360-Degree Feedback is also known as full-circle feedback, multirater feedback, multi-level feedback, upward appraisal, and peer review.
Where ‘regular’ performance appraisals provide ‘single-source’ (top-down) feedback, i.e. normally from an employee’s direct line manager only, 360-degree feedback appraisals are ‘multi-source’ – involving behavioral feedback from a variety of sources such as Peers, Direct Reports (‘subordinates’), Customers (internal and/or external) as well as Managers. These are called Rater Groups, consisting of three or more Raters per Rater Group (except for the Rater Group ‘Manager/s’ where an employee may only have one line manager).
The employee receiving the feedback (called ‘Appraisee’), gets rated by 360 Raters (also called ‘Multiraters’). Only Raters having worked with the Appraisee for a period of minimum three months should be asked to provide behavioral feedback to the Appraisee.
The Appraisee also fills out a self-rating that includes the same questions that Rater Groups receive in their questionnaires.
Why 360 feedback? Simply put – it is harder to discount the views of several of your colleagues or customers than the views of just one person. The 360 process also provides a much more complete and richer picture of an employee’s performance. In addition, it gives people an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback to a colleague, which they might otherwise be uncomfortable to give face-to-face.
Some of the benefits of receiving 360-degree feedback from others are:
Feedback is essential in facilitating performance improvement. It informs employees of their actions that create problems for others, and what behavioral changes may be necessary to improve working relationships, team synergy, performance outputs and customer service. Received in a positive, open-minded, non-defensive spirit, 360-feedback can play a major role in employees’ personal and professional growth, and job satisfaction. It can serve as a strong spur for personal development and behavior change.
360 feedback from peers and direct reports is frequently the only way that senior executives can get feedback on their performance, as there may just not be anybody else to do it.
When managers are new to the organization, and especially if they have many direct reports, it will normally take a while to get to know them well. 360 feedback could be the ideal process to use to gather behavioral information on them very fast and effectively.
The data gathered from 360-degree feedback throughout the organization can be very useful in providing insight into organization-wide behaviors and competency (or the lack thereof), and what development and other interventions may be necessary to address weaknesses.
NOTE: Because of its very power as a behavior modification tool, 360-degree feedback – if not implemented sensitively and professionally – can do a lot of harm to both individuals and the organization. For it to be successful there must be a mature organizational culture of openness, honesty, and mutual trust.
The following would be the most important:
At first used primarily as a leadership developmental system for managers and executives, 360-degree feedback is now used successfully with employees at all organizational levels.
Once every 12 months should be sufficient, so as to give employees sufficient opportunity to implement their Development Plans before the next 360 appraisal becomes due.
Your company policy may dictate that it be mandatory.
A Rater, also known as a Multirater, Respondent or Observer, is the person providing 360-degree feedback to the Appraisee (feedback recipient).
Raters are classified into different Rater Groups, the most common being Peers, Manager/s, Direct Reports (“subordinates”) and Customers (internal or external).
A Peer is a “colleague” of the Appraisee – frequently a fellow team member. A Peer is an “equal” of the Appraisee, with an equivalent level of stature in the organization. They may not necessarily work closely together, but are reasonably familiar with each others’ job requirements.
Peer feedback is normally very effective, as peer approval is important to most employees. Employees also tend to regard Peer feedback as highly credible when their joint feedback points out specific behavioral trends.
Peer feedback with self-directed work teams is indispensable as a behavior modification and development tool.
Firstly, you need a large enough sample to ensure the validity of feedback results. If it is too small, there is a real danger that the views of one rater may play too big a role in the overall results, when the ratings get averaged.
Secondly, you need enough Raters in order to best protect the identity of individual Raters.
A minimum of three to five Raters per Rater Group is required, except with line manager feedback of course, where there may only be one person.
With Direct Report feedback the recommendation is a minimum of four Raters, to sufficiently protect the anonymity of employees, and to reduce their fear of being identified by the line manager. Where a manager has more that four direct reports, involve ALL of them if realistically possible.
If there are only one or two direct reports, either do not involve them at all, or add them to a mixed Rater Group category such as “Other” (which could also include Peers for example).
