360 degree feedback

0-16Three hundred sixty degree feedback helps managers to get a clear picture of how they are perceived by their bosses, direct reports, colleagues, and others. Comprehensive data are collected from those who work for or with the manager, data is compiled and reported to the manager, and a plan is created to use the data for the manager’s professional development. The Art and Science of 360° Feedback details how to manage the process of collecting the feedback, including preparing recipients, selecting raters, administering the collection instrument, analyzing the results, presenting the feedback, and creating the development plan.


Three hundred sixty degree feedback is a way for individual employees to learn how their supervisors, colleagues, direct reports, team members, customers, and suppliers perceive their leadership behavior and how it is linked to organizational performance. Information is gathered on an individual’s skills, knowledge, and style.

When determining whether to use 360° feedback, human resources managers often ask a number of questions: Is this the right tool? Where should it be used? Should the system be purchased or developed in-house? How can support be gained from other areas of the organization? How can confidentiality be assured?

Data are usually collected via questionnaires and/or one-on-one interviews. The most useful feedback questionnaires ask about specific behaviors.

When collecting data with a questionnaire:

* Inform people of why data are being collected and how they will be used

* Ask those people receiving feedback to identify possible raters

* The individual receiving feedback and all raters complete the questionnaire and a report is generated

* The results are reviewed and next steps are determined

For one-on-one interviews:

* Inform the recipient of the feedback why the data are being collected and how they will be used

* Determine who will be interviewed and what will be asked

* Interviews are scheduled and conducted

* The interviewer prepares a summary report

* The report is discussed by the recipient and the interviewer

* The recipient creates a development plan

Three hundred sixty degree feedback is used for individual development, enhancing team effectiveness, facilitating culture change, performance appraisal, identifying training needs, supporting the achievement of business strategy, making selection decisions, or as part of a coaching intervention.


To determine if 360° feedback could be useful, ask:

* Can the company meet new challenges using current skills and behaviors?

* If behaviors need to be changed, are people clear about what they need to do differently, and are they able to make those changes?

* Is employee behavior consistent with the company’s vision, mission, and values?

* Is there a system in place to show people how others perceive their behavior and performance?

* Do selection and development systems reflect each job’s requirements?

Answering “no” to one or more of these questions means 360° feedback may be needed.

In order for a 360° feedback process to achieve its objectives, five guidelines should be followed:

  1. Link the effort to a strategic initiative or business need.
  2. Enlist senior management to participate and drive the effort.
  3. Communicate clearly and frequently about the purpose and implications of the initiative.
  4. Communicate the behaviors that will be measured as important.
  5. Provide ongoing support and follow-up.


The two most popular methods for collecting feedback are questionnaires and interviews. These two methods can be used independently or together.

Questionnaires use quantitative ratings to collect feedback on behaviors or characteristics. The rater is given a range of answers to indicate how frequently or how well a behavior is used or to what degree the manager displays a certain characteristic. Some questionnaires will ask a single open-ended question at the end to allow elaboration.

Most interviews are conducted one-on-one. The interviewer will usually use a structured format of prepared questions, many of which are open ended, and may ask the rater to elaborate or provide examples.

Both methods are effective, but questionnaires are more widely used because they are easier to administer, less costly, easier to score, and have more reliability and validity. When determining the best method to use in a given situation, consider:

* The number of people who will receive feedback. Questionnaires are more efficient when collecting data for a large number of recipients.

* The level of the organization being reviewed. One-on-one interviews can get at the unique aspects of senior roles and provide rich anecdotal data.

* The type of data being collected. Skills and knowledge data may be best collected by questionnaire, while data about potential or personality characteristics may be more suited to an interview.

* The resources available. If time, money, or personnel are limited, the questionnaire may be the best (and sometimes only) option.

To determine whether to buy or create questionnaires, ask:

* Is the organization’s model of leadership, management, teamwork, or effectiveness unique?

* Do the items on existing questionnaires fail to reflect the organization’s needs?

* Will the data be used to prescribe appropriate behaviors rather than make people aware of existing behaviors?

* Do the resources exist to develop the questionnaire and a scoring mechanism, and to report findings?

A negative response to any of these questions may indicate that purchasing a questionnaire is the best option.

