360-Degree Feedback: Everyone Can Say Anything

by Sean Ross

3 min read

Multi-rater feedback, also known as 360-degree feedback, is a human resources tool designed to identify and fix employee performance issues. The idea is to gather feedback confidentially and interpret it analytically until an actionable list of strengths and weaknesses can be identified. This process relies on a system of anonymous and repetitive reports from all levels of an organization. If properly implemented, it may prove to be a great addition for your company.

Why It Works

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, leadership consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman argue that the 360-degree feedback process is the only system they’ve seen “that profoundly and consistently changes lives.” Here’s how it works: Each member of an organization receives feedback from a handful or reviewers – managers, peers, subordinates, and customers. By gathering information from above, below, and everywhere in between, the process creates a 360-degree perspective. Many HR guides recommend between four and 12 reviewers. The reviewers anonymously fill out an online report that covers the competencies and skills of the employee. Employees fill out their own self-assessments, too. When done correctly, each employee’s feedback is aggregated and presented in an actionable improvement plan. This plan is presented to the employee as a road map to improve their performance. The pillars of the 360-degree system are its confidentiality, its ability to source multiple perspectives, and (if executed the right way) its useful feedback loop.

How to Implement a Better Employee Feedback System

Naturally, the specific metrics that your company chooses to evaluate depend on your industry, the size of your company, and many other factors. Still, some best practices exist that any business can follow to make its employee feedback system more effective. If you want to design such a process, consider the following tips:

  • Senior executives support the program and participate in it, too.
  • Focus on explaining the exercise properly, including how reviewers use the data to build development plans.
  • Guard seriously against any breach in confidentiality. It is a good idea to broadcast the safety of reviews and anonymity of reviewers.
  • Focus on effective feedback, not just feedback that is technically correct or emotionally pleasing.
  • Design a final report that compares employees to the top performers in their department or field. This should create an aspirational goal.
  • Take precautions to prevent feedback from damaging morale or feeding office politics.

Potential Disadvantages of 360-Degree Feedback

There are three frequent complaints about the 360-degree feedback system:

  1. Potential loss of morale
  2. May exacerbate office politics problems
  3. Time and cost

Unless done tactfully, your employees may feel constantly scrutinized by successive reports about their development needs. Imagine an employee who struggles at one specific aspect of their job. They may earnestly want to do better, but it can be disheartening to receive the same negative feedback from your boss, peers, and customers over and over again. Companies may focus too much on the weaknesses and ignore strengths; you can easily see why that can present morale problems. It’s also possible to guard against negative feedback loops and over-correct. In other words, a company might fear pointing out flaws in an employee’s performance and, in so doing, prevent the employee from fixing it. Each 360-degree process relies on balancing pros and cons. By taking the right planning steps and not rushing into the reviews, you can better insure against some of the system’s common problem areas. It may not work for every business, but it can create positive results for the right businesses and employees.

References & Resources

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