Only individuals who have worked with (or know) the Appraisee sufficiently long (three months minimum) should be considered as Raters. The amount of contact potential Raters had with the Appraisee over this period, and their understanding of the nature of what he/she does, should also be considered. Another consideration is that Raters will need to be credible to the Appraisee for the latter to accept their feedback.
It is good practice to involve 360 Appraisees in the selection of their Raters – even leaving it fully up to them – depending on your 360 feedback philosophy and aims.
A further approach is to have the line manager and Appraisee making separate nominations, then integrating their lists to provide the final selection. This will also help disguise Rater identities.
With Direct Report feedback, employees who have recently (or are currently) been involved in performance or disciplinary action, or are in known conflict with their line manager, should not be included.
Organizations that are busy with restructuring or downsizing should also consider the possible prevailing feelings of insecurity and distrust, and whether some Raters should best not be included (and even whether the timing for 360 appraisals would be suitable at all).
Furthermore, 360 appraisal programs will not work in dysfunctional departments, or in organizations where there is a lack of openness and trust, and an unwillingness or fear to give and receive feedback.
It is important that the anonymity and confidentiality of 360 Raters be guaranteed to ensure that they cannot be identified by the Appraisee. Without this assurance, Raters may either not respond, or they may fudge their responses to avoid potential friction.
Exception to this rule: In close-knit teams where a high maturity level in respect of giving and receiving feedback exists, the 360 process may be enhanced if the individual Raters and their feedback are revealed to Appraisees (with everybody’s upfront knowledge and buy-in of course). The Appraisee will then be able to ask a Rater more in-depth, clarifying questions about their feedback, which will enhance the behavior modification and development power and potential of the 360 feedback program.
The more accurate question items describe an employee’s expected work performance, the easier Raters will be able to answer them, and the more relevant and actionable the feedback results will be.
Question items typically cover job-relevant dimensions and/or competencies (such as Leadership, Communication, Teamwork, Customer Focus, etc.) with related behavioral indicators. They should also be in line with the organization’s vision, goals, culture and values.
Focus on the most important competencies and behaviors only (Pareto 80-20 Principle). Countless steps, tasks, procedures, processes, and other behaviors are involved in any one position. It would be impractical to try and include them all. The best approach is to focus on those that are crucial in the working relationship with a specific Rater Group.
It is important to collect both quantitative (numeric) and qualitative (narrative) data. Numeric data are ratings (normally 1 to 5) per competency/behavior that are averaged across all Raters in a Rater Group, to give an overall “grand” average, which can also be used to compare the relative performance of different employees. Narrative comments will offer insights into specific strengths, weaknesses, and issues that are often missed by quantitative data alone.
Even though it takes more time to complete a survey that asks for comments, and more time to analyze the results, the extra effort pays off in the richness of the data that will be gathered. As a tradeoff, limit the number of questions in the 360 questionnaire (i.e. go for quality as opposed to quantity).
Pilot the Questionnaire: Once you have added the questions/competencies to your 360 questionnaire, ask a small group of people to complete it as if they were rating a colleague that they know well. This is your opportunity to identify redundant, confusing and missing items, and to establish the face validity of the question set. Ask them to consider the following:
NOTE: 360-degree feedback should only be used for behavioral aspects of performance, and not also for quantifiable outputs such as sales targets, or the like (which should rather be covered via “regular” Performance Appraisals).
5. Always demonstrates this skill/competency
1. An exceptional skill – consistently exceeds expectations in this area
5. Exceptional Strength
5. Exceptional Strength
5. Consistently Exceeding Expectations
5. Far above requirements
5. Far Above Average
5. Almost Always
5. Strongly Agree
5. Completely True Description
Most 360-degree feedback systems use the same set of around 25 to 100 questions for ALL Rater Groups. The problem with that is that from each Rater Group’s unique perspective (context), a certain portion/percentage of these questions will not be relevant, e.g. how well can a PEER answer questions about customer service (especially external customer service), or a CUSTOMER about teamwork?
Most systems try to overcome this problem by using very generic questions – to fit all Rater Groups – but with equally generic and bland results.
