How to make 360 degree feedback really work Abigail Clayton

Abigail Clayton - September 2018

Having overseen the implementation of over 20,000 360 feedback surveys across over 1000 different organisations I have learned a lot and seen a lot that works well- however I have also heard from individuals and organisations that have been put off by the poor implementation of 360 projects in the past.

Clearly I am a big fan, having seen the benefits of well thought out and widely supported 360 feedback programmes across global (and much smaller) organisations, but it is not always the answer. The first step in any 360 project is working out if 360 is really the tool for what you are trying to achieve. The first question I ask when a client approaches me looking for support to implement a new 360 programme is "what are you trying to achieve?" There are lots of different ways to grow and develop individuals within an organisation and the same approach will not be right for everyone. A bad 360 is much, much worse than no 360 as Liz Ryan articulates in her article "360-degree feedback is the grown-up version of a horrible game played in middle schools." But it doesn't have to be like that! Here are my top tips to think about if you are considering implementing a 360 degree feedback project to get the benefits from your project...

360 degree feedback

  • Confirm 360 is the right tool - Is the organisation ready for it - is it the right tool to use and the right time to use it? What will happen with the results? How will individuals be supported in their development? How will success be measured? Be prepared to answer and clearly communicate why, when and what you are doing, and the organisational and individual benefits you expect to see.
  • Start from the top - In my experience if the senior team buy into the process and lead by example requesting feedback on themselves before offering it to others this can take a lot of the fear and apprehension out of the process - with leaders not just undertaking a 360 but actively doing something with the results, demonstrating the benefits and taking action.
  • Make it relevant - ask questions that people both feel comfortable and able to answer - ask clear questions that are observable: don't assume detailed understanding of frameworks or individuals roles and make sure your questionnaire is set at the right level and that individuals are asking the right people for feedback.
  • Give people the power - give individuals the ability to make their own nominations (with guidance), and own their report and their action plan. 360 should not be a process that is "done to" someone it should be driven by the individual themselves. If individuals believe that the report and process is purely for their benefit and developmental then they will be much more likely to ask people who will give them honest feedback and also be keen to receive it driving a higher response rate and buy in to the results.
  • Communicate clearly - Why are you doing this? Who will see the results? How will the data be used and stored? When will people receive their feedback and how? What additional support is available to them as part of this process. This is key information that should be confirmed and shared widely before you get underway with any 360.
  • Encourage people to talk - technology is a great enabler but don't rely on it - encourage colleagues to talk to each other - if an individual engages with a colleague to ask them if they would be prepared to provide feedback and explains the reasons behind what they are doing before they get an email to do so they are much more likely to respond, and respond in a positive, developmental way.
  • Close the loop - both as an individual and as a group - encourage individuals to review the data, report and identify what they are going to do as a result of the process and share the actions with those around them. If people know the developmental steps individuals are undertaking they are much more likely to support them in their goals and also provide feedback again if they are doing something with the results.
  • Take action - however you want to do it, individuals need to take action as a result of the 360. Set SMART or even PASTIE (2) objectives. One of my clients wanted to link 360 to performance reviews and ultimately pay. Linking 360 performance to pay does not work, don't do it. What can work however is using 360 to help individuals identify their own developmental objectives and performance and measure progress against the objectives set.
  • Work with experts - either choosing an off the shelf tool or creating a bespoke 360 make sure you know what you are doing, use technology that works and reports that are clear to read. Train people internally if required both in the 360 process and how to deliver feedback or work with an external coach or facilitator.
  • Talk to us! We have implemented some very varied 360 projects including projects such as verbatim only 360, team 360 feedback, multi lingual 360 feedback, 180 feedback, role specific 360, shorter sprint 360s and project specific 360s. We have also advised clients when 360 is not right and supported them to identify an alternative. Give me a call on 01491 845536 if you are interested in talking through your project and requirements.

We also have a definitive guide to 360 feedback available for free on our website.

Learn from organisations that have used 360 well and are prepared to shout about it, including:

Further client case studies can be found on our website!

Interesting articles