Getting the best from 360 degree feedback

360 feedback can be a great way to promote personal development and improve performance in an organisation. If done correctly it enables individuals to gather a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. If done poorly, however, a 360 degree feedback exercise can spell disaster for an organisation, leading to a breakdown in trust between colleagues, communication problems, and rock bottom morale.
The key to an effective 360 degree feedback exercise is getting the right people involved, understanding what the aim of the exercise is and having people trained in 360 degree feedback supporting the process. The organisation should take steps to address employee concerns before the exercise so that people know what is happening and why.

Basic principles

360 degree feedback usually involves a number of colleagues filling in a questionnaire about the performance of an individual. Ideally the questions should be concise and relevant to the person’s job, and the people filling in the questionnaire will be credible to the recipient of the feedback (often the recipient will actually choose the respondents).

The respondents should be given guidance about the type of information they provide and should understand that they may need to give evidence or specific examples to support comments. Feedback should always be constructive rather than personal in nature.

Addressing employee concerns

Employees on both side of the 360 degree feedback process will understandably have concerns about the process, not least around confidentiality and who will see the information captured. Details around this should be made clear before the programme starts.

People should not be coerced into taking part by managers, and employees should have input into how the exercise is done. A key point is that feedback should never be attributed to one person and the reports and action plans should be subject to stringent data protection controls.

360 degree feedback can go wrong from the beginning in organisations where there are already problems around trust and communication. It may be an idea to wait until your organisation has good communication structures and a culture of trust before implementing a 360 degree feedback programme.

Questionnaires and reports

Getting the questionnaires and reports right can also be crucial to a successful 360 degree feedback exercise. Questions should be clear and relevant to the individual’s job. They should also follow a set structure that lends itself to structured feedback.

The feedback reports are the part of the process that can cause most upset as the recipient of feedback reads the views of others. It is important that employees are given time to digest the report and support to understand what the report is saying and how they can act upon it.

Reports should be clear, concise and easy to understand. Graphics can be a useful way of making a point clearly as long as they are self-explanatory. Comments from respondents are also useful to include as long as they are constructive.

360 degree feedback is not something to be undertaken lightly which is why you should only work with professional 360 degree feedback operators such as CR Systems. It can be a useful tool for organisations but the time and place has to be right as does the actual implementation of the exercise.