The context-targeted technology of Smart360 enables highly targeted question sets for each individual Rater Group – covering its unique working relationship and involvement with the employee. These Rater Groups can include, among others::
This leads to dramatically more useful and actionable feedback for the feedback recipient, with resultant hugely enhanced behavior and performance improvement.
Smart360 allows for 20+ (no upper limit) Raters per 360 appraisal. Below are examples of how these can be distributed in practice:
(The above are examples only, as any number of raters per Rater Group and 360 can be assigned)
The number and types of Rater Groups will depend on who you want feedback from, and can therefore be different combinations for your employees (feedback recipients).
Also consider this: because of their context-targeted focus, fewer questions need to be asked per Rater Group, minimizing rater resistance to complete their 360 questionnaires.
Consider this: if the Appraisee is not guaranteed that the results will remain confidential, they will tend to experience anxiety about the purpose of the scheme and the use of the data.
The safest and most desirable option would be to only allow the Appraisee and a neutral feedback facilitator access to 360 feedback reports. Also read the next FAQ in this regard.
At most, the direct line managers of 360 Appraisees may also be allowed access. Employees will most likely fear the process if their line managers are given access to their feedback reports, unless both parties have been properly informed and trained in their respective roles in the process.
Managers should, as a rule, not be allowed to interpret the results and handle the feedback and development discussion with employees themselves. However, they should have access to the resulting Development Plan so that they can assist employees in achieving their development goals, and act as ongoing coaches. In this regard, management training in coaching skills is highly recommended.
The effective feedback of 360 appraisal results is crucial for the process to succeed.
VERY IMPORTANT: Do not provide feedback in a vacuum by just letting employees get their 360 appraisal results in the form of printed or even online reports.
The feedback should be interpreted and presented by professionals who are experienced in delivering 360-degree feedback, and coaching employees to improve. This could be a suitably competent Human Resources staff member or an external consultant.
If feedback is negative, it can be very demoralizing; so it is important that employees have access to a neutral and experienced person who can help them understand and internalize their feedback.
It is common for feedback recipients to focus on the negative, even though they are generally doing a good job. A professional feedback facilitator and coach can help employees identify both their strengths and weaknesses, and create a Development Plan that encourages them to build on their strengths and eliminate or reduce their weaknesses.
It speaks for itself that a Development Plan without the necessary support mechanisms and resources (funds, training courses, on-the-job coaches, etc.) will not only be a waste of time, but will certainly also do a lot of harm to the credibility of your 360 program.
This should be done as soon as possible after all the Raters have completed their respective 360 questionnaires (the latter also to be done in the shortest time span possible).
This will ensure that the feedback is still relevant when Appraisees receive it, and that their motivation to receive it is still high.
If 360 feedback is linked to performance appraisal and compensation, it loses its power as a development tool. Especially with peer feedback, the danger arises where individuals may quickly learn how to play the game: “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.”
Appraisees are also likely to become unduly defensive during the feedback process to protect their income levels and prevent poor raises and bonuses.
Rather adopt a positive and optimistic mindset that performance WILL improve as a result of stress-free learning and development, based on valid 360 feedback.
For the same reason, do not place undue emphasis on comparing the 360 results of employees, except for confidential consideration with promotion and succession planning decisions.
The 360 feedback process as a performance appraisal tool should only be considered if there is a very strong existing performance appraisal system in place, as well as an open and mature organizational culture where constructive feedback is readily given and accepted in a spirit of continuous improvement and non-blaming.
The following training should be considered to ensure a successful 360 program implementation:
EVERYBODY should be informed about the concept and practice of 360-degree feedback, and how the process will work in the organization. Cover the following during such information/training sessions:
If employees do not trust your intentions, they will most likely sabotage your 360 initiative through their resistance to participate. So let them know that they are not going to be dismissed, demoted, or penalized in any way based on the results.
While receiving 360 feedback from others (especially one’s peers) can be extremely intimidating, the providing of feedback can be equally daunting for raters, as they may fear identification and even victimization. People have to have the right mindset and skills to do it well – i.e. receiving AND giving feedback.
The more information and training you provide upfront, the more willing everybody will be to participate fully and appropriately.
This is most crucial to ensure the success of your 360 initiative. Consider the following:
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