To find an appropriate questionnaire:

  1. Clarify the purpose of the initiative
  2. Obtain samples of the materials
  3. Determine if the categories and examples fit the values of the organization
  4. Review the questionnaire and report
  5. Determine the cost and time commitment
  6. Eliminate those instruments that do not meet these characteristics

Once a small number of appropriate questionnaires have been identified, evaluate each in depth. Determine if each is well researched and has been tested for validity and reliability. Questions about behavior should describe specific, observable behaviors. Different versions of the questionnaire may be needed to address different rater groups.

Another criteria for selecting the most suitable questionnaire is the feedback report generated after the results have been recorded. The feedback report should:

* Identify the behaviors that are most important to the effective performance of the job

* Identify feedback from different perspectives (i.e., direct reports, supervisors, peers)

* Compare others’ feedback with the employee’s perspective

* Compare the person’s ratings to norms

* Display the feedback for individuals items and categories

* Include recommendations

The feedback report should include interpretive frameworks to understand how skills or behaviors are perceived, and how important they are.

Support materials should explain how to optimize the data, identify key areas for improvement, and plan the next steps. Also consider if there is adequate guidance and support for trainers administering the feedback.


Many organizations use only interviews for senior level managers or when trying to understand specific behaviors. Respondents can describe skills and behaviors, clarify when and why they are more or less effective, and offer insight into how the manager might improve. The interview method also allows for follow-up questions.

Drawbacks to the interview include additional time and expense. Respondents (raters) may be reluctant to provide in-depth answers for fear that the feedback recipients may be able to identify them. A manager who receives feedback from questionnaires and from interviews may focus on the written comments and ignore the quantitative results.

In order to ensure that interviews will be effective, clarify the purpose of the interview to recipients and to raters. Describe how the interview will be conducted, what form the results will take and how they will be used.

Next, select the person who will interview and facilitate. This person should be trusted by the recipient and those being interviewed. The person should be able to listen effectively, inspire trust, and present himself as a coach rather than an interrogator. The next step is to finalize objectives and clarify deliverables. Ask the recipient what he or she would like to get out of the process. Determine who to interview, what type of feedback should be generated, and how it will be presented.

It is critical to ask the right questions. Open-ended questions elicit examples and in-depth analysis, and follow up questions provide further clarification. Ask the recipient what questions he or she thinks will produce the most helpful responses, and learn about the recipient’s behaviors and the context in which the person works.

When deciding who will be interviewed, consider who is likely to have experienced the behavior being evaluated. Consider the nature and length of the relationship; the balance between peers, direct reports and bosses; and those who may have a unique perspective.

The interview can be done by telephone, in a group, or face-to-face. Telephone interviews can be efficient, but non-verbal communication can be lost. Video conferencing can reduce this drawback. Group interviews are efficient, but tend to be unreliable as participants may be unwilling to provide negative feedback. Individual interviews are the most valuable, but also the most time-consuming and expensive.

Send a confirmation indicating the time and duration of the interview, and describe what will happen. Express appreciation, reiterate that responses will be confidential, and include questions so the person will come prepared with examples. Describe how responses will be held confidential and anonymous.

Understand the relationship of the interviewee to the interviewer, including formal and informal roles. Use pre-prepared questions as a springboard for discussion. Use prompts and effective listening techniques to keep the conversation flowing. Test previously received opinions without revealing the source of the original comment.

When preparing the report, look for patterns in the data. Determine how strengths and weaknesses were described, and whether more than one person cited the same example. Look at whether raters agreed or disagreed. Substantiate themes with quotes citing specific behavior. Finally, generate ideas for relevant next steps.

Present positive feedback before critical feedback. This keeps the recipient focused and open-minded, and prevents a strong reaction that may taint receptiveness to praise. Align the feedback with the behaviors the feedback is seeking to improve.

A feedback session will include presenting the report and identifying improvement goals. The presentation should be a development discussion, with the manager and presenter having equal time. The manager should be encouraged to ask questions, express feelings, and draw conclusions.

An agenda for the feedback session might include:

* Clarifying what will be accomplished

* Reviewing the strengths from the report

* Reviewing the weaknesses

* Reviewing ideas for recommendations

* Discussing implications for development

* Choosing priorities for development

* Establishing a time to review implementation

At this point, the facilitator provides support for the achievement of development goals. The facilitator will be most familiar with the manager’sfeedback, and will be able to steer the manager through the development phase.


In order for a 360° feedback initiative to be successful, the support of decision makers and other stakeholders is essential. Creating champions ensures that the effort will start off well and be sustainable. Those who approach others in the organization first need to be able to describe the approach and its benefits. They should clarify a business need, and be able to explain the long-term benefits. They should also think about how people in the organization will react to the idea of getting feedback, and determine how they will get the most out of the experience.

