Your own 360° feedback business – 10 Keys To Success

In today’s economic climate organisations are more discerning than ever about how they spend their training budgets, development interventions have to deliver real, measurable results preferably with bottom line cost savings or profit increases attached. This can sometimes be difficult for coaches and L&D professionals to demonstrate. Using 360 feedback helps you offer more targeted and measurable solutions for your clients. This report describes how providing 360 feedback for your clients can act as a turnkey business. A system which is ready to go and can help identify and secure further work from its outcomes. This report outlines the 10 keys to building your business using 360° feedback.

What is 360 feedback?

360° feedback is a process where an individual gets feedback on his/her performance from a number of people with whom he/she works closely and who know him/ her well enough to comment on their behaviours and skills.

The individual seeking feedback (or appraisee) typically completes a self-perception questionnaire, and then asks around 8-10 others to give then feedback using the same set of questions. This is most easily facilitated using and online system such as Appraisal360. People giving feedback (respondents) are usually arranged into groups depending on the relationship they have with the appraisee; for example senior, peer, junior, and client. This gives the appraisee a much more rounded picture of his /her performance particularly in complex organisations where the appraisee is part of several teams or works autonomously and the line manager may not fully understand the contribution he / she makes. (CIPD 2011)

The 360 feedback questionnaire usually comprises a set of questions relevant to the appraisee’s role. It is an excellent way of measuring behaviour and interpersonal skills as well as role specific functions. 360° feedback is not always the best way of measuring hard performance targets and very technical competencies where there is only a right or wrong way.

The best way to collect 360° feedback is to use a scale with which people are familiar; for example the Likert scale, a graded response scale such as a 1-5 scoring with a description of what each number means and a ‘don’t know option. Within the 360° questionnaire respondents should also have the opportunity to provide free text comments.

This information is compiled into a report which shows average feedback for each competency area; and actual scores for each behaviour measured, as well as free text comments; see an example. These reports should be clear enough for the appraisee to understand and use unaided, but are much more powerful when they form the basis of a facilitated feedback session. This is where an coach, consultant or learning and development specialist trained in 360° feedback really adds value to the 360 process.

Why use 360 feedback?

Unlike some psychometric interventions, 360° feedback is based on questions relevant to the appraisee’s role and give real perceptions from real people whose opinions matter to the appraisee. This makes 360 feedback an extremely powerful process for the individual undertaking it. It is a process that should be undertaken with care, planning and organisational engagement.

For the appraisee 360° feedback increases self awareness, it identifies areas of strength and where small enhancements can make big differences. 360° feedback can also help the appraisee to identify difference between weaker areas which are not significant to their role i.e. allowable weakness; and weak areas where some change would have a significant impact, i.e. limiting weaknesses. A properly facilitated feedback meeting allows the appraisee to work through their feedback and form an action plan for their development. This can be both motivating and empowering.

For the organisation effective 360° feedback identifies team strengths and development needs, high fliers and individuals who may need extra support. It means development budgets can be targeted to areas where they will have the greatest impact. Evidence also suggests 360° feedback is instrumental in reducing sickness, increasing staff morale and increasing staff retention (CIPD 2008) therefore demonstrating a tangible bottom line benefit for organisations.

Done well 360° feedback has enormous benefits for team or organization, managed badly the opposite can occur. In their landmark paper Kluger & DeNisi (1996) divide the effectiveness of 360 feedback roughly into thirds. Crudely this equates to a top third, those that ran a well facilitated 360 project with individual support and identified organisational learning achieved excellent outcomes, increased staff morale, better retention and better productivity. The middle third ran their projects well but didn’t follow through with individual development or identify and act on organisational learning needs, this group found an initial peek in performance which quickly dropped off. The conclusion the 360° feedback made no difference. The final third actually did harm with their 360 interventions, typically this group never really achieved appraisee engagement in process, didn’t facilitate feedback just issued reports, and didn’t manage the fear and fallout associated with the feedback (whether good or bad).

For their 360 feedback project to have the effectiveness of the top third most organisations need the support of an experienced 360° feedback specialist.

