What is 360 Degree Feedback – 360 Feedback Explained2023-09-12T16:07:15+00:00

What is 360 Degree Feedback?

Your guide to understanding everything about 360 Degree Feedback: what it is, how it works, and how you can use it to develop employees at your organization.

Defining 360 Degree Feedback

360 Degree Feedback (or multi-rater feedback) is a professional development system that provides a safe environment for a participant to receive candid, anonymous feedback from peers, supervisors, direct reports, and other individuals whose relationships are key to the participant’s success.

The History of 360 Degree Feedback

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

Eventually, the process consisted of answering questions from a survey or assessment that evaluated the participant on behaviors and workplace competencies identified as necessary for success within a given organization. For many years, the 360 Degree Feedback process was difficult to administer because of the time and effort needed to collect paper forms, tabulate the data, and produce a summary report.

These logistical obstacles have been overcome with advances in technology that now allow the entire process to be conducted online using software, which increases confidentiality and accelerates 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 develop their employees and leaders.

Why is 360 Degree 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 fear displeasing those in leadership positions above them. Consequently, subordinates tend to give superficial feedback regarding a leader’s performance. A 360 Degree assessment solves this problem and provides a confidential way for subordinates to provide upward feedback and for a leader to test their own views of themselves, discover their strengths, and become aware of blind spots in their working relationships.

How Does the 360 Degree Feedback Process Work?

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

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

How is 360 Degree Feedback Used?

A common question people debate is whether 360 Degree Feedback should be used for development purposes or as a performance evaluation method? The answer is that it depends. Which option is chosen depends on the goals and needs of your organization, but here are some considerations for each approach.

Using 360 Degree Feedback for Leadership Development

Personal development is often a main purpose of a 360 Degree assessment. Ideally, participants use the process to create a development plan based on confidential feedback. A participant may choose to share their results and plans with their supervisor or personal coach, but that is their choice. Besides those who have been given permission, the participant is the only one who sees the report. The directional focus of a 360 for development purposes is around the future – how can I improve going forward? Personal growth and improvement is driven by the participant, in a manner and at a pace of their choosing.

Using 360 Degree Feedback for Performance Evaluations

Using 360 Degree Feedback for performance reviews is certainly an effective way to drive results and to measure how individuals are performing in their jobs. DecisionWise’s research, as well as a good deal of human resources and academic press, shows the multi-rater feedback (i.e., asking a number of people for their input) is preferred by employees because they believe it offers a more complete picture of their performance and is therefore more fair.

As a result, many organizations have started using multi-rater feedback for performance reviews rather than a traditional once-per-year, top-down appraisal system that most employees have grown to despise. When used for appraisal, the primary difference is that the multi-rater results are also given to supervisors and others within organization, instead of being confidentially held by the participant. Also, in the context of performance evaluations, personal growth and improvement is driven by the participant and the supervisor working together. Thus, supervisors will have a great deal of input into how improvement should take place and at what speed.

Benefits of 360 Degree Feedback

Increases Self-awareness

Self-awareness means understanding your personality, working style, leadership and management approaches. Additionally, you should consider your 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 Degree Feedback considers how things get done. 360 Degree 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 Degree 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 assessments 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 Degree Feedback assessment 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 platform. 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 Spectiv platform powered by DecisionWise 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.

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.


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.


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 Assessments (the Instrument)

A 360 Feedback Assessment (sometimes referred to as a 360 Survey) 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

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

Competency: Results Orientation2022-08-27T17:29:16+00:00
  • 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.
Competency: Collaboration2022-08-27T17:29:06+00:00
  • 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.
Competency: Engaging Leadership2022-08-27T17:28:58+00:00
  • 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.

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

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 typically 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 blind spots. Open-ended comments are randomized and listed verbatim and provide valuable context and color.

360 Degree Feedback Coaching

When an individual receives their feedback report, it is strongly recommended that they be given a 60 or 90-minute coaching session 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 coach 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 future growth. DecisionWise research (as well as supporting academic studies) has found that individuals who receive some type of coaching on their feedback, and then set goals for development, experience significantly greater improvement than those who simply participate in the process and receive no coaching.

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.

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