There aren’t many tools available to talent management professionals that are misused as frequently as the 360-degree employee assessment and feedback process. This is unfortunate because when the process is implemented correctly the 360 can play a critical role in creating awareness, providing potential areas of focus to guide development decisions and measuring changes in behavior.
So, how do you separate the best from the rest? If you’ve got a question about 360 feedback, you’ve come to the right place.
What is 360 feedback?
360 feedback, also referred to as “multirater,” or simply “360,” is one way to gather information to assess an employee’s performance on the job (Leadership Mirror® is DDI’s 360 feedback tool). Data is gathered from the individual’s colleagues, supervisor(s), direct reports, and by the individual herself to get a holistic view of both where to improve and where to leverage strengths.
When should you not use 360 feedback?
It’s important to point out that 360 feedback isn’t always the best option for employee assessments. For example, you should never use the 360 as the only diagnostic for high-potential employees, nor should you use a 360 to hide behind when you don’t want to give feedback.
How do you set up 360 feedback?
To raise the bar on a 360 there are two key areas of focus: implementation planning and support for the individual being rated and her manager throughout the process. This is crucial once the 360 data gathering is complete and the focus changes to how to best use the data.
First things first. Ask the following questions:
- Who needs to be assessed?
- What needs to be measured?
- Is 360 feedback the most appropriate tool for the task?
Assuming the 360 is the appropriate tool, the survey needs to be based on the right competencies with enough detail to explain each one and describe the required behaviors for effective performance. Without this level of detail, it’s almost impossible to present the data in a way that is easy to interpret, or to highlight any themes or trends to guide a meaningful feedback discussion resulting in an actionable development plan.
What should you do before 360 feedback?
Communication is key. It’s very important that all raters (the individuals being rated, their managers, other respondents such as peers and/or direct reports) receive some training on how to access the 360, how to interpret the competencies and behaviors, and the response options, (e.g. the use of any open-ended comments fields.)
A short instructional video works well for this, especially for those who can’t attend in person. The pre-recorded session will provide the information that they need. Taking this step ensures there are no surprises when subjects and raters receive an invitation to take part. It also increases the likelihood of having a good response rate and higher-quality data. Allowing subjects to personally invite respondents to complete their 360 surveys also improves response rates.
How long should a 360 feedback survey stay open?
We typically suggest three weeks. Updates to administrators should be frequent (every 48 hours) to track progress and so that informed decisions can be made based on up-to-date information about response rates. The goal is to have responses from the subject, manager, and at least three respondents from the subject’s direct reports, peers, or other group. With three respondents in a group anonymity is to be expected.
After concluding the 360-assessment phase the time and resources you invest will really make the difference. The assessments should be processed quickly, and the results should be available shortly after the assessment phase has ended.
The next step is to send out the reports to the subjects a couple of days before they are due to receive feedback. This allow enough time for the individual to review the results but no too much time to dwell on the data.
Who receives 360 feedback reports?
Apart from the subject, of course, who else will receive the report at the end of the process? Will her manager get the full report? Will there be a group report? If so, who is going to receive a copy?
The same care and attention needs to be taken when deciding who is going to rate the subject. If possible, choose raters who have experience with the subject across a range of projects or situations over at least six months to a year. The subject should collaborate with the manager as to who the raters will be to get buy-in, as well as to check if there is anyone who might have been missed.
How do you get the most out of a 360 feedback conversation?
It’s beneficial to prepare all parties for what’s to come and to confirm expectations for the 360 conversation. It’s important to do this not just with the subject, but also with the manager, any coaches, and the feedback provider if he or she is not going to be the coach.
For the feedback to have the most positive and long-term impact, there are a few best practices that really make a difference. The feedback conversation should be development focused. The goal is for the subject to identify one strength to leverage and one growth area to work on.
Unfortunately, subjects can sometimes view the feedback as a “report card” and have a hard time accepting that they have a development need. To counter this, it is important that the roles of the subject, manager, mentor (if there is one), and coach are well defined. To help the manager fulfill her role, there should be a summary report available for use in the development phase.
One important message that needs to be sent is that the subject needs to take charge of the development process. This means that the individual will take the lead in guiding the development planning conversation with the manager. The subject and her manager will need to reach agreement on the plan, next steps, and expected outcomes.
How to create a 360 feedback development plan
We are approaching final stage in the 360 process and everything has been leading to this point. The goal is for every person who takes part in a 360 assessment to have an actionable, measurable development plan, which has been developed with and approved by their manager.
As with the pre-survey communication, a short instructional video provided to both the participant and manager can ensure consistency in the planning process and in the quality of the development plan itself.
The subject and manager require ready access to the support and development tools. An example of what might be made available is the What Now? booklet DDI provides to subjects who have assessed using Leadership Mirror®. This booklet lays out what is required, step by step. with hints, tips, and sample development plans.
Development guides, meanwhile, are an excellent resource for both subjects and managers, whatever the subject’s learning style. There should be access to training programs specifically designed for the role that is the focus for the 360-assessment process. The aim is to be able to accommodate as many different learning needs and preferences as possible. Equally important are the type of reinforcement tools that are going to be made available to the managers.
To maximize the return on the 360-assessment process, there must be a connection between the competencies that are being assessed, the selected development areas, and the organization’s business objectives (Business Drivers). Again, the outcome of the process should give the participant an area to focus on developing and a strength they can leverage.
It’s a good thing that 360 feedback isn’t going anywhere. To provide the maximum return on the investment for everyone involved, you’ll need to ask yourself, “How will incorporating these best practices raise the bar?”
Learn more about Leadership Mirror®, DDI’s automated 360-degree feedback system.
Learn more about leadership assessment in DDI's Ultimate Guide to Leadership Assessment.
Bruce Court works with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy. He’s experienced in all aspects of strategy development and execution. Outside of work Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen, visiting places on their “bucket list.” He loves eating at great restaurants, and “sampling” good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.