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  • Writer's pictureIrina Ketkin

Comprehensive guide to 360-degree feedback


In the Museums of Illusions across the world, there is a mirror room that lets you see yourself from different perspectives. It can be a lot of fun and a dizzying experience at the same time. In our professional lives, the only way to see ourselves from different angles, revealing our strengths, areas for improvement, and blind spots, is with a tool called “360-degree feedback”.


In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started with 360-degree feedback.




Table of contents:






What is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback is the method of collecting and comparing feedback from multiple stakeholders, like managers, peers, direct reports, and even clients, to provide a comprehensive view of an individual's performance. The process itself usually consists of two parts:

  1. A survey that is completed by all raters (the individual being assessed and their line manager, peers, colleagues, direct reports, etc.)

  2. One-on-one discussion with a facilitator about the results. During this conversation, the person being assessed starts to create their personal development plan.


360-degree feedback provides individuals with a more complete view of their strengths and areas for development. It helps them gain a deeper level of self-awareness, recognize their blind spots, and make positive changes to improve their performance. Additionally, 360-degree feedback can contribute to a positive and productive work environment as it enhances communication, collaboration, and teamwork.




Benefits of 360-degree feedback


There are numerous benefits to using 360-degree feedback in organizations. Some of the more significant ones are:


  • Improved self-awareness and personal growth. With feedback from multiple sources, people can identify their strengths and areas where they need to improve, then develop a plan for personal and professional growth. This is especially useful if the individual’s manager isn't providing direct feedback on their performance or development opportunities.

  • Better communication and teamwork. The data gathered through 360-degree surveys helps improve communication among team members by giving them insight into how they're perceived by the people they work with. It provides an opportunity for open and honest feedback, leading to more productive and collaborative work environments.

  • Enhance leadership and management skills, which are critical for organizational success. A strong organization has strong leaders. Of course, each company has its own understanding of what good leadership should be. 360 feedback gives us flexibility in terms of what to assess and tells us what to focus our development efforts on.

  • Improved understanding of leadership skillsets – and how they compare with other leaders within the organization. This can help further develop future leaders who are better equipped to lead teams.

  • Increase motivation and engagement. A more comprehensive view of our performance can boost our self-awareness and encourage us to take ownership of our development. A 360-feedback can also be used to recognize and celebrate achievements. By highlighting areas where employees have excelled and providing feedback on how they can continue to grow and develop, organizations can create a culture of recognition and appreciation.


By using 360-degree feedback to support employee development and growth, organizations can create a positive and productive work environment that leads to higher levels of job satisfaction and overall performance.




Process of 360-degree feedback


Before we talk about the process itself, it’s important to understand who is involved. There are 3 main roles:

· the person being evaluated (the "target"),

· those providing feedback (the "raters") and

· Learning and Development or HR practitioner who acts as a facilitator of the process.


The 360-degree feedback process can be broken down in 5 steps:


Step 1. Choose the questions

The first step in the 360-degree feedback process is to choose the questions that will be used to collect feedback. The questions should:

· be multiple-choice (rated on a scale from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree”)

· carefully selected to align with the organization's and the individual’s goals and objectives,

· provide a well-rounded assessment of their performance.

Choosing the questions should be a shared process between L&D and the target. Although in some cases (like a global leadership development program), the questions could be pre-selected by the senior leadership team of the company.


Tip from our experience: There isn’t a strict limit to how many questions to include. But from experience, we can share that anything above 25 to 30 questions can become difficult to comprehend and focus on key areas during the one-to-one conversation. Make sure to also include at least 2 open-ended questions (i.e., “What do you admire most about [insert target name here]?” and “What would you recommend [insert target name here] improve in the future?”) at the end of the questionnaire. Check out our Ultimate Toolkit for L&D, which has a special Question Bank with over 500 assessment questions.




Step 2. Select raters


The next step in the 360-degree feedback process is to select the raters who will provide feedback. Raters should be carefully chosen to ensure that they have experience working with the target and can provide honest and constructive feedback. Raters typically include managers, peers, direct reports, and customers. The number of raters can vary, but a larger number of raters can help to ensure that the feedback is more comprehensive and representative of the individual's performance.


