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Tapping the Inner Circle: Getting the Most Out of 360-Degree Feedback

by Kelly Levin on

If you’re looking for robust feedback, research suggests you should ask your boss – and your peers, direct reports, Board members…perhaps even key clients. Nowadays, the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies use a 360-degree feedback process to assess managerial performance. Here at Vantage, many of our clients also use the tool to aid in their employees’ development, and more rarely, to help make important selection or promotion decisions. We also use 360s internally as part of our own development planning. No matter the purpose, the primary goal of any 360 process is to provide the recipient with information about his or her strengths and development areas. While there are numerous other tools that also offer this type of feedback, a 360 adds real value in its use of multiple perspectives from various stakeholders. Each of these sources can provide unique insight into an employee’s behavior and performance, and collectively offer a fuller picture for the participant.

Unfortunately, not all 360 feedback processes are created equal, and when implemented improperly, they can be demotivating, confusing, and sometimes even lead to a decline in performance for the individual receiving feedback When we work with clients to launch 360s, we follow a few key guidelines to ensure the information is valuable, accurate and actionable. While not all-encompassing, here are some research-based tips as you think about using (or improving) a 360 process at your organization:

Align the 360 with Your Organizational Goals and Criteria

Our clients often find 360s to be the most valuable when the content is derived from the organization’s strategy and integrated into broader talent management initiatives, such as leadership development and training.  Therefore, we try to gain a deep understanding of our client’s competency model, expectations, and values prior to creating or implementing a 360 process. While an off-the-shelf tool can provide useful input, rooting a 360 in an organization’s reality ensures that the tool asks the right questions, is reliable, and provides relevant, specific feedback.  This also helps our clients ensure that subsequent behavior changes are aligned with the values, competencies and/or strategies of the organization. We partner with Management Research Group to provide 360s that are comprehensive, insightful, and customizable for each company.

Avoid Going Overboard

While it may be tempting to obtain as much detail as possible through a 360, research shows that that the tool is more impactful and accurate when it is focused and simple. 360 raters should be asked a limited number of questions, all of which are directly tied to the organization’s competency model. Questions should be specific, to the point, and use clear/actionable language. A common mistake is to create items that use double-barreled language (e.g., asking a rater to respond to the item: “This person is relationship-oriented and influential”). These types of questions can be confusing for the rater and make it difficult to interpret results. In the above example, it would be hard to say whether the final rating was in relation to the target individual’s skill at building relationships or ability to influence (two related but distinct concepts).

Translate Awareness Into Action

Perhaps one of the most common pitfalls of a 360 process is lack of behavior change once feedback has been delivered. A 360 can be a valuable tool for self-awareness, but it also begs the question: “What’s next?” It’s important that the organization reinforces the behavior change and provides a supportive environment for employees to work on their development.

  • Use goal-setting theory to help participants synthesize results. They should be encouraged to identify key takeaways, establish core goals, and create a tangible action plan to address their goals. Also remind participants that it’s important to identify ways to reinforce and leverage strengths.
  • Hold participants accountable for progress by instituting regular follow-up and check-ins (either with an external coach or internal manager). Recognize participants for positive changes and provide continued advice for development.
  • Seek senior management support to create and maintain a feedback culture that creates awareness coupled with accountability for change. As noted above, consider integrating the 360 process into broader talent management initiatives.
  • Consider repeating the 360-process one to two years later. This creates a mechanism to evaluate progress and make adjustments as needed.

How does your organization use 360s? What are some best practices you have used in the past to ensure a successful 360 process? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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