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Uncovering 360 degree feedback: what´s behind and how employees, teams and your organization can benefit from it

Feedback

What is 360 degree feedback?

Feedback is an essential element of organizations that want to stay relevant and responsive to the dynamic working and business world of today. Most of the time it is given to employees by their managers. Some companies moreover also practice upward feedback, where direct reports give feedback to their managers. Employees spend a lot of their time with their co-workers though. And actually not only provide service to their managers but rather to their customers. Hence, they should value their opinions and feedback as much as the ones from their leaders. Furthermore, feedback from different perspectives will be less biased, more rich and comprehensive than such stemming from only one source. Therefore, many organizations consider or already use 360 degree feedback.

360 degree feedback is a concept and process where employees receive feedback from different internal and external stakeholders of their organization. Moreover, 360 degree feedback also includes self-reflection. Usually 8 to 12 people fill out a feedback form with questions on a broad range of workplace competencies. Those people can be e.g. managers, peers or customers of the respective employee. The person receiving the feedback also fills out the feedback form him-/herself.

360 degree feedback

360 degree feedback focuses on behaviors and competencies more than on basic skills and job requirements. It e.g. addresses important skills like listening, planning and goal setting. But also looks into more subjective areas like teamwork and leadership abilities. In brief, 360 degree feedback provides employees an overview about how they and their behavior are seen from the perspective of different stakeholders of an organization.

Unlike it is common in many organizations, 360 degree feedback should furthermore be practiced more frequently than the annual feedback that usually happens once a year. A good frequency for 360 degree feedback is to establish it once per quarter.

Why you should do 360 degree feedback

Benefits for the feedbacked person

Increased self-awareness. 360 degree feedback is a great opportunity for employees to better understand their strengths and weaknesses. Since it provides diverse insights into how others perceive them, it allows employees to understand and discover opportunities and areas for improvement more easily. The increased self-awareness can help them to enhance behaviors and skills more effectively and become more effective in their roles.

Recognize development opportunities. This increased self-awareness of course is then accompanied by a better understanding of what areas employees need to focus on to develop, progress and advance their career. The comprehensive information employees get from the 360 degree feedback will shed light on the most important skills to develop, behaviors to train and opportunities to grow. By uncovering blind spots that would have been missed in purely manager-led feedback, employees will gain additional opportunities to learn, develop and thus continue to improve. This will in most cases also result in a better individual performance.

Moreover, many companies use 360 degree feedback for new or more inexperienced managers. For them it can be a great tool to understand their roles better and develop faster.

Benefits for the teams

Improve collaboration and team performance. Next to driving the overall team performance through the increased performance of individual team members, 360 degree feedback also helps team members learn to work more effectively together. Well-planned 360 degree feedback processes with questions that integrate enterprises’ core values and specific competencies like e.g. listening or conflict resolution can improve team communication, alignment and development. This can help teams to clarify in which direction they want to go, lead teams to get better at acting in concert and eventually further increase their performance.

Benefits for the organization

Creating a feedback culture. On an organizational level 360 degree feedback can through the multitude of opinions in the feedback process reduce the risk of snapshot judgments. Including perspectives from different stakeholders in the feedback process can make the feedback seem more balanced, fair and accurate for the ones receiving feedback. This will help to create a more positive attitude towards feedback within the organization and  is the first step to create a well-functioning feedback culture.

Increase employee engagement. Using the 360 degree feedback, results effectively will allow you to create more customized development plans for each employee. This will help your employees to feel better supported and facilitate them to work on their growth as well as take control over their career path. The more individualized attention and additional control over their development path will increase their engagement.

Unfold potential. 360 degrees feedback does not only help employees themself to discover and realize their potential. If your 360 degree feedback process is well established, it will also help the responsible parties to more easily identify and promote talent as well as potential leaders. Knowing who to support how and when will allow you to better allocate your resources and drive your employees’ potential more effectively.

How to use 360 degree feedback

On a top level 360 degree feedback is mainly used for the following purpose:

As development tool to help employees create more self-awareness and a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, which should help them to grow and improve.

Of course boundaries are blurry and 360 degree feedback can be used for other purposes as well. As an organization you should be clear about the purpose of your feedback though since a different purpose might require different underlying conditions. If you really want to use 360 degree feedback as a performance management tool, you would need to decouple the feedback from pay and pay raises and e.g. develop a code of conduct or require managers to select the participants of the 360 degree feedback process.

No matter which purpose, to establish a 360 degree feedback process, you should create a feedback form with questions on rating scales as well as more open, written comments. The form should incorporate organization- as well as level and position specific measures. Try to design a form that lets the people giving the feedback identify what the feedbacked person should

  • stop
  • start
  • continue
  • do more of
  • do less of

Also, think of how you want to condense and present the data to the feedback recipient. A standard feedback report or more dedicated software tools might help you with this.

Conclusion

Your individual 360 degree feedback process. There is no one-size-fits-all 360 feedback process. The process should be designed as distinctive as your company culture. Different company cultures and backgrounds might work better with different types of questionnaires and questions. Depending on other processes in your company it might make sense to release feedback immediately or on specific dates. Some organizations will work better with processes where employees can request feedback. Others might need managers who select participants for the 360 degree feedback. Moreover, the anonymity of the authors of the feedback might depend on your organization’s culture as well as on the purpose of your 360 degree feedback.

Purpose and goals. Simply implementing 360 degree feedback without being clear on the purpose and goals of the concept for your organization, will usually not yield great benefits for you. Managers as well as employees should be clear about the purpose, process and methodology of 360 degree feedback so that it can be carried out properly, employees can be trained and processes be checked upon. Only through the creation of the right environment and conditions feedback will be well-intentioned and received.

Strengthen the company culture. A well established 360 degree feedback process will help your organization establish a solid feedback culture. Through the enhanced communication and a more open work environment employees will gain exposure to and experience with the most important company values and appreciated behaviors. Thereby they will lay the foundation for diffusing knowledge on what values and behaviors are really hold in high regard and should be developed further within their organization.

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