The Power of 360-Degree Feedback

by Merrick Rosenberg, MBA


Oh, what a great gift we would have if we could only see ourselves as others see us.
- Robert Burns, 1785

Let's begin with a concept of which most of us would agree -- Positive and constructive feedback, if presented respectfully and with helpful intent , benefit both the individual and the organization. And yet, studies on turnover reveal that lack of feedback and recognition are often cited as a key reason why people leave organizations. Consider whether individuals in your organization receive enough useful feedback to help them develop their skills and improve performance.

360-degree feedback has grown out of the need to increase the quantity and quality of feedback to individuals…feedback that goes beyond the annual performance review process. After all, prior to walking into your manager's office to discuss your appraisal, are you thinking, "This is great. I am going to get feedback that will help me to be a better employee?"

Traditionally, the manager has been the sole source of feedback. And the frequency of this feedback is often minimal. 360-degree feedback expands the circle of feedback providers to peers and direct reports, as well as self-evaluations. In the end, feedback recipients receive a report that provides a gap analysis that details how they see themselves versus how they are perceived by those with whom they work closely. A qualified performance coach then helps the individual to create a targeted improvement plan.

Organizations cite several key benefits of 360-degree feedback: Individuals gain insight into their behavioral blind spots, they are better able to manage their careers, and they gain quantifiable data on interpersonal and leadership skills. Organizations gain the benefits derived from a highly developed workforce, such as increased promotion from within, and heightened productivity and quality.

Successful 360 processes includes several keys elements. First, top management must buy into the concept that 360 is a valuable tool for improving performance and they must support its implementation. Also, employees may need to learn how to provide useful, constructive feedback to each other. And managers must have the skills and be willing to provide ongoing coaching.

Second, the survey must reflect the organization's culture and desired competencies. In the end, individual goals and action plans will be based on the feedback related to the survey questions. Therefore, it is imperative that the survey addresses a skill-set that will lead to individual and organizational success.

Third, all raters attend a 360-degree feedback orientation where they will learn that 360 is for development purposes only and will in no way be linked to performance appraisal.

Individuals will learn about 360-degree feedback, the confidential nature of their responses, and how the survey technology works. This step will help to alleviate fear on the part of both the raters and the feedback recipients.

Fourth, after learning about 360 in the orientation, it's time to complete the questionnaire. Today, most surveys are conducted online using secure, encrypted data collection systems. Individuals should have the opportunity to provide numeric ratings for each question, as well as clarifying comments. Some systems even allow comments to be sorted into sections, such as: What you like, what you don't like, and what you want.

Fifth, reports are compiled for each individual. These reports should include all comments verbatim, as well as an easy-to-read format for interpreting results and creating action plans. Group summary reports are typically provided to senior management or human resources. These reports do not include individual names, but rather tally all numeric ratings to reveal large-scale organizational strengths and challenges. This data is often used to target global issues and select relevant training initiatives.

Sixth, coaching is provided to individuals so they can turn their feedback into action. Without effective coaching, 360-degree feedback becomes a time-consuming project without behavioral change. A neutral coach helps the individual to understand their feedback, find underlying themes that are the behavioral drivers for their core challenges, and finally, help them to set meaningful goals and develop specific action plans that will lead to performance improvement. Managers will act as supplemental coaches to reinforce learning and ensure accountability.

Remember that you can't expect changes in behavior or performance any greater than the frequency in which feedback is given. 360-degree feedback can be a powerful tool in generating the feedback that leads to behavioral change and better results.