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360 Degree Feedback Explained

Your guide to understanding everything about 360 degree feedback: what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to improve the employee experience at your organization.

What is 360 Degree Feedback?

360 degree feedback (or multi-rater feedback) is a development process that provides a safe environment for a person (the participant) to receive candid, anonymous feedback from peers, supervisors, subordinates (direct reports), and other individuals with relationships key to the participant’s success.

The History of 360 Degree Feedback

Perhaps surprisingly, 360 feedback has been in use since 1940 , and has evolved to become an effective management tool in employee development. 360 degree feedback grew out of the use of a training method called “T-groups” or training groups where participants met with their peers who were encouraged to share feedback in an open session facilitated by a trained moderator.

This feedback process typically consists of answering questions from a survey or assessment evaluating an individual on behaviors or workplace competencies identified as necessary for success within a given organization. The 360 degree feedback process was difficult to administer for early adopters because of the time and effort needed to collect paper forms, tabulate the data, and produce a summary report.

These obstacles were overcome with advances in technology that now allow the entire process to be conducted online, which increases confidentiality and speeds up the process. Today, about one-third of all companies and nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use some type of 360 degree feedback to help their employees and leaders.

Why is 360 Feedback Important?

As leaders rise through the ranks of their organizations, they tend to receive less feedback about themselves and their performance. This dynamic occurs as colleagues and associates are afraid of displeasing those in leadership positions above them. Therefore, they give less than frank feedback regarding a leader’s performance, and the feedback they do provide tends to be shallow and superficial.

The 360 feedback system provides a way for a leader to test their own view of themselves, recognize previously unseen strengths, and become aware of blind spots in their perceptions.

How Does the 360 Degree Feedback Process Work?

During the 360 feedback process, the participant (person receiving the feedback) and a group of raters (those providing feedback) answer specific questions about the participant’s performance. Raters are chosen from those with whom the leader works day-to-day and typically include the leader’s boss, direct reports, peers, and other coworkers.

The survey results are aggregated so that no individual scores are shown except for those from the person’s supervisor. Ideally, the report is provided to the participant during a coaching session with an internal or external coach who helps them interpret the results and create a personal development action plan.

How is 360 Degree Feedback Used?

One common question people often debate is whether 360 degree feedback should be used for development purposes or as performance evaluation methods? The answer is that it depends. Which route is chosen depends on the goals and needs of your organization, but here are some considerations for each approach.

Using 360 Feedback for Leadership Development

360 degree feedback - women talking

Personal development is the main outcome of most 360-degree feedback assessments. Ideally, participants create a development plan based on the results of their feedback. They may share this plan with their supervisor or a personal coach but besides that, they are typically the only ones who see their report. The directional focus tends to be around the future – how can I improve going forward?

Leaders typically possess a natural element of drive and ambition or they wouldn’t be where they are. Most leaders possess some level of self-awareness regarding their strengths, weaknesses, and appropriate leadership behavior. A 360 review helps an individual to either confirm these notions or it helps them to receive constructive feedback in areas where improvement is needed.

Using 360 Evaluations for Performance Evaluations

360 degree feedback performance reviews can be an effective way to drive results and change. DecisionWise research, as well as a good deal of human resources and academic press, has shown that traditional performance appraisals generally fail to provide an accurate view of performance. As a result, many organizations have turned to gathering more regular feedback from multiple individuals, rather than the traditional once-per-year, top-down evaluation that most organizations (and employees) have grown to despise.

Benefits of 360 Feedback

Increases Self-awareness

Self-awareness means understanding your personality, working style, leadership and management approaches, including strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, motivations, thoughts, and emotions. Our research shows people generally score themselves lower than their supervisor and direct reports score them.

Clarifies Behavior

The very act of evaluating behaviors conveys what is important to the organization. Additionally, it allows you to see if you are focusing superfluous effort on a behavior you are already doing well, possibly at the expense of improving a weaker behavior.

Measure "The How"

Opposed to measuring only “what” gets done, 360 feedback considers how things get done. 360 feedback assessments measure skill and style. By focusing on process, you are giving yourself the best probability of creating the desired outcome.

Promotes Constructive Dialogue

Dialogue is the first step in moving from measurement to improvement. Ideally, that dialogue would explore strengths and weaknesses and continue with goals and a plan for improvement.

Improves Working Relationships

Performance feedback is something that is often one-sided or altogether missing. By introducing a reciprocal exchange of feedback into a relationship, another touchpoint for support is created.

Encourages Personal Development

Honest and reliable feedback is necessary to test perceptions and expose blind spots. 360 feedback is a positive disruptor that forces an individual to examine how others experience them in the workplace.

Increases Accountability

The enemy of accountability is ambiguity. You can’t tell someone to “be a better leader” without providing specifics. 360-degree feedback surveys clarify behaviors and allow you to make a judgment on whether that behavior has been demonstrated.

Increases Employee Engagement

Establishing a culture of feedback is essential to an employee feeling heard and having a sense of belonging at the organization. Expecting leaders to engage in the feedback process helps reinforce organizational values of fairness, respect, psychological safety, and inspiring team members to do their best.

Enhances Performance

360 degree feedback is one of the most powerful tools in a leader's personal development arsenal. But it is only effective if participants are provided proper support and held accountable to their commitments. It makes little sense to take a 360 feedback survey without a follow-up plan on how to use the results.

DecisionWise 360 Degree Feedback Software

It’s important to understand which features to look for when selecting a 360 degree feedback software tool. You shouldn’t have to spend weeks configuring software settings to run your 360 initiatives when you could automate the entire process. Here are some of the ways the intuitive DecisionWise 360 Software Platform helps save time.

