A 360-degree feedback is a process in which feedback is gathered from an employee’s subordinates, peers, colleagues and supervisor(s), along with a self-evaluation by the employee themselves. Such feedback may also include input from external sources who interact with the employee, such as customers, suppliers, or other stakeholders.
The term “360-degree feedback” stems from its comprehensive approach, soliciting input from various vantage points.
Presently, studies indicate that more than one-third of U.S. companies utilize some form of multi-source feedback, while others suggest that this figure reaches as high as 90% for Fortune 500 firms.
Many consider the adoption of the 360-degree review approach to be superior to traditional evaluation and feedback methods when assessing employee performance. When effectively implemented, this approach can yield a more efficient, thorough, and accurate evaluation of performance.
This style of feedback initially found its application in training pilots during World War II and evolved from the utilization of “T-groups” (training groups). In these groups, participants engaged with their peers, encouraged to share feedback in open sessions facilitated by trained moderators.
However, there’s a critical point to emphasize: the importance of a trained moderator.
Based on my experience as an employee who has both received and provided 360-degree feedback, I firmly believe that adequate training is essential for both sides of the table.
You might have heard the saying, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” originally coined by the renowned management guru, Ken Blanchard. However, just as there are healthy and unhealthy breakfasts, employees asked to evaluate the performance of their peers, direct reports, or even superiors should undergo proper training. This safeguards against favoritism and personal biases creeping into the evaluation process.
Even with training measures in place, unconscious bias may persist due to factors like cultural influences and the quality of the relationship between the evaluator and the evaluated. Moreover, if there are potential consequences tied to the evaluator’s feedback, motivations may shift from providing objective input to serving self-interests, either to promote or undermine a specific individual. Thus, establishing a foundation of trust between evaluators and those being evaluated becomes imperative to enhance accountability and feedback accuracy.
In my experience, 360-degree feedback tends to be primarily reserved for mid- to senior-level leaders in organizations, with limited availability to lower-level employees. Technological advancements and the proliferation of assessment tools have made 360-degree feedback more affordable. Therefore, I advocate for its implementation across all levels of the workforce.
When executed effectively, a 360-degree assessment can function as an array of mirrors, reflecting strengths and areas for development that an individual might overlook when merely evaluating themselves.
I also believe that early-career professionals particularly benefit from 360-degree feedback. This mechanism can serve as a strategy for talent retention, fostering discussions about career progression and future aspirations within the organization.
Several 360-degree assessment tools are available on the market, many of which are user-friendly. This means that the individual administering the feedback doesn’t require specialized training. However, my cautionary note is to ensure that those providing feedback understand the importance of delivering constructive criticism with specific and helpful examples for performance improvement. Furthermore, these evaluators should be trained in providing performance-affirming feedback that is also specific.
In summary, while multi-rater feedback can effectively serve the purpose of appraisal, careful consideration must be given to its implementation to prevent compromised results. In my experience, both traditional performance appraisals and 360-degree feedback should be incorporated into the overall performance evaluation process.
My closing thoughts on this subject are a word of advice to those receiving feedback. I recently heard someone say, “Just lay down,” when others are critiquing you. To “just lay down” runs so counter to our culture. It goes against the very grain of our innate desire to defend and justify our own imperfections. But as I reflect on those three simple words, they, in my opinion, represent the perfect position when others invest the time to give you feedback — “just lay down.” I can only add two more words: “… and listen.”
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].