The next hurdle is convincing others in the organization that 360° feedback should be implemented now. There are several common objections to this issue:

* It is not the best use of resources. At $175 to $350 per participant for a standard instrument, the cost can seem unjustifiably high. Focus on the business need and show how it can be a cost-effective solution.

* It is too risky. Some managers will object to rating the behavior of peers and direct reports. Focus on the link between behaviors and organizational effectiveness.

* It is too time-consuming and distracting. Focus on the opportunity cost and the value of addressing the problem in a proactive manner.

* It will not make any difference. Point out that certain behaviors are critical to the organization’s effectiveness and the positive impact of seeing oneself as others do.

* Things are fine, so why bother? Show the company’s performance against its peers, and state the wisdom of not waiting for a problem to become serious before taking action.

There are three levels of support: 1) commitment, 2) compliance, and 3) resistance. Gaining commitment from as many key people as possible is critical to the success of a 360° feedback effort. In order to do this, these steps should be followed:

* Be prepared.

* Know how 360° feedback is used and how it will benefit the business.

* Identify key decision makers and other stakeholders.

* Categorize them as positive, neutral, or negative.

* Know what each stands to gain or lose from the effort.

There are several common causes of lack of commitment.

* The purpose of using multi-source feedback is not made clear. Effective communication is the most powerful tool for eliminating this type of resistance.

* People are not involved in the planning. Treat decision makers and other stakeholders as clients or customers. Capture their ideas on how to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of successful implementation.

* There is a negative perception of the initiative. If there is a negative perception of 360° feedback in the organization, clarify its cause, explain the strategies to ensure problems will not recur, and ask for further suggestions on how to achieve this.

* There may be concerns about how the feedback will be used. Use 360° feedback only for development if this is the organization’s first experience with it.

Before approaching key decision makers, be clear about objectives as they relate to each person. This checklist will provide an analysis of resistance and its causes:

  1. Name the decision maker.
  2. What should this person do?
  3. What are his or her goals, values, needs?
  4. What concerns might the person have?
  5. What can be done to address those concerns?
  6. What would this person see as a benefit of the process?
  7. What objections might he or she raise?
  8. What approach will work best?
  9. How will the conversation begin?
  10. What will make the conversation easy?
  11. What would make the conversation difficult and how can that be avoided?

These guidelines will help achieve the objective:

  1. Use past experiences to identify the most effective approach.
  2. Anticipate and be able to answer objections.
  3. Listen, paraphrase, and address issues and concerns.
  4. Be flexible.


Gathering the Feedback

The goal of a feedback initiative is to administer the process efficiently and with the least disruption to the organization. The following issues need to be considered early in the process:

* How will people be informed that they will be participating in a 360° feedback process?

* How many raters should there be, and how will they be chosen?

* How can anonymity and confidentiality be ensured?

* How can accurate and high-quality feedback be ensured?

* Beware of people being asked to complete too many questionnaires.

* Ensure that each person receives enough responses to be meaningful without violating confidentiality.

Introducing the Feedback Process

To introduce the process, hold one-on-one or group orientation sessions for participants, or send an email or letter.

A group orientation meeting gives employees an opportunity to learn about the process, ask questions, and air concerns. Participants should consider who they would select as raters and be coached on how to ask potential raters. Meetings may also be held with potential raters to teach observing and rating behavior.

When one-on-one orientation meetings are held, the project’s purpose should be reviewed, and the importance emphasized. Each participant should identify raters at the meeting, and goals and expectations should be clarified. If an organization has experience with feedback systems, an introductory letter or email explaining the process may suffice.

Selecting Raters

The most important characteristic of a reliable source is credibility, which is based on expertise and trustworthiness. The more a recipient believes in the raters’ credibility, the more likely the feedback will be accepted and used for change.

Some guidelines for selecting raters include:

* Select people who have observed the recipient in a variety of situations

* Select those on whom the recipient currently depends to get work done

* Select people who are willing to discuss key learnings from the feedback

* Select those who understand the nature of the recipient’s work

To narrow the pool of raters:

* Select no fewer than three from each group (peers, direct reports, colleagues, etc.) but select those with a variety of perspectives.

* Select raters with a range of relationships–some with whom the recipient gets along well, others with whom he does not.