Tip from our experience: While it is recommended that the target makes the final decision on whom to include in their assessment, make sure they pick a balanced crowd (i.e., not just people who are loyal to them or people who will only give them negative feedback). Another thing to keep in mind is that not everyone will feel comfortable responding. Make sure that each group of raters has at least 3 people. Otherwise, it may be too easy to guess the individual raters’ responses, which will shift the focus of the one-to-one discussion.


Step 3. Launch the survey


This can be done using a variety of tools, including online surveys or paper-based questionnaires. The confidentiality and anonymity of the feedback data should also be emphasized to encourage honest and open feedback from the raters.


Tip from our experience: Make sure you have agreed with the target when the survey will be launched and how long it will stay open. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least 2 weeks for raters to respond to account for any holidays or busy periods. Another tip – in the communication to the raters make sure to:

  • clearly explain why they are receiving this email (i.e., “because [insert name here] has nominated you to provide feedback on their performance”),

  • how long it takes to fill in the survey (i.e., “it usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to fill in”) and

  • that their responses are anonymous (i.e., “Your responses will be averaged so that no individual can be identified”).


Step 4. Collect and analyze the feedback data


Once the agreed time has passed, the feedback data is collected and analyzed. The data should be reviewed carefully to ensure that it is reliable and valid, and any anomalies or inconsistencies should be investigated. The data can be analyzed using a variety of methods, including rating scales, behavioral descriptions, and open-ended comments. The results should be presented concisely, and all strengths and areas for improvement should be clearly highlighted.


Tip from our experience: One of the best ways to represent feedback data is in the form of graphs. Make sure that the graphs are clear, or at the very least, the feedback report has a detailed description of how to read the data. In the Ultimate Toolkit for L&D we’ve included a sample report and results calculator you can use to create feedback graphs.


Step 5. Discuss the results


The final step in the 360-degree feedback process is to discuss the results with the individual being assessed. The skills and experience of the facilitator will be crucial to the success of this step. The discussion should be done in a one-on-one setting and conducted in a way that is supportive and non-judgmental. All strengths and any areas for improvement should be discussed in a constructive and supportive manner. It is important to ensure that the individual understands the feedback and is able to create a plan for development based on the feedback received. Ongoing support and coaching should also be provided to help the individual achieve their development goals.


Tip from our experience: One of the best ways we’ve found to keep the conversation constructive is to present the feedback data (or graph) and ask for their take on it first. Often, the target will notice the outliers and will want to discuss them further.

Keep in mind that the feedback data is just that – data. There is a lot of context behind the numbers. The role of the facilitator in this discussion is to help the target understand what that context is and how these numbers affect them in their day-to-day.


Finally, remember that some people struggle to accept feedback on the first try. In those cases, don’t push it. Allow some time for the person to review the information by themselves and offer to meet at a later time to discuss the results further.




How Learning and Development can use 360-degree feedback


As you’ve figured out by now, 360-degree feedback can be a powerful tool for improving performance, communication, and leadership skills. Here are some ways L&D practitioners can use it to support the employees:


Alignment to the business


If done right, 360-degree feedback should directly link the company’s goals and strategy to the target’s performance. For example, if the company wants its leaders to be adaptable in times of change, then the 360-degree feedback will include a question about the target’s ability to adapt to the changing priorities of the business.


Personal Development Plans


L&D practitioners can work with employees to create SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or relevant, and time-bound) development goals that are based on real feedback and designed to help employees improve their performance. Most of all, 360 feedback provides clear indications of what to focus the development efforts on.


Coaching


L&D practitioners can use 360-degree feedback to facilitate feedback conversations and coaching sessions with employees. These sessions can provide an opportunity for employees to discuss their performance in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. L&D practitioners can use these sessions to help employees understand their feedback, identify areas for improvement, and create a plan to address these areas. Coaching sessions can also be used to provide ongoing support and guidance to employees, helping them to achieve their development goals.


Performance Management


L&D and Talent Management practitioners can use 360-degree feedback to complement and enhance performance management systems. Incorporating feedback from multiple sources into performance evaluations can lead to more accurate evaluations and better-informed decisions about employee development and promotions. Furthermore, L&D can use the 360-feedback data to curate learning materials for the right people and at the right time. And this, together with the other benefits we mentioned, can help create an organization-wide culture of continuous learning and development.