Rater Selection

Participants can quickly build a rater list by entering the names and emails of their evaluators or choose from a pre-populated list of employees. HR team members can upload pre-populated lists. Customized FAQ options allow you to put important content at the fingertips of each rater.

360 degree feedback- rater selection
360 degree feedback- rater approval

Rater Approval

Active participant involvement in rater selection is our best practice. We also recommend that an HR team member or a manager approve the raters to ensure an accurate representation of raters. Rater approval can be turned on or off for each participant.

Administration

After the raters have been approved, the assessment will automatically be sent to the participant and all the selected raters. Reminders are sent to those who have not completed the assessment and the assessment will remain open until the chosen closing date. Override the closing date where necessary to include delayed raters.

Reports

Dynamic online or PDF reports include simple-to-read reports with multiple modules that can be turned on or off. All standard reports include DecisionWise benchmark data. Create your own benchmarks with the easy norm tool, see gaps between rater groups, and include recommendations for improvement with the DecisionWise resource library.

360 Degree Feedback Survey (Assessment)

A 360 feedback survey (sometimes referred to as an assessment) contains a variety of questions that measure a series of competencies and behaviors most important to an organization or to an individual’s success.

Leadership Competencies

Leadership competencies are the foundation of an organization’s employee experience. Each organization has a unique culture that is built based on pro-social, pro-organizational behaviors/competencies.

Competencies from the DecisionWise library may include: Results Orientation, Collaboration, Engaging Leadership, Communications, etc.

Leadership Derailers

360 degree feedback- leadership derailers
A leadership derailer is an overused strength or a behavior that gets in the way of a leader’s progress. It’s a weakness that will limit a person’s growth and upward progress if not addressed.
Derailers identify specific areas where we can take action. They often give us the “why” behind the results, and they provide a leader with a sense of their emotional intelligence when dealing with others.

Assessment Scales

Raters are asked to rate the participant on each competency by evaluating 4-5 behavior statements (i.e., behavior descriptors) using a standard survey scale (5-point or 7-point). 360 feedback surveys typically include open-ended questions to collect qualitative feedback, as well. 360 feedback surveys are often referred to as assessments since they help gauge an individual’s potential. A standard 360 feedback assessment will take between 8-15 minutes to complete depending on length.

Sample 360 Feedback Questions

  • Maintains focus and commitment despite challenges or setbacks.
  • Breaks down larger projects into manageable tasks.
  • Delivers solid results, even in challenging situations.
  • Sets high performance standards for his/her team.
  • Demonstrates appreciation for the unique differences and perspectives of others.
  • Builds and maintains strong working relationships with others.
  • Works effectively with individuals at all levels of the organization.
  • Facilitates teamwork and communication across functions, divisions, & departments.
  • Shows excitement for and engagement in the work that he/she does.
  • Fosters energy, enthusiasm, and commitment in others.
  • Sets a good example of the behavior he/she asks for.
  • Creates an environment in which others choose to do their best.
  • Volatile: Loses temper or patience quickly; irritable or lacks composure.
  • Lacks Confidence: Overly concerned with making mistakes; indecisive.
  • Unapproachable: Distant or isolated; fails to build effective relationships.
  • Exclusive: Excludes others; fails to treat others fairly; shows favoritism.

Customizing Assessment Questions

DecisionWise can work with you to customize your 360 feedback questions. We map our questions to your leadership competencies, giving you the best survey for your ideal culture.

Visualizing and Understanding a Participant's 360 Degree Feedback Results

People- reporting for 360 degree feedback results

The results collected from the 360 feedback process are summarized into an individual report. Scores are separated by different rater groups (self, manager, peers, direct reports, etc.). Only the self-scores and the results from a participant’s manager are broken out individually. Scores from peers and direct reports are averaged together to protect confidentiality.

A report normally shows summary results for each competency. The most significant insight is found by comparing self-perceptions to the perceptions of others. This way, an individual is able to clearly see their strengths and areas for development. Open-ended comments are randomized and listed verbatim.

360 Degree Feedback Coaching

When an individual receives a feedback report, they are sometimes given some coaching to help them analyze the report, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and develop an action plan.

A 360-degree feedback coaching session is a one-on-one meeting with a trained facilitator that lasts approximately 60-90 minutes. The result of the meeting is the creation of a personal development plan that a participant can use as roadmap for development or as discussion tool to solicit additional feedback or to drive needed discussions.

DecisionWise research (as well as supporting academic studies) has found that individuals who receive some type of coaching on their feedback, and set goals for development, experience significantly greater improvement than those who simply participate in the process and receive no coaching.

360 Degree Feedback Best Practices

Partnering with DecisionWise

For over 25 years, DecisionWise has helped organizations, teams, leaders, and individuals create competency-based cultures that drive success. Our 360 Feedback Software Platform and validated assessments provide unmatched quality in helping individuals to make meaningful improvements.

Advantages to Using DecisionWise Designed Assessments

Simple and Efficient
360 Assessments

Start using a Certified Leadership Intelligence® 360 Assessment within minutes. Automated processes manage rater selection and rater approval for you. Scheduled email reminders alleviate the follow-up burden of multiple administrations. Multi-language options allow for seamless worldwide participation.

Competency Driven Development

The DecisionWise Leadership Intelligence® 360 Assessments use 13 behavior-based competencies to develop leaders at multiple levels. 360 degree feedback allows participants visibility into the perceptions of multiple groups on their proficiency within those competencies.

Organizational Visibility

A comprehensive tagging system allows you to aggregate reviews from participants in countless functional, demographic, training group, time period options. Rank group competencies, identify high potentials or top performers, validate training principles, or evaluate overall leadership health. 360 feedback organizational views connect 360 feedback to other key metrics.

Speak with one of our experts to learn more.