Some organizations prefer to pre-select respondents to ensure an unbiased and representative distribution. This can decrease commitment, as participants feel they have less control. Minimum and maximum numbers of raters should be established. A minimum of three raters in each group, and a maximum of ten total raters is ideal.

Feedback should come from a manager’s boss, peers, and direct reports, and, sometimes, internal and external customers. The recipient should provide feedback on herself as well.

Once the raters have been finalized, companies can begin distributing the questionnaires. Some tips for administering the questionnaire include:

* Keep introduction and reminder letters brief

* Give a return deadline, allowing for late responses

* Provide clear, concise directions

* Provide the name and email address of a contact person

* Check email addresses for accuracy

* Use reminder emails to increase response

* Be sure participants understand rater selection criteria

* Be sure participants understand that responses may be combined if there are too few responses from a single group

* Follow up with participants who do not provide enough raters

* Be sure raters understand the objective, and how to provide appropriate feedback

* Be sure there is a reliable technology provider to administer the survey and process the data

* Include the capability for raters to “save and complete later”

Many organizations send the questionnaires out to be processed, letting participants receive normative and composite data. The optimal approach is a combination of written and quantitative feedback.

Presenting the Feedback

Decisions about the forum to present and interpret feedback can be as important as choosing the data collection method or instrument. There are a number of reasons people may reject feedback: they may be unwilling to challenge their own perceptions of themselves, be afraid of exposing their weaknesses, or feel that the feedback is unbalanced.

There are three ways to deliver feedback:

  1. One-on-one feedback is commonly chosen for senior level managers, or those with high potential. Begin with a review of key challenges and achievements, followed by a look at what lies ahead. Then interpret the feedback and integrate development goals. One-on-one feedback is the most expensive and time consuming method.
  2. Group feedback workshops provide a supporting environment, which can make recipients more receptive. Some managers will feel uneasy receiving feedback in a group and may refrain from asking questions. It may be difficult to schedule 15 to 20 managers for a one- or two-day workshop, but this method is cost effective.
  3. Self-study calls for recipients to receive reports, review, analyze the data, and identify the next steps on their own. They receive a printed or electronic guide to help them. This method is most successful in organizations with a history of successful 360° feedback programs. This is the lowest-cost method.

To determine the best method, ask:

* What is the initiative’s purpose?

* What form does feedback take?

* How many people will receive feedback?

* What is the time frame?

* What is expected after feedback is received?

* What resources are available?

* How familiar are the recipients with 360° feedback?

The role of the facilitator is to help participants interpret feedback. Facilitators should have gone through 360° feedback themselves. A skilled facilitator adds value to the process; one who is untrained may make it virtually useless.

Follow-Up Activities

Follow-up activities make a crucial contribution to achieving positive change in behavior. The first step is to divide feedback into strengths, weaknesses, and areas for clarification. Determine what is most and least important in each of these areas.

To begin identifying development targets, focus on strengths. Ask these questions:

* In what situations is this strength useful?

* When might this strength be less useful?

* How can this strength be leveraged?

When weaknesses are identified, ask:

* Why is it important to do this differently?

* What are possible obstacles?

* How might these obstacles be overcome?

* How can strengths help overcome the weakness?

* How can risk be minimized when using a new behavior?

Use these questions to clarify before determining next steps:

* What parts of the feedback are confusing, incomplete, or contradictory?

* Who can help the participant better understand the feedback?

* When will the participant meet with raters or others?

Feedback can then be taken back to raters to be shared and clarified.

Assure raters that feedback was provided confidentially, and focus the discussion on analysis and clarification.

This can be a group session or one-on-one meeting. The recipient should only share those sections requiring clarification or being considered as development targets. These steps will help to ensure a successful sharing-and-clarifying meeting:

* Thank the group for providing feedback

* Give an overview

* Ask for input

* Discuss issues for clarification

* Summarize next steps

* Ask for ongoing feedback

The next step is to create a development plan. These self-development strategies will help:

* Reading books, journals, and magazines on management and leadership, as well as other works that illustrate leadership issues.

* Self-monitoring helps recipients track their progress. Review performance each week for six weeks.

* Coaching, consulting, and mentoring can be used to track behaviors not suitable for self-monitoring.

* Management training, such as courses, workshops, and seminars, can be used if a coach is unavailable or the skill is complex.

* Job assignments will provide real-world experience in a particular behavior or skill, and can lead to lasting behavior changes.