Leadership Development


360-degree feedback can be a valuable tool for assessing the leadership skills and development needs of leaders as part of an internal or external leadership development program. It can be used at the beginning to provide a baseline for measuring progress, during the program to assess the effectiveness of the training, and at the end to evaluate progress and the overall effectiveness of the learning offering. This provides both the participants and the organizers (L&D) with a roadmap for ongoing growth and development.




Challenges of the 360-degree feedback


While 360-degree feedback can be an effective tool for improving performance, it can also present some challenges. Here are some of the most common ones and possible solutions on how to overcome them:


Resistance to accepting feedback


Some people may be resistant to accepting feedback, particularly if the feedback is critical or does not align with their self-perception. This can hinder their ability to learn and grow from the feedback they receive.


To overcome this challenge, facilitators (L&D or HR) can highlight the importance of the feedback, how closely it aligns with the business goals and strategy, and how this feedback can be used to help the employee grow in their career. Another longer-term option is for the organizations to create a culture of feedback, where receiving feedback is seen as a positive opportunity for growth and development. In some cases, training can also be provided to help employees understand how to receive feedback, interpret the data, and create a plan for development.


Hesitancy to provide feedback


Employees may be hesitant to provide feedback, particularly if they fear negative consequences, such as retaliation or strained relationships. This can result in incomplete or inaccurate feedback data.


To address this challenge, the facilitator(s) need to be transparent about the process, emphasizing the confidentiality and anonymity of the feedback data and the ways in which it will be used to support employee growth and development. Keep in mind that it is up to the whole organization to create a safe and supportive environment where feedback is not just accepted but expected.


Confidentiality and privacy concerns


Employees may have concerns about the confidentiality and privacy of the feedback data, particularly if they are being assessed by peers or subordinates they don’t trust.


To address this challenge, the facilitator(s) need to not only ensure that the feedback process is conducted in a secure and confidential manner but also that only authorized individuals have access to the feedback data. This can include the target, their line manager, and HR. Very often, the feedback report is only shared between the target and L&D (HR). It will be up to the target to choose who to share the results with.


Bias and subjectivity in feedback


Anytime someone is asked to provide feedback, they are essentially asked to provide their subjective view on the target’s performance. This means they are influenced by a range of factors, including personal biases, perceptions, and emotions.


To overcome this challenge, it is recommended that data analytics is used to identify patterns and trends in the feedback that may indicate bias. For example, everyone in a rater group responded positively to a question, with the exception of 1 person. This is clearly an outlier and would need to be discussed further during the one-on-one conversation.




Best practices for 360-degree feedback


If you are looking to start 360-degree feedback in your organization, here are some best practices to help you do it right.


Ensuring reliability and validity of feedback data


To ensure that 360-degree feedback data is reliable and valid, it is important to use a rigorous and consistent feedback process that has clear and transparent steps. To make it a success, make sure that you establish clear performance standards, select appropriate raters, ensure confidentiality and anonymity, and, in some cases, provide training and support for both the individuals being assessed and the raters.


Encouraging open and honest feedback


Open and honest 360-degree feedback can only live in a culture of trust, where feedback is seen as a positive opportunity for growth and development. This is where organizations need to step up and truly create a safe environment for their employees. Check out our article How to build a learning culture in the workplace for beginners for tips on how to get started.


Providing actionable feedback and follow-up support


One of the biggest mistakes in the 360-feedback process is giving the report to the target with no follow-up or support. Reading feedback on your performance can be tough. Having a helping hand to guide you and provide perspective can be crucial to how the feedback is perceived. Consider how you can provide additional support – what questions can you ask, how can you follow up with that person, and who else can be involved in the development process? You can also try to offer coaching sessions or find a mentor for the target.





Conclusion

360-degree feedback can be a valuable tool for organizations looking to improve performance, communication, continuous learning, and leadership skills. With a well-designed and implemented 360-degree feedback program, organizations can improve employee engagement, productivity, and overall performance.


How can you use 360-degree feedback in your organization? Let us know in the comments below.


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