360 degree Performance Reviews

Category: Performance Management.

360 feedback has continued to gain popularity over the years. Previously, this was a process used only for senior executives. Now, with new technologies and transparent company cultures, it is gaining popularity among many other levels of management as well.

Most of this change is for the better. But there are a few things to consider if an organization decides to have the 360 feedback process as part of its performance review process.

Traditionally, 360s have been done for the following reasons:

  • To understand how an employee is viewed across an organization, amongst his or her peers, key stakeholders, and direct reports. It can also be used as upward feedback on a manager.
  • As an intervention designed to look at an employee’s performance when the manager has concerns about the employee’s performance, or if the manager feels the employee’s values do not align with the values and behaviors of the company, or to gather data on a specific issue.
  • To gather feedback from different groups of people to help the person succeed and develop in their career for development purposes.

While the intention of the 360 degree feedback is positive, given the nature of the process, it could go either way. The employee may benefit from it, or may not. What comes out of it depends on why the 360 was done in the first place, how it was delivered, and what happened after the feedback was given.

The 360 degree performance review is a valuable tool. It is as unbiased as it gets as it brings in feedback from co-workers, clients, customers, managers and people who work with the employee who is being evaluated. The unbiased feedback gives an insight into the employee’s performance that would otherwise have been overlooked. It gives an opportunity for coworkers to give feedback and support the employee’s growth and development in the organization.

However, this method is effective only if the feedback is:

  • Confidential
  • Transparent

The ones giving feedback are encouraged to be candid, and everyone is transparent about the objective behind the 360 degree feedback approach.

No matter what approach is used to conduct the feedback process, whether online or in-depth interviews conducted by a third party, these areas need to be dealt with very carefully.

Following are a few reasons why each is important:

  • Confidentiality

    When coworkers know that their comments and feedback would be kept confidential, they can be more honest and direct about their feedback. However, many have a nagging worry at the back of their minds that their responses might not be truly confidential. With online surveys, having a credible vendor can be reassuring to respondents knowing that their feedback will not be accessible to anyone within the organization. HR needs to make it very clear how they are going about maintaining and ensuring confidentiality.

    When the 360 review process is done through in-depth interviews, the interviewer needs to make it very clear to the interviewees that their responses will be kept confidential.

  • Be transparent

    While conducting a 360 degree review, HR and the assessee’s manager need to be completely transparent with the coach about what the objective of the 360 assessment is: is it to address a certain performance issue, or is for overall improvement and development in performance? For the assessment to be productive, it’s very important that the real objectives be shared with the coach. Else it might prove to be counter-productive. Because if they don’t know what it is that they are supposed to be assessing, they may not be able to identify the areas that need improvement or get the assessee to realize what’s at stake (if something is at stake).


I have yet to find a man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.

Charles Schwab

How to get the most out of the 360 degree performance review:

Be sure that the intent for the 360 degree process is to help the employee learn and grow. Do not use it for any corrective action, there are other, and better methods for that. The survey should be designed to highlight what the employee is doing well. Keep it positive: what can be improved, what are the skills that can be developed, areas to improve upon. All of this feedback should be relevant to their job, clear and actionable. It should be able to make a difference to the employee and to business results. Structure the feedback in a manner that would encourage the employee to change their behaviour or improve and would help them understand why and what they could differently.

  • Customize the 360 degree performance review

    The 360 degree performance review can be customized, based on the organization’s nature, competencies, vision, mission, any changes it might have gone through (like a merger with another company and therefore how it would relate to the new entities). HR typically will have to choose a new vendor to make changes or build survey questions from scratch.

  • Be prepared for the results

    There are benefits to the 360 degree assessment process. But one also needs to be mentally prepared to hear the results and act on it. In order to make the 360 feedback more receptive, share with the employee the strengths and development opportunities from others’ 360 degree experiences and the benefits they have reaped. Give the participant some control over the assessment process, such as timing, confidentiality, action plans and participants.

  • Stay positive

    It’s safe to assume that everyone providing the employee with feedback is trying to be helpful. In order to get the most of the feedback, it’s important to take the 360 degree experience in the right spirit, view it as a positive one. The 360-degree feedback gives the employee the opportunity to gain insight about her or himself that they may never have received otherwise, and this is especially true for senior-level employees. Rather than react to any feedback with shock, anger or resistance, consider it as an opportunity for self awareness to help grow as a person and professional.

  • Identify gaps

    Since the 360 degree feedback is subjective, each reviewer would provide feedback from his or her own viewpoint. Therefore, it’s important to see if there are any gaps in perception. Does the assessee view himself or herself as different from his or her raters? Does the assessee’s peers view them differently than their direct reports? How does their manager view them? What are the gaps in everybody’s viewpoints?

    Going over everybody’s viewpoints can help determine whether the assessee behaves differently among different groups of people. If there are significant gaps between groups, it’s important to explore why it is so.

  • Develop an action plan

    Further to the survey, there needs to be a summary report. But that’s not all. The employee must also be able to have a discussion with someone who is competent enough to interpret the results and can help them develop an action plan. For areas where the employee is performing well and areas where they need to perform better, they need follow-up and support. If they need to modify behavior, they need to understand what they are doing, what the impact is, and what they should do differently to bring about the change. A development plan, to help them take progressive steps to improve, can be owned by the employee and supported by the manager.

    This plan will take into account the key messages from the report and turn them into specific goals and steps that will help with employee’s development. To create the plan, identify the desired competencies that are most important and the ones others rated as needing development. Then, list out specific ways to accomplish these.
    After that, identify how the progress in development will be measured, and ensure that these initiatives take place.

    It’s very important to have this development plan in place for without context, support and interpretation and not being able to use the feedback, it’s as good as not having done it at all, and the employee and respondents will begin to question the value of the process.

    Respondents will see the process as a waste of their time and will not cooperate with management in the future in filling out the survey or participating in the process.

    When the 360 degree process is properly implemented, they uncover valuable insights that are beneficial to the employee and the organization.

In Conclusion

The 360 degree feedback doesn’t end with giving feedback. The feedback needs to be deliberated upon, dissected and analyzed, further to which design a clear path of action and a commitment to continuous improvement. You can get the most out of it, if you treat it like a continuous process rather than an event.

Having a development plan in place and following up with their peers and managers helps ensure that employees never lose sight of their goals and objectives.

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