Ten Questions About About 360 Degree Feedback

David Chaudron, PhD

What is 360 (degree) feedback?

360 feedback, also known as 360 degree feedback or multi-rater feedback, is a method to give information to a person, generally in management on his or her management style and/or performance by more than one group of people.

What uses does it have?

It is usually used just for development purposes, but can also be a part of performance appraisal. If it's used for selection, performance appraisal and the like, it may be subject to the usual laws and regulations regarding tests and other selection instruments.

What conditions increase its chances for success?

Good planning pays off. All participants, whether it is the person receiving the feedback, the describers and any other who might receive the 360 report should agree on the groundrules going forward as far as anonymity, use of, distribution of reports, follow-up, etc. Agreeing on these groundrules may take some time, but is well worth it.

The 360 instrument should be well constructed, following our usual recommendations on this subject, including avoiding 'agree-disagree' scales.

Who should receive this kind of feedback?

Sometimes it is used for the person with obvious problems, though this is usually a mistake. As most behavior of people is influenced by others, it is often best for teams of management to be given feedback, rather than just one or two individuals. If the whole team goes through this process, it's a good idea for the manager of the team to get this feedback as well. Not only does he or she heavily influence what's going on, it provides a good example for team members to follow.

Who usually describes the person?

Usually the feedback comes from four aspects: the person being described, their peers, their manager, and their subordinate. Sometimes feedback can also come from internal and external customers.

What kind of data are collected?

Sometimes 360 data is only collected in numerical form, where describers use a 1-5 scale to rate various behaviors. Though this is necessary, it's insufficient to get needed details. These data should be supplemented with open-ended questions asked on the 360 survey, and interviews by the consultant as well. Without these data sources, it may be hard to give specific examples of problem behaviors to the person being described.

Who should see the data?

There are really three questions here: Who should see the raw data, who should see the consultant's summary, and who should know the plans for correcting problem behaviors. No one, except for the consultant, should see the raw data. There is just too much of a chance for mis-use by someone in the organization.

Who should see the consultant's summary is an open question. At times, we have given our summary and recommendations only to the person being described. We don't recommend this. At other times, we have shared our summary with the person's manager. At the very least, the person's manager should see the person's plan for action, as he or she is the person responsible to follow through on his or her plan. We also have encouraged our clients to share their 360 data with their subordinates, and ask for their help in changing their behaviors. With one of our clients, the CEO developed a Powerpoint presentation in his issues and his actions, and presented it to his subordinates.

How should we plan for 360?

After hiring the consultant, management must work with him or her to establish the boundaries for the 360: who will participate, and in what manner, how the ensure anonymity with sufficiently large groups of raters, to what extent the behaviors measured reflect the competencies desired by the organization, etc.

After the data are collected, the consultant should work with management to develop a feedback plan: how to track action plans, where it will be, how much time it will take, how much coaching is needed, etc.

What are the follow-up steps?

At the very least, a series of steps, with resources and timelines should be established and communicated to the person and the person's manager. In addition, professional coaching can be a useful adjunct. We have also used collaboration tools with our clients to ensure both visibility and privacy.

How is 360 feedback integrated into coaching?

360 feedback is an excellent beginning for coaching, whether the coaching is done by a consultant, by the person's manager, or done together. The 360 feedback data allows us to pinpoint problems, so the coaching that we provide is more effective. The same instrument used to obtain the feedback might also be used as a way of measuring progress.