 (Multi-rater) feedback most effective?
    When the process is confidential
    When the feedback is behavioral, based on observable behaviors
    When feedback is shared with others (e.g., manager)
    When help is provided on interpreting the feedback
    When action is taken based on feedback results
    When it is used more as a Development tool (Organization process) rather than a PMS (Mechanically).

    >What is the need for 360° ?
    Individual and Team development
    Evaluating weaknesses and Results more from the view of Development rather than just evaluation
    Organizational Change
    Customer involvement
    Performance improvement from a more holistic point of view

    >Report should contain:
    Overview of Competencies
    Hidden Strengths and Blind Spots
    Self & Manager Importance Ratings
    Written Comments
    Highest/Lowest items
    Integrated 360 / other performance reports

    What are an Individuals Drivers?
    Need for Credible feedback
    Motivation for doing the Right thing
    Individuals’ Competitive Advantage
    Executive Coaching
    Employee Engagement
    Upward feedback
    Improved teamwork
    Support Organizational Values
    Encourage Innovation
    Leadership Development
    Customer Involvement

    Steps for Success:
    Educate everyone in the Organization
    High Degree of Confidentiality and Anonymous Feedback
    Accepting one’s weaknesses and working on Development
    Choosing a large number of Feedback providers
    Don’t attach the tool to pay, promotion, succession
    Providing high support for IDP’s

    Role of Feedback provider:
    Meet with the participant
    Help participant understand the report and feedback
    Help participant identify 2-3 development opportunities
    Provide guidance on taking action with feedback

    Being a Feedback Provider does not mean:
    Having an ongoing coaching relationship
    Having all the answers or being an expert on providing feedback
    Telling participant what to do
    Being a psychotherapist
    Sharing information from the report with others without consent of participant

    What makes for a good feedback provider ?
    Familiarity with how development occurs
    Can “see” into 360 data to identify themes, key findings
    Willing to point out things that others may find difficult to hear – in a tactful, respectful way that preserves employee’s dignity
    Ability to gauge the reaction of the participant and respond appropriately
    Alert to verbal and “nonverbal” cues

    Role of the manager:
    Corporate policy: Feedback not shared with manager prior to being shared with participant
    Corporate guidance: Sharing feedback with manager is strongly encouraged
    Encourage participant to meet with manager following feedback session

    Objectives of the feedback session – to ensure participant
    Understands how 360 feedback should be used
    Understands report and the information inside
    Identifies 2-3 areas for development
    Understands next steps (e.g., action planning, meeting with manager, etc.)

    Key activities of the feedback process
    Scheduling the session
    Preparation prior to the session
    Conducting the feedback session
    Setting the feedback in context of development
    Reviewing the feedback report
    Turning feedback into action

    Conducting the feedback Session:
    Introduce yourself
    Review the objectives of the session:
    To understand how the 360 fits with development process and models
    To review and Interpret the feedback report
    To identify developmental opportunities and begin next steps
    Discuss your role as a feedback provider
    Help the participant understand the report and feedback
    Provide the insights you have gathered from reviewing the report
    Provide guidance on next steps
    Discuss the confidentiality of the feedback and the session
    Ask the participant to share information about him/herself
    Why did they take the 360?
    What are his/her career aspirations/goals?
    What do they consider their strengths and development opportunities?
    Answer any questions
    Set the feedback context
    Provide and describe “360 Feedback Workbook”
    Review pages 1 -2 of the “360 Feedback Workbook”

    Feedback can be effective if…
    Don’t attack those who provide it…you chose them – their perception is reality for them
    Look for positives, don’t focus only on the negative aspects
    You decide which areas you develop – be positive
    Remember this is an opportunity for self-improvement
    Avoid extremes of rationalization or literal acceptance
    Remember respondents expect you to do something with the information
    Remember SARA (Surprise, Anger, Resistance, Acceptance) and give yourself time to reflect on the information

    Review the feedback report:
    Provide feedback report
    Review each section of the report
    Describe what the section displays
    Ask the participant what he/she sees in the section
    Point out your findings – but don’t “insist” on them
    Have the participant record notes, development opportunities, etc. in Feedback Workbook
    Move to next section of the report

    Turning feedback into action:
    Review next steps (page 12 of Feedback Workbook)
    Review applications for 360 feedback
    Select 2-3 development opportunities
    Review career development resources:
    Discussions with coaches, peers, direct reports
    Challenging job assignments
    Building key relationships with others (mentors, etc.)

    I think thats all for now folks….


  • jon

    Nice list – thanks Sarosh and welcome to the Performance Evolution blog!

  • Is it 360 degree appraisal or feedback? « The performance management evolution

    […] Well they are actually different. I’ve talked a fair bit about 360 degree feedback already, so let’s dive into 360 degree appraisal in this post. […]

  • The best time for 360 degree feedback « The performance management evolution

    […] Many organizations are conducting 360 degree feedback at the end of their annual review process. This is probably not providing much value and isn’t a great idea for a number of reasons. […]

  • abhishek

    please give me reply about pms and role of 360 degree fedback and limitaton on that

  • 360 Degree Feedback

    I agree with Aloys – I wonder how well a top manager in a company like that would be receptive to improvement comments from a subordinate.

    Having worked in a few of these companies I don’t see it happening. I believe 360 Degree Feedback reviews are best conducted in forward thinking environments where management is embracing the value that these reviews have to offer.

  • inbaraj

    Inbaraj iagree with us- but the entire thinking is internal and externals about the 360 degree feedback reviews can be environmental for all

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