What is a turnkey business?

A turn key business is an American business term for a business model or “business in a box” in which the owner simply chooses the client group or niche they want to work with and the framework is already created. Simple put a turn key business uses an existing model to create business opportunities for others to use. This framework can be as tight as a franchise opportunity with branding and web presence already created, somewhere in the middle with opportunities to use the framework with your own branding, or as flexible as a framework for you to customize and adapt for your own use. As the name suggests a turn key business is designed to unlock potential and open the door to business growth. The model provides a tried and tested framework for others to leverage in creating or expanding their own business.

360 feedback is an ideal turn key business model, it provides something tangible for corporate clients, its in high demand, and creates outcomes which identifies further work for the coaches and consultants running the 360 projects. This is exactly why Appraisal360 have created a high quality 360° feedback platform for coaches and trainers wanting to increase their presence in the corporate sector by using 360° feedback.

Like most businesses, there is more to success than buying the right online system, and as far as 360° feedback goes the online system you choose is a small but critical part of the process. How you position yourself in the market, how you create organisational engagement, plan your 360 project, manage the feedback and ensure organisational learning are all vital to your success as a 360 feedback specialist and ultimately your ability to gain further work from that client.

To ensure the best chances of success with 360 feedback as a ‘turn key’ model, Appraisal360 have identified the 10 keys to a successful 360° feedback business.

10 Keys To Building Your Successful 360° Feedback Business

1. Know your niche / clients

Many coaches and trainers try to be all things to all people in the hope that they cast their net widely and don’t miss out on any business opportunities. This is a major strategic error, it lowers your status in the industry and reduces the fees you can command. The bottom line is clients want specialists, they want someone who understands their specific issue, their pain, and can offer solutions bespoke to them.

Therefore the first and most important key to your successful 360° feedback business is identifying your ideal client, from here you can start to build your niche.

There are a number of ways to do this, the first and most practical is to understand where your expertise lies, where you already have credibility, and where your contacts are. Most often when you really start to look at this these lie in the same area and with some thought and planning can be developed to create your market niche.

It is also important to consider where your income and paying clients are currently. In other words decide on a niche you know to be profitable, either because you already operate in that area or because you have identified a need for 360° feedback and your coaching / development services in that market. Identifying a need does not mean that nobody else operates in this area, that can happen when there isn’t a market. It means there is scope for you to add value and you can identify what you do differently. You need to know that client group need is accessible though existing channels, like journals, industry conferences etc; there is a big enough market potential for you to attract clients; whether this niche has a need for your services and that are they a group with capacity and willingness to spend money on your 360° feedback and other coaching and development services.

To really commit to a niche you need to be passionate about the client group, it should be an area you are genuinely interested in and you need to bring energy and enthusiasm about the value of what you offer to those clients. This is a whole lot easier if it is an area where you have experience, subject knowledge and contacts.

The key to niche marketing is that it is specific, tailored to one group of clients and that the marketing messages are very personal to that group and their needs. That it why you stand out, that is why they are compelled to buy from you.

Once you have identified your niche area find out all you can about your potential clients, what their problems and pain is. The answers to this will give you your marketing content. Find out also what they read, trade journals, websites etc and what associations they belong to, key trade shows or conferences they attend. This will tell you where and how to market your 360 feedback services. 

2. Position yourself as an expert in your niche area

Once you have a niche area the second key is all about how you position yourself in that area. 360° feedback has a chequred reputation in some industries and with good reason; there is plenty of evidence to show that poor 360° feedback interventions cause harm. The reality is most people seeking 360° feedback for their organisations have had good experiences of it and are familiar with the benefits. This does not mean their organisation holds the same view. Often you first need to convince your client they are in safe hands and there is no better way to do this than to position yourself as the expert in your chosen niche.

Being an expert is all about having some thing of value to say in places where your potential customers go; in other words, become well known in your niche. There are several ways to do this is in a rapid and cost effective manner.

