What is 360 degree feedback?

What is 360 degree feedback? Sometimes simply called 360 feedback or multi-rater feedback, it is an appraisal system that gathers feedback on an individual from a number of sources who know him / her. Typically these might be colleagues, direct reports and customers. It is normally used as a learning and development aid and its main benefit is that it gives individuals better information about their skills, performance, and working relationships than more traditional appraisal arrangements based on line managers’ assessment alone.

The individual seeking feedback (the appraisee) typically completes a self perception questionnaire, and then asks around 6 – 10 others (the respondents) to give feedback using an identical questionnaire.

The respondents are often arranged into groups depending on the relationship they have with the appraisee; for example senior, peer, junior, client. This gives the appraisee an all round (hence 360 degree) view of his /her performance. It works particularly well in flexible organisations where the appraisee may be part of several teams or work autonomously and the line manager may not have full visibility of the contribution he / she makes.

History of 360 degree feedback

The first documented use of 360 feedback is from the German military who began gathering feedback from multiple sources in order to evaluate officers’ performance during World War II.

One of the first uses of the technique in a commercial setting occurred in the 1950s at Esso Research and Engineering Company. It was famously used by Jack Welch in the 1980s during the streamlining of General Electric.

From there, the idea of 360-degree feedback gained momentum, and by the 1990s most Human Resources and organizational development professionals understood the concept.

However, collecting and collating the feedback using paper based methods was time consuming and expensive and many practitioners steered clear of the technique. The advent of online systems, however, changed all that and 360 degree feedback became quick, cheap and effective to implement. Internet based 360 feedback solutions are now pretty much standard in commercial learning and development circles and some observers suggest that around 90% of Fortune 500 companies now routinely use it.

Structured 360 degree feedback

360 degree feedback - gathers structured feedback from colleagues

360° feedback works by gathering the opinions of a number of people using structured competency based questionnaires. These comprise a combination of scored questions designed around a set of management competencies (e.g. leadership, communication, analytical skills) and open ended questions (e.g. ”What does <name> do well that you would like to see them do more of?”) which are intended to give people the freedom to give feedback outside the constraints of the scored questions.

The management competencies which underpin the questionnaires can either be from a general purpose set which we provide or designed around a bespoke framework to suit the customer or a specific application.

360 degree feedback: ongoing learning

Once the appraisee and the respondents have completed their questionnaires the results are compiled into a 360 degree feedback report. The respondents’ individual answers cannot be identified in the report.

The personal feedback report highlights differences between the appraisee’s self perception and the feedback from others.  Critical areas for self-development are often highlighted. The report becomes a critical piece of evidence to support professional development planning.

It is important that 360 degree feedback is carried out sensitively and fairly and that the individual should remain in control of the process as far as possible. There should be adequate planning beforehand and support afterwards for the participants. Those giving feedback should be encouraged to do so in an objective and positive way.  The confidentiality of all participants should be respected and the feedback should be summarised and delivered to the recipient by individuals trained in feedback techniques.  Appraisees should always be offered support to act on feedback.

Why 360 degree  feedback works

Over many years psychologists have studied outstanding individuals and identified the behaviours that make them so successful. These dictionaries of competencies have been refined by use in blue chip companies, by top class HR professionals and psychologists, and trainers then used to help develop some of the best performers in their class.

Our experience designing, developing and using competency frameworks with some of the most forward thinking players in the industry started back in 1993. With Appraisal360 you can benefit from our experience by using on of our off the shelf management competency frameworks for 360 degree feedback or you can design your own online using our Competency Profiler tool.

You might also like to take a look at our 360 degree feedback Frequently Asked Questions.

To see Appraisal360 in action with real data and completed reports contact us via the website or on +44 (0) 1782 681214 for a no-obligation online demonstration.