How to Implement a 360-degree Feedback Process in 10 Steps

Implementing an effective 360 degree feedback process, from choosing the best tools to applying the relevant mindset

360-degree feedback is a valuable addition to the overall practice of gathering feedback related to an employee’s performance and development. While manager-to-employee feedback is essential (and should be conducted as part of an ongoing process that includes real-time performance feedback), 360-degree feedback introduces additional information from peers which might otherwise be missed.

As Maury Peiperl outlines in his article for Harvard Business Review, Getting 360 Degree Feedback Right:

“Companies that have success with these programs tend to be open to learning and willing to experiment. They are led by executives who are direct about the expected benefits as well as the challenges and who actively demonstrate support for the process. By laying themselves open to praise and criticism from all directions and inviting others to do the same, they guide their organizations to new capacities for continuous improvement.”

Effective 360-degree feedback programs can bring a range of benefits:

  • Promoting dialogue about performance and development throughout the company
  • Acting as a strong launching point for more effective professional development
  • Improving confidence and boosts employee morale
  • Clarifying strengths and weaknesses which otherwise might not be acknowledged
  • Increasing reciprocity by encouraging constructive feedback

1. Plan your objectives and the competencies you want to measure

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.

Pablo Picasso, artist

When starting a new 360-degree feedback process, you need to determine the core objectives you want to achieