Employees rely on feedback in order to consistently improve their output. Many forms of collecting feedback exist and they typically involve communication from bosses to subordinates or upward feedback delivered by employees to their bosses.
The 360 degree feedback system is different in that it relies on feedback from staff from all layers of the organisation; that is colleagues, bosses and subordinates as well as a self-assessment from the employee.
In some cases, responses might also be collected from external people who interface with the employee. The feedback focuses on areas of work competencies, work place relationships and other easily observable behaviour.
How 360 degree feedback works
360 degree feedback typically involves 3 categories of people; the person getting the feedback, the people giving the feedback and the individual who is overseeing the process. To get it right, the implementation requires that these stakeholders follow a specific set of steps;
- An administrator (sometimes an external entity) invites 6-10 respondents to complete an anonymous online feedback form.
- The ratee or employee being rated also fills in the feedback form. Questions should be open ended for better results. For instance, ‘What does your manager do well as a leader?’ Versus ‘Do you feel like your manager is a good leader?’
- The process is supervised by the administrator to ensure all participants do what is required.
- An average of the responses is arranged into a report that is presented to the subject employee by the external administrator or coach.
- Using the report for guidance, the employee develops a personal development plan with help from the administrator or human resources.
- A follow up plan is set in place to help the employee with follow through.
Why you should use 360 degree feedback
Companies which use this feedback system report a number of benefits.
360 degree feedback provides an employee with constructive feedback from a number of different sources. This helps them to understand their own personality from other people’s points of view. It also helps them see how they see themselves versus how other people see them. This can lead to both on-job and personal development.
In addition, because it is not feedback from a single source, the employee feels it is more objective and is more likely to act on it.
The participation of several employees improves cohesion and team work because they are all involved in the development of a team member. The rated employee is also able to adjust based on the feedback and work better with the team.
360 degree feedback serves the company by shedding light on training needs of employees. From the responses gathered, the company is able to note the areas where the employee might need more support.
It gives the company an opportunity to reinforce values. For instance, a question that requires respondents to rate the employee’s interpersonal communication shows that this trait is important to the company.
360 degree feedback helps to put the important aspect of employee development and growth at the fore front and to also encourage a growth mindset in the organisation. This happens because employees have to make a development plan that will guide them after the exercise.
360 degree feedback isn’t without its critics though
If used as an evaluation instead of a development tool, it runs the risk of being unreliable. Experts argue that respondents might not be qualified enough to evaluate another employee particularly in cases where they do not know their job deliverables. This becomes even more complicated when the feedback is used to inform promotions or salary conversations.
360 degree feedback is criticised for having accuracy holes. According to Eichinger and Lombardo’s 2004 study, Patterns of Rater Accuracy in 360 Degree Feedback, the most accurate responses come from respondents who have known the employee for a long enough time that they have gotten past the first impressions but not so long that they are unable to be objective.
They put this at a period of one to three years. People outside of this time gap were reported to be less accurate.
The system can easily be manipulated. Respondents can collude to give particular results about an employee. Unless respondents are assured that confidentiality will be maintained, they might not be comfortable enough to give honest responses. This is particularly risky in smaller organisations.
Negative feedback, if not handled well, can lead to loss of morale from the subject employee. They might walk away feeling like they are not well liked by their colleagues.
How to make 360 degree feedback work for your company
To overcome these weaknesses and maximise the benefits of 360 degree feedback, companies should look into employing the following interventions.
The first comes with the design of the questionnaire. It needs to be customized to a particular industry and job role. When designing the questionnaire, focus should be placed on using the feedback as a development tool, not so much as an evaluation tool.
To achieve this, questions should focus on areas such as teamwork and character and not lean heavily on performance objectives or meeting of KPIs. The questions should also be designed to reveal strengths and not focus entirely on weaknesses.
The questionnaire also shouldn’t be so lengthy that people stop mid-way or do not actively engage.
One of the criticisms of 360 degree feedback is lack of participation. Top management needs to participate in the exercise and show the rest of the company that they take it seriously. This encourages others to take part.
Management can start by briefing the staff and letting them know how the process will work and how it will benefit the employee and the company.
360 degree feedback ends with the feedback report. It should be easy to read with comparative graphs to see how the employee rates against others in their field. On top of that, the report should be followed up with a personal development plan for the employee. Check-ins should be included. Without this, the 360 degree feedback process would be redundant.
To make 360 degree feedback work, some companies choose to hire an independent contractor to oversee the entire process. This increases the element of trust and ensures that there is a dedicated resource to manage the process.
This, coupled with the above interventions, can lead to long term companywide, positive results from the exercise.