Organisational climate and 360 degree feedback


Features of organizational climate have been shown to have significant effects on employee perceptions and organizational consequent commitment. The introduction or ongoing use of 360 degree feedback interventions is an example of how climate influences effectiveness. This research based summary highlights the particularly important influence of the ‘big 3’ of climate factor perceptions of:

  • relationships between leaders and subordinates,
  • organizational support, and
  • fairness

These ‘social exchange’ factors also have connections with perceptions of Trust. The results of this research suggest that these influences work ‘both ways’, i.e. perceptions of these climate factors affect the likelihood of success of 360 degree feedback, but successful feedback processes can also improve perceptions of culture and build organizational commitment.
Avoidance of problems when using 360 degree feedback depends not only on good quality design of the intervention but also on understanding likely workforce feelings and on providing communications that clearly demonstrate this understanding.

A model is presented in this short summary that can be used to create checklists and strategies for implementing and reviewing 360 degree feedback programmes. This article is a summary of the model and its development. Hopefully it will provide practitioners with a stimulus for discussion as well as a practical foundation for two tests we have developed:

  • A ‘readiness for 360 degree feedback’ tool, and
  • A post-360 degree ‘evaluation of impact’ instrument.

The importance of perceptions

This research explored participants’ perceptions of their 360 experiences. Being personal evaluations of the process, perceptions are important in determining attitudes towards not only 360 degree feedback but also towards other aspects of organisational culture.

The research revealed that overall satisfaction with the process was dependent not only on the quality of the feedback instrument and the management of the process, but also on:

  • relationships between participant and manager,
  • perceptions of levels of support and
  • perceptions of fairness.

This particular combination of interacting factors determines the view people build of the feedback culture of their employers. In turn, staff engagement and organisational commitment are affected by these perceptions.

An interesting outcome is the fact that the combination is synergistic rather than just additive. Certain combinations, especially when effective dialogue is part of the feedback, are highly influential in motivating people to use their feedback, stick to a development plan, and make real improvements to their performance.


When this research began, most of the 360 feedback literature covered studies on its psychometric properties. Since then, 360 feedback has become a widely used method (Morgeson, 2005) but even so, its success varies from one organisation to the next – and even within the same organisation. Successful experiences of 360 feedback can have a positive effect not only on performance but also on retention and development. Equally, the process doesn’t always work perfectly and if 360 feedback is perceived as unsuccessful there are negative effects: in addition to being an unproductive investment, there can be damaging effects on employee engagement factors (Smither, London and Reilly, 2005).  It follows that it is important to gain a better understanding of what distinguishes successful experiences of 360 feedback from less successful ones.

The Research

The approach taken was qualitative, the aim being to build a testable theory that could be used as the basis of a predictive model. In order to gather a comprehensive set of views, the research involved 11 case studies, with each case representing a separate organisation.  The organisations were drawn from public, private and not-for-profit sectors. To collect the data, 84 participants were interviewed. The research design provided an opportunity to explore experiences of 360 feedback in different settings.  An intra-case analysis adopted grounded theory to examine the interview transcripts. This was followed by inter-case comparisons that took these coded themes and refined them further.

The Findings

The data identifies factors that made a difference to perceptions about the process. Most were cultural, but personal disposition also played a part. It is not simply a case of some people not liking the process and then failing to tackle performance issues. In some settings there were individuals who were highly resistant yet still able to keep to their development plans. Conversely, in other settings there were individuals eager to receive and make use of their feedback but who at some point lost direction or momentum.

The value of the findings

During the 360 process, however well managed the process is, the risk of participant failure is higher at certain points. One point is at the goal-setting stage after the feedback, and another is during the subsequent development stage itself. That is, you can have an excellent 360 degree feedback tool and process but still get no return on the investment! Examining these points across different cases was instructive when developing the model.

It appears that individual reactions to 360 feedback are affected by the combined actions of several factors, each the subject of research areas in their own right (see the references below). These research fields include Feedback Intervention Theory, Relationships between bosses and subordinates (as described by Leader-Member Exchange), organisational support and organisational fairness.

A ‘virtuous circle’ and hierarchical model, as shown in figure 1, was developed to describe the likely interactions between these factors. ‘Virtuous circle’ because of the positive interactions that develop.

 cultural factors for 360 degree feedback

Figure 1: A virtuous circle model of the factors affecting reception to 360 degree feedback
© P. Morison 2010

It appears from the study that if all the factors of the proposed model are present and working together, the factor that has the most influence on overall success is the availability and quality of dialogue between the employee and the person facilitating the feedback.

Theoretical foundations

  • The design and management of the feedback process

This appears to be a ‘hygiene factor, meriting a mention when things go wrong, but not if the 360 provision was of the highest quality. (For a summary of psychometric considerations, see Fletcher & Baldry, 2001; Morgeson, 2005)

  • Organisational Justice Perception

If people mistrust an organisation’s motives for applying an instrument such as 360 feedback, then they are unlikely to feel positive towards it. They need to see fairness in procedures and interactions to engage with the process (Cropanzano and Greenberg, 1997; Brumback, 2005; Erdogan, 2002).

  • Perceived Organisational Support

Studies by Atwater et al (2007) and Mabey (2001) suggest that follow-up activities, (and actually taking part in them) are critical. Integration with coaching would be seen in this way. (McDowell, 2008).

  • Leader Member Exchange

This posits that managers establish different relationships with different subordinates (Wayne et al, 2002). The quality of the follow-up facilitation is in part determined by who facilitates: if the participant’s boss, then Leader-Member-Exchange is important. There can be high and low quality LMX, and in-groups and out-groups, all affecting the likely success of the intervention.

  • Feedback Intervention Theory

In 1996 a meta-analysis of feedback studies found that the effects of feedback were not as productive as previously assumed (Kluger and DeNisi, 1996). 360 feedback provides feedback on specific behaviour and the motivation to change by identifying performance gaps (Morison, 2010:174).

How do these factors affect feedback programmes?

The general consensus amongst researchers and practitioners in the 360 degree feedback field has for a long time been that 360 degree feedback works best in a ‘supportive environment’. How much support is provided varies across organisations. The model described here casts light on the parameters of that supportive environment and the relationships between them.  The combination of interactions between the identified factors constitutes the overall environment of support perceived by the employee as they experience the 360 degree feedback process.

How do these conclusions help with organisational decision-making when introducing performance feedback programmes or systems, such as 360 degree feedback? Table 1 illustrates a number of useful questions:

Questions to ask Issues addressed

Factor to


Is the 360 degree feedback tool easy and clear? A ‘hygiene factor’ question

Instrument design

How significant is the 360 feedback programme? A ‘So what’ question for participants


Is it fair? Do I have any say at any point? Fairness and Voice


What help do I get? Where does it lead? The connection with organisational or career support


How easy is it to talk with my boss about it? Dialogue and manager relationships


Does this kind of thing fit with what I’d expect to be asked for in this job? Does it comply with perceived norms or is it a surprise?


What does this feedback actually tell me? Is the feedback actionable?



Table 1   A short-form checklist of question areas to address before deciding on the introduction of a feedback programme (Key as for figure 1)


Further applications

A full ‘readiness diagnostic’ instrument has been developed from this work and details are available from the contact details below.

The Author

Dr Phil Morison is MD at Howard Associates Ltd. The research was carried out in conjunction with Brighton University Business School. A full article can be provided on request. A checklist of indicator items for each of the factors has been developed and is available from:




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