The next step is to consolidate the information into a development plan which can be referenced in order to refocus or clarify objectives. A planning guide should include the following:

* A statement of the development goal

* The standards by which success will be measured

* The change strategies that will be included in the plan

* The action steps and learning techniques required

* The people who will implement and monitor the plan

To monitor progress, set a series of milestones in order to pursue change in manageable increments. To keep people on track, recipients should:

* Refer to the development plan frequently

* Contract with the supervisor and co-workers for their ongoing feedback

* Track planned actions with a calendar or project planning software

* Review the analysis of barriers to change

* Choose a trusted colleague to help

* Distribute questionnaires to the same raters 12 to 18 months later and compare results

Follow up can also be achieved through meetings with the boss, electronic reminders, or formal training programs. Monitoring hard performance data over time can also be used to demonstrate change.

Enhancing Performance Management Systems

Most organizations have human resource management (HRM) systems used for planning, selection and placement, appraisal, development and training, and compensation. Three hundred sixty degree feedback can help align these components with organizational objectives.

Development and training systems identify the development needs of employees and establish plans to address those needs. Three hundred sixty degree feedback can be used, along with assessment centers, workshops, and seminars, to help employees learn about their capabilities in a confidential setting.

Feedback can enhance development and training systems by improving awareness and clarifying expectations; improving decisions about development assignments; clarifying training priorities; monitoring progress; and enhancing coaching experiences.

To integrate 360° feedback into a development and training system, start with a competency model linked to business performance; establish a link between development opportunities and the critical competencies; ensure that there is integrity in the feedback system; encourage people to share feedback with bosses and coaches; and monitor progress.

There is some debate about the appropriateness of using 360° feedback for performance appraisal. Some fear that recipients will resist feedback if it is tied to their appraisals, and that raters will not be as honest if they fear others may be hurt by what they say.

Performance management consists of appraisal and compensation. Appraisal ensures that employees understand their roles and goals. In reviews, people receive information on the extent to which they are on track and what can be done to improve, if necessary. Traditional appraisal systems can fall short due to several issues:

* Lack of agreement on performance criteria

* Inability to handle lots of information

* Concern about self-image

Three hundred sixty degree feedback can help organizations to gain agreement on expectations by having the boss and employee work from the same model of effective behaviors and outcomes.

To use 360° feedback successfully in an appraisal process:

* Involve people in various aspects of the process

* Ensure that relevant data are being collected

* Ensure that no single rater can affect the outcome

* Train raters in what and how to observe

* Have raters support their evaluations by discussing them with other raters

* Move slowly and start small

Organizations that are considering moving to a multi-rater performance appraisal system should ask:

* Is 360° feedback being used for development? Are people familiar with the process?

* Is there confidence in the integrity and confidentiality of the current process?

* Has the existing appraisal process been analyzed to determine what works and what doesn’t? Can the weaknesses be addressed by 360° feedback?

A “no” answer to any question may indicate that the organization is not yet ready for this step.

The next logical step is to use 360° feedback to address compensation. The transition to this step, however, presents some problems. Decisions about pay must assess what a manager does, as well as how the work is done. Three hundred sixty degree feedback is not well suited to measuring work unit results.

Combining 360° feedback and the manager’s evaluation will provide a full picture. To determine how much weight should be given to each factor, consider:

* User satisfaction–at least 75 percent of affected employees should strongly support the use of multi-source feedback.

* The spread of scores across all performance measures, which should clearly indicate high, medium, and low performance.

* The validity and fairness of the feedback should be based on performance and not on friendship, competition, or other subjective factors.

* Accountability for fair, honest ratings.

* Safeguards to ensure fairness.


For 360° feedback to be successful, it is helpful to have:

* A culture that supports open, honest feedback

* Systems that minimize irrational responses and can identify ratings that are untrustworthy

* Users who are willing to invest the time to make the system work

* Clear and agreed-upon performance measures and behaviors

* A sound 360° feedback process

Three hundred sixty degree feedback can be a powerful tool for organizational change. It helps organizations identify crucial success factors and align competencies with challenges. It also democratizes the feedback process.

Multi-source feedback must be used appropriately and intelligently. Initiating it with no clear goal in mind will likely be disappointing or disastrous.

Involve as many people as possible as early as possible. Input from stakeholders and decision makers will ensure the initiative reflects their needs and will increase enthusiasm across the board, contributing to the success of the process.


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