What is 360-Degree Feedback?

There are many ways in which organisations carry out appraisals or performance reviews. Different organisations will choose to implement different methods to best suit the needs of their business. In this article, we will look at 360-degree feedback – what it is and what are its pros and cons as an appraisal method.

360 degree feedback is a process used by organisations to obtain information, from multiple sources, on a person’s work, behaviour or performance.

The feedback will come from all around them – hence the term ‘360-degree feedback’.

It will come from many sources, including:

  • Colleagues
  • Managers
  • Subordinates
  • Self-Evaluation
  • External stakeholders (e.g. customers)

So how does it work?

Using this approach, feedback is generally provided anonymously using a feedback form, which contains questions relating to a range of competencies. These are often carried out online or by using special computer software.

It is different to the traditional form of appraisal, where top-down feedback is given i.e. from a manager to a subordinate. The 360-degree approach allows for multiple layers and perspectives to be included, rather than just a manager’s perspective.

The benefits of this approach are that it can allow for more honest feedback, due to its anonymous and confidential nature. Such candid feedback is unlikely to be received in a face-to-face context and it therefore allows people to become more aware of areas of their work or behaviour that they need to improve.

Responses are marked on a ratings scale but there is also opportunity to include qualitative comments too.

The feedback provided is subjective and may cover areas such as leadership and teamworking skills. It is not used to assess objective aspects of job performance such as attendance levels, qualification attainments, productivity etc., which are measurable through quantifiable methods.

The results of the surveys are used to inform people’s understandings of their own strengths and weaknesses. It also allows individuals to review how their perceptions of themselves compare with how other people view them, which may be useful for their development by helping them become more self-aware.

The feedback generated from this method can be used to create development plans, where specific targets can be set.

However, as with any review method, there are potential negatives to be aware of.

For instance, there is a danger that too much focus may be made on the weaknesses highlighted in the 360-degree reports than an individual’s strengths and criticisms may not always be constructive. Comments may be made that are of a personal or sensitive nature, which can cause anger, mistrust and upset between colleagues. Making comments of a particularly personal nature should be discouraged.

Similarly, the ratings that colleagues provide each other may not be reliable or fair. For example, colleagues who are friends may award each other high marks, whereas colleagues who are rivals could take advantage of the anonymity and award only low marks.

Subordinates who ‘have an axe to grind’ against a manager may likewise give a less than favourable report, even if they do not deserve it.

Also, the length of time that people have known each other and worked together can affect people’s understanding and appreciation of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

The system will only work if managers and staff commit to creating and adhering to a professional development plan informed by the 360-degree feedback.

Periodic reviews need to be made to monitor progress and change – it is important to ensure that these are carried out.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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