Perhaps the easiest is to have an effective online presence, you can do this by:

  • Joining existing online groups for your niche and critically involving yourself in discussions, commenting on key issues and interacting with potential clients.
  • Use social media to support your business activity, linked in for your professional profile and company profile, twitter for engaging and building relationships and facebook for business pages and if appropriate to your niche getting to know your clients. Use social media management software like hoot suite to reduce time commitment and maximize impact.
  • Have a blog and write regularly about issues your customers are concerned about. Provide information about the 360 process and other parts of your service, not as adverts but as an expert would to shape thinking. Be controversial from time to time, challenge assumptions and ensure your potential clients know you are different. Most of all be interesting, create compelling content that leaves your readers wanting more.

Speaking at conferences and trade shows, is a great way to raise your profile and gain credibility, it is usually also an opportunity to either promote your services or expand your contact list with potential leads. You don’t necessarily need trade shows to get in front of your potential clients, if it’s easier host your own seminars to promote your services to your niche.

Write a book or an eBook, this is one of the best ways of establishing your expertise, get published. It provides both credibility and social proof, as well as giving you an extremely powerful marketing tool.

Finally to be an expert in your niche you need some social proof. This is credibility from your existing clients or peers. So testimonials are a great way to boost your social proof, ask your clients for specific testimonials, give them the topic and ask different people for comments on different subjects in your niche. Then use them where your clients look for you, not just your website, but your linked in profiles your face book page etc. If you work with others in your niche, particularly if they are offering something slightly different to a similar client group leverage this, ask them for recommendations or testimonials about the work you’ve done with them. Finally use case studies, most clients are happy for the PR particularly when it gives them an opportunity to shine in their industry sector – your niche.

There are many ways to become an expert; the key to this is visibility and impact. Be where your potential clients are and have something of interest and value to say.

3. Be specific about the reasons for using 360° feedback

Organisations choose to use 360° feedback for several different reasons. The third key to successful intervention is understanding the purpose of the 360 intervention, what your client is hoping to gain from the process, and whether the 360 is the right intervention for your clients outcome.

360° feedback is best for supporting personal development and organisational growth. It offers a perspective on management and leadership skills that is difficult to get through any other method, the very nature of feedback from real people that the appraisee actually works with gives very powerful information about how they interact with different groups of people.

360° feedback is a great supporting tool for annual appraisal and performance reviews, however it is not as effective when attached to criteria for performance related pay, assessing bonuses and technical performance criteria. Where this is the required outcome an objective quantitative measurement is more appropriate.

This type of intervention gives huge insights into an organisation’s culture, values and priorities, all of which need to be considered when setting up your 360 project.  It is critical that you discuss thoroughly with your client what their understanding of the 360 process you are implementing is, what information they would like to collect, and what they intend to use it for. This will ensure you use the right questionnaire, and have prepared the appraisees and respondents in the appropriate way.

The key to success is understanding what you want to get from the activity in order to meet the clients

4. Planning your project

The fourth key to success is a well planned project. The prospect of having 360 feedback can be daunting, exciting and for some people extremely uncomfortable. Good planning increases organisational engagement, without which it is difficult for your 360 project to succeed.

It is critical the participants, appraisees and respondents, understand the why’s what’s and when’s of the 360 intervention. Good planning includes:

