As you know, feedback is essential to the growth and development of both employees and the businesses in which they work. But if your performance review methods have proven ineffective lately, then it can stop that growth in its tracks, leaving employees feeling disengaged and disillusioned.
An increasingly popular method, 360-degree feedback is one such system that can offer employees effective, actionable pointers that allows them to flourish in their roles. But what exactly is it?
Below, we’ll guide you through what 360-degree feedback is, the pros and cons of the method, and provide a host of other tips and insights on the topic so you can put it into practice…
What is 360-degree feedback?
One-to-one performance reviews can make even the most level-headed member of the team consider calling in sick. So, the idea of essentially opening up the floor and asking for feedback from those working around them might sound even more daunting.
But hear us out. 360-degree feedback offers all sorts of personal and professional benefits, aiding the progress of employee and company alike in numerous ways.
So, what does the method involve? Basically, it allows employees to receive confidential and anonymous feedback from around 8-10 people who work around them, including team members, managers and colleagues. The broader range of perspectives, collected through a survey, means the employee receives a more varied overview of their workplace performance.
Additionally, the recipient also responds to this feedback, providing an extra layer of depth that gives them the chance to review how they feel about their work compared to others’ perceptions. The approach highlights strengths, weaknesses and areas to improve, which can then be used to create a tailored development plan
What are the pros and cons of 360-degree feedback?
When implemented properly, 360-degree feedback can benefit employees, their team and the organisation in the following ways:
Greater employee self-awareness
By highlighting the differences between how they see themselves and how others see them, the system can have a positive effect on the recipient’s self-awareness. Post-feedback, they’ll be more in tune with their personality, strengths, weaknesses and motivations.
Equipped with this information, they can then make the necessary adjustments to things like communication, teamwork and other important aspects of the workplace.
A variety of opinions
Since it’s coming from such a varied number of sources, the feedback tends to be more valuable and well-rounded than the thoughts and opinions of a single manager. And if several colleagues “agree” on certain answers, then it provides a more definitive picture of an employee’s performance – whether it’s positive or negative.
Helps to reinforce company values
For both recipient and respondent, the survey serves as a reminder of what the company holds dear in terms of behaviours and values. This allows everyone involved to better understand their own approaches to work and performance in relation to these values.
Greater insight into career development
Multi-rater feedback can clue the recipient in on what they need to do to progress in their career. This information not only informs their own development plan, but it also strengthens the organisation’s approach to employee growth and learning – optimising their recruitment and staff retention efforts in the process.
A safe, confidential environment
Certain feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable to share. Because of its high level of anonymity, the 360 system lets colleagues and superiors provide feedback that otherwise may not have been made known.
Highlights organisational gaps
When patterns and constants begin to appear, it may identify weak points which a company can then address by organising training sessions, paying for courses and other learning opportunities for its employees.
The system is not without its disadvantages, however. If 360-degree feedback is implemented poorly, then the following can happen…
Too much focus on the negatives
Certain organisations may fixate on an employee’s weaknesses at the expense of their strengths. Too much focus on the recipient’s weaknesses, without highlighting or celebrating their strengths, can be discouraging and demoralising. It’s been said that the best managers focus on strengths; don’t make the mistake of placing too much emphasis on negatives when creating a development plan.
Feedback can be insufficient
While the element of anonymity has its benefits, it also means recipients can’t follow up on specific points if they need clarification. And if the feedback is unclear and ambiguous, it won’t just be the recipient who’ll be left scratching their heads. As their manager, you’ll have to analyse this murky feedback to cobble a development plan together, too.
Lack of connection to the company
To improve its effectiveness, the 360 system must be linked to the overall strategic aims of the company. If the feedback doesn’t support the company’s directions and requirements (such as expected competencies and job duties), then it’s unlikely to provide anything of value.
Ineffective responses from respondents
While the method may seem like a more objective approach, respondents can meddle with their responses in a number of ways. If they’re providing feedback for an employee who’s also a friend, their ratings may be exaggerated for instance. Conversely, if they’re asked to provide feedback for someone they’ve clashed with, then the ratings could well take a dip.
Alternatively, everyone may collude together to make sure their performance appears stronger than it actually is. Care and training must be taken to ensure these outcomes don’t take place.
Conducting 360-degree feedback
If you’ve never done 360-degree feedback before, then your team will need briefing on what to expect. Explain what the purpose of the feedback is, let them know it will be anonymous, and encourage respondents to be constructive and objective in their feedback.
When it comes to the feedback process, gather around 8-10 respondents per employee. Ideally, you want to source people from different levels within the business who have different relationships to the recipient. Try to aim for a mix of managers, direct reports and team members. To bring things full circle, the recipient should also fill in the feedback form too.
When it comes to the survey questions themselves, base them around behaviours you can observe and combine questions which use a rating with more open-ended questions.
Don’t forget, this system takes time to complete. Be sure to give respondents a few days to fill in the survey to the best of their ability but set a clear deadline so it’s given the appropriate amount of attention. You may decide to provide respondents with an incentive to reward them for their participation too.
After the responses have been collated, it’s a good idea to write up a one-page summary along with a more detailed report. In the summary, be sure to include key strengths, areas that need improving and gaps of perception comparing what the employee responded with versus what respondents noted. The detailed report should form the basis for the employee’s performance development plan.
360-degree feedback doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Be sure to schedule in follow ups to see how recipients are responding to the feedback and working towards the behavioural changes noted in their development plan.
Example 360-degree feedback questions
So, what kinds of questions should you include in your survey?
Since every company and employee is different, there are no specific questions that are going to suit every organisation. Try thinking about key behaviours, skills and attributes that are important to your teams, and the company as a whole, and create questions around what you identify.
Categorising your questions also helps with forming the basis of your survey and has the added benefit of quantifying the recipient’s performance when it comes time to discuss the feedback. Questions normally fall into the following categories:
• Management and leadership
• Communication and interpersonal skills
• Team working and collaboration
• Alignment with business goals and values
A combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions works well. The closed-ended questions should have a specific answer range (such as yes/no or 1-10), which makes collecting data and making comparisons easier.
Open-ended questions let the recipient know the reasons behind the results, providing extra details which open-ended questions don’t necessarily make clear. You can give closed-ended questions added value by asking something like “please elaborate on your answer?” or “what made you answer the question in this way?”
Questions featured in your survey might include:
• Do other team members look to the employee if they need help?
• Does the employee demonstrate leadership on a daily basis?
• Does the employee listen to their team members’ suggestions?
• Does the employee communicate with managers/peers/customers?
• Does the employee regularly have conflict with others?
• Does the employee collaborate effectively within the team?
• Does the employee suggest effective solutions when problems arise?
• Can the employee evaluate problems and understand the impacts they can have?
• Does the employee engage with the company’s organisational goals?
• Does the employee demonstrate the company values of [x], [y] and [z] on a daily basis?
• Is the employee difficult to motivate when faced with tasks?
• Does the employee motivate others when collaborating?
More open-ended questions might include:
• What would make this employee more effective in their role?
• What strengths/weaknesses do you feel this employee has?
• Are there any other attributes not covered here do you feel this employee has?
A 360-degree feedback template
To get you started, we’ve provided an example template that focuses on a decision-making attribute you may want to use or adapt when evaluating employees.
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