360 Degree Feedback - Complete Guide

January 16, 2018 (first published on July 24, 2017)

Roberto Coindreau

Author: Roberto Coindreau

More than 20 years of helping our clients to implement 360 degree feedback surveys has given us a full panorama of all the benefits that they offer and the best practices for creating and applying them.

Our intention with this guide is to help all Human Resources departments to create, apply and analyze their own 360 degree feedback surveys.

What is a 360 Degree Feedback?

360 Degree Feedback is all of the feedback on individual skills that employees receive from their work colleagues, which helps to identify their strengths and opportunities for improvement.

It is called 360º because it includes the self-evaluation of the person being evaluated and the evaluations of their work colleagues, including the Direct Manager, Peers, Direct Reports and Internal Clients.

Evaluaciones 360 Participantes

If we look at the previous image, we can see that 360º feedback is very different to a performance evaluation; more colleagues participate, as well as the Direct Manager. This is what makes 360º feedback a very enriching experience.

What do they evaluate?

In contrast to annual performance evaluations, which grade employees on their work responsibilities, 360 degree feedback focuses on the personal qualities that are fundamental for these responsibilities.

These qualities are known as Skills and some of the main ones are:

  • Leadership. Delegation, Responsibility, Motivation, Decision-making, Risk-taking, Approachability.
  • Personal Values. Respect, Ability to Work under Pressure, Empathy, Physical Presentation.
  • Team Work. Participation, Feedback, Accepting Differences, Negotiation.
  • Communication. Verbal Communication, Understanding Ideas, Listening Skills.
  • Creativity. Problem-solving, Innovation.
  • Organization. Note-taking, Meeting Deadlines.
  • Organizational Values. Alignment to Vision and Mission, Company Loyalty.

Six indispensable steps for implementation.

1. Selection of participants.

As 360 degree feedback evaluates individual skills, it’s as suitable for executive and managerial levels as it is for operative levels.

If the cost of implementation and time were not a limitation, the best option would be to include all members of the organization. But, in practice, this is rarely possible.

If you need to cut back on participants, it’s important to take care that the employee groups who don’t participate do not feel excluded. A good way to ensure this does not happen is to include all employees from each of the following groups:

  • a. Executives.
  • b. Middle Management.
  • c. Remaining management positions.
  • d. Operative positions.
  • Who shouldn’t be included?

    It’s not easy to give or receive feedback, and it’s even more complicated for a new employee. It is best that participants have been with the organization for at least 6 months.

    2. Determine the feedback network.

    Having selected those who will participate, the next step in creating a 360º evaluation is to determine the Feedback Network.

    This involves selecting who will evaluate each of the participants selected in the first step.

  • a. Include the direct manager.
  • Naturally, one of the most important pieces of feedback will come from the direct manager as it is a more specific perspective and comes from the person who currently occupies the position to which the person being evaluated surely aspires.
  • It is also very useful to facilitate proactive communication processes between employees and their managers.
  • b. Include indirect superiors.
  • In executive or managerial positions, feedback given from those holding positions higher up in the organization’s hierarchy can be very valuable.
  • They will frequently be able to offer the employee a clear view of their strengths and opportunities for improvement, and they can give significant motivation to the employee to continue developing.
  • c. Include peers and direct reports.
  • Although you may ascribe less importance to it than to the previous points, in reality feedback from peers and direct reports is the central objective of a 360 degree feedback assessment. We rarely receive feedback from these groups, and it’s probably where the most valuable contributions come from.
  • The ideal number of evaluators is at least three peers and three direct reports, thereby ensuring you obtain an accurate average for the employee being evaluated.
  • d. Include internal clients.
  • This is not obligatory, and sometimes nor is it feasible, but with certain key positions within the organization it could be important to include evaluations completed by internal clients.
  • e. Include external clients.
  • It’s far from obligatory and it's hardly ever convenient, but sometimes feedback given by external clients could be worthwhile. Especially when there is a close relationship between them and the employee.
  • f. Who should not be included?
  • Human relationships can become complicated, and organizations are not a stranger to these.
  • When there is clear rivalry or disagreement between two employees, it is best that these employees do not evaluate each other, to avoid getting feedback that—far from helping—actually increases problems.
  • g. Total number of evaluators.
  • In order to guarantee that the results are accurate and offer feedback that is beneficial to the person being evaluated, it is best to have at least seven to ten evaluators.
  • "It is best that each person evaluated has at least 7-10 evaluators."
  • g. Total evaluations per employee.
  • Finally, you should limit the number of evaluations that each employee has to fill out.
  • More than 10 evaluations could mean employees do not spend the necessary time on each one, while only having one evaluation to complete could make them feel excluded from the event.
  • 3. Write the evaluation questions.

    This is probably the most important step in a 360º evaluation and the one that can most affect the results you obtain.

    Using well-written and well-analyzed questions guarantees the success of the evaluation. On the other hand, even small changes to the questions could completely alter the results.

  • a. Select skill areas.
  • A feature of 360 degree evaluations is that they evaluate concepts that are applicable to the majority of organizations.
  • A good starting point is to read through the skill areas mentioned previously in the section "What do they evaluate?" and decide which ones are the most relevant for the organization.
  • b. Set multiple choice questions.
  • Each Skill Area should have one or more multiple choice questions. We recommend that the questions are not too general and that you opt for more specific questions. For example:
    • Instead of asking "Does he know how to work in a team?", it is better to ask a more specific question like "Does he actively support and involve the members of his group in order to work together?" or "Does he create an environment of collaboration and trust in his work group?".
  • c. Set the evaluation scale.
  • Any change to the scale can drastically change the results you obtain, and it’s recommended to use methods that have already been proven in the industry.
  • We recommend that you keep it at 4 to 6 options and avoid using the option "Not Applicable".
  • d. Set open questions.
  • Open questions or comments can supply an excellent source of information for the person being evaluated that is simply not possible to get through multiple choice questions.
  • Some questions could be "Name your colleague’s main strengths" or "Name the main areas where your colleague could improve".
  • e. Length of the evaluation.
  • We recommend keeping the number of questions within the range of 20-45 questions total and not including more than 2 open questions.
  • 4. Establish the level of confidentiality for feedback.

    Confidentiality is one of the most delicate issues in 360 degree feedback. Should feedback be anonymous? Completely open? Somewhere in between?

    In a first time evaluation, it is recommended that evaluations are anonymous and that the employee only has access to the averages of the evaluations given by their colleagues. As the organization grows, you can start following more open feedback processes.

    5. Give feedback

    Feedback is the final objective of all 360 degree feedback surveys and it is very important to give it in the best possible way in order to ensure you obtain good results. The following are the main points to attend to:

    • 1. Wait until everyone has finished.
    • Feedback should preferably be given once the entire organization has finished filling out the evaluations. This is why it’s important to keep checking in with and supporting the participants.
    • 2. Identify strengths, areas for improvement and blind spots.
    • The report should include the employee’s strengths (areas where they received the best evaluation from their colleagues), areas for improvement (areas where colleagues say the employee has a lot of room to improve) and blind spots (areas where the employee and their colleagues see very differently).
    • 3. Generate graphs.
    • The more visual the feedback from the results of the 360 degree evaluation, the more easily employees will receive and understand their results. These graphs should show the three areas identified in the previous point.
    • 4. Give direct feedback to each employee.
    • Whether a manager from the Human Resources department does it, or the direct manager of each person evaluated, it is best that everyone receive their results in a one- on-one meeting where the employee can resolve any doubts and be offered a guide for constructing their development plan.

    6. Follow Up

    Implementing a 360 degree feedback survey should not be a one-time event in the organization, but a continuous development program. Make the most of the entire year to continue improving processes and monitor your employees’ development.

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