  • Ensuring organisational awareness – If participants don’t understand the reason the 360 intervention is taking place they may not fully engage with it or even attempt to sabotage it. Often managers setting up 360 feedback projects overlook this assuming employees know why the 360 is taking place. Your role is to ensure everyone involved understands the why’s around the project.
  • Dealing with fear and poor past experiences – If the organisation or individual appraisees have had poor 360° feedback experiences in the past they need the opportunity to discuss this and gain confidence that your project will be different.
  • Choosing the right questionnaire – The information you get out of the 360 process will only be as good as the questions you ask. There are ‘ready to go’ 360 frameworks and these cover the areas commonly examined in the 360 process, however one of the advantages of operating in a niche area is specialist expertise. This enable you to develop bespoke questionnaire to meet you clients need. This doesn’t mean you have to become a competency expert or spend hours re-inventing the wheel. It does mean you take what is already available in the system and turn it into a questionnaire using language and behaviours relevant to your niche area. The Appraisal360 system allows you to develop multiple questionnaires and 360 frameworks for your own use so you can really offer your clients a bespoke 360 package. To learn more about designing your own questionnaires click here
  • Preparing participants – Both participants and respondents need to understand what is expected of them during the 360 process. For appraisees this is about how to access their 360, understanding they need to complete a self perception and how to choose their respondents. It is usually valuable to offer guidance about how many respondents to choose, what kind of mix of people this should be and some information about choosing people whose opinion’s they value and who they can trust to give honest and constructive feedback, not people who’ll just be nice. They also need to understand what happens when the report is complete, what it will be used for and what is expected of them. For respondents some guidance about why the 360 project is been undertaken why their honest feedback is needed and most critically what the degree of confidentiality will be. This can vary depending on which rater group they belong to, for example an appraisee may have only one manager; how the organisation have decided to structure the project, and whether the appraisee has chosen their own respondents. It is possible to completely anonymize the 360 depending on how the 360 platform is used and no names of respondents are included in the final reports. It is important you understand the degree of anonymity and can defend this.
  • Timing – always allow more time than you think you need, the average 360 project takes around 6 weeks to get to the report stage. This allows for respondents been on leave off sick, losing the email etc. it’s better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around. If you think it is slipping behind identify this with your client early and solicit their help in chasing their employees to complete.

Like with most projects the key to a success with 360° feedback is effective planning. It is worth spending time at this stage it will pay dividends further into the project.

5. Data collection

The key to this part of the process is all about making it simple to implement robust, secure and easy to collate. Coaches and trainers, as well as organisations, often get tempted to do this bit themselves, using excel or survey software, in the believe it will save money. This is a sure fired way of creating work and damaging the success of your project.

  • Using a good online process – something that is web based and email driven so it is easy for appraisees and respondents to access and use at their convenience. Visit Appraisal360 for further information
  • What it should include – a good online process should include a way of overseeing and administering your 360 projects. It should have a simple allocation process to distribute 360 feedback worksets to your appraisees and it should give you the opportunity to change respondents, send reminders and generate your reports when they are ready. For the appraisee there should be a unique login, access to see an overview of the progress of their 360, the opportunity to complete a self perception and add respondents. A good online service will also provide a helpdesk facility for you, your appraisees and their respondents should it be needed.

6. Feedback reports

A clear 360° feedback report is the sixth key to success. The report design and layout, as well as the actual feedback information play a huge part in the effective use and understanding of the feedback.

The report should include:

  • A reminder of the scoring system and responder groups.
  • An overview of the whole 360 feedback, using average feedback from all responders and average from self perception.
  • Information about each competency in detail giving actual scores from each respondent, colour coded into rater groups.
  • Free text information from respondents
  • Highest and lowest scoring behaviours

Further information about feedback reports can be found here

When using feedback reports produced by online 360° feedback providers it is important to understand exactly what you are viewing. Always seek to get back the purest form of information possible. Many 360 providers have gone to great pains to create attractive reports that on the face of it offer simple information in graphical formats. It is worth paying attention to what information you are actually getting and being wary of too much averaging of feedback. When very small numbers are averaged feedback findings can be easily skewed, for example two raters in a group average 3 but the actual scores can have two completely different meanings when one score is a 1 and a 5 compared with two 3’s. As a 360 project facilitator you will make the most use of real scores from each respondent. We provide these in an easy to understand colour coded format, this way you make the decisions about what feedback means along with your appraisee.

A good feedback report should be logical and intuitive, allowing you to work your way through extracting information from competency areas, different rater groups and enabling you to use free text comments to triangulate quantitative scores. However when you are facilitating someone else’s feedback interpreting feedback reports can seem intimidating and it is worth you undertaking some training with your chosen online provider to ensure you get the best from the information in your appraisee’s report.

The key to successful report interpretation is simple clear feedback data presented in an easy to understand logical format.

7. Feedback facilitation

The seventh key is effective Individual feedback facilitation. For the appraisee this is the bit that really makes the difference between an empowering and motivating intervention and one that has minimal or even negative impact. You can make a profound difference to someone by using your excellent coaching skills to facilitate their understanding, acceptance and actions from their feedback.

Strategies for effective feedback include:

  • Share report before feedback session, this enables the appraisee to move beyond their initial emotional reaction in most cases.
  • Allow about an hour and half for a semi structured feedback session, the 30 minutes on the content of the report and the following hour on what they intend to do with the information.
  • Use a workbook this takes you through a series of exercises designed to create understanding click here for a sample
  • Focus on strengths- small changes here can have huge impact on performance
  • Consider weaker areas in terms of those that have little relevance on the appraisee’s role or well being, allowable weaknesses. It is probably not worth focusing too much attention on these. Then consider those areas that do impact on the appraisees role, wellbeing or ability to do their job effectively, these are limiting weakness and need to be addressed in the feedback meeting and development plan.
  • Coach appraisee to create compelling action plans. Use smart type goals in action planning as people recognize them and therefore it can be easier to use them.
  • Ensure there is a structure for follow up either through you or someone in their organisation.

8. Identify organisational learning and areas for further work

The 8th key is to identify areas for organisational learning. This is best achieved by collating the 360° feedback information to determine themes, organisational strengths and areas for development. Looking at individual feedback patterns will also allow you to identify those individuals at either end of the standard response curve, i.e. the high fliers and those under performing. It may be that you identify different or individual interventions for these people.

This project overview enables the organisation to focus training budgets on areas where they are most needed. So spend some time planning this and identifying where you can add further value. If you can offer a clear solution you are in pole position for further work.

When reporting back to the organisation it is easy to get bogged down in detail, the key to success here is to stick to feedback headlines and themes preferably in visual formats. This is your best opportunity to lay the foundations for further work, be clear what you can offer and what further benefit it will have for the organisation and the individuals involved. If you can include an identified cost benefit.

Whether you secure further work of not at this stage stay in touch with your client, continue to add value, keep the outcomes of the 360 project alive and ensure you stay visible so you are the person they think of first when they do have a further development intervention. Ask for a recommendation, testimonial or referral, this further builds your credibility and social proof.

9. Know your sales funnel

This 9th key is crucial to understanding how and where you make your money. It allows you to focus your efforts towards activity, which generates the most reward. This is best when reverse engineered, so you start with the end in mind. You need to understand what services you want to sell off the back of your 360 project; this is where you focus your marketing activity. Further up the funnel you have the 360 project, and before that some activity to generate interest and potential clients in your niche area. The most effective sales funnels often start with a free or low cost offering to generate interest and gather contact information. Once you identify these tiers of your funnel you can set about find clients in your niche area and attract them to you with a high value for them and low cost to you offer driving them towards a 360 feedback intervention, which in turn identifies areas further work related to your niche and high value services.

10. Get on the fast track

Work with us to accelerate your business growth, a system for success and a ‘can do’ mindset are critical. When you know what you are aiming towards it is much easier to get there. Appraisal360 have the system for success and work with you to get the ‘can do’ mindset that compels you to action towards your goal. The practitioner network, mastermind groups and practical help will really blast through your business blocks. Find out more about the 10 keys to building your successful 360 feedback business  here


360° feedback is one of the most popular development tools in the corporate sector. It can be described as an effective turnkey business, offering a tried and tested 360 feedback platform for coaches, trainers and consultants to use with their own clients. However it is how you use it that makes the real difference to your business success. This often requires two groups of activity; first a thorough understanding of 360 feedback, the online system and tools you are using and the strategies for effective feedback and organisational learning. Secondly you need the right approach to your business or mindset for success, being able to identify who and where your customers are, what you do well, and where your money comes from. From this you create your niche, your expert status, and a clear sales funnel. This second part is often the most difficult for coaches and trainers because it often challenges the way your business is currently run, and may even seem counterintuitive to some, but it is a proven formula that works – not just in our industry.

To support this Appraisal360 have put together a business model identifying 10 keys to your successful 360° feedback business. If you’d like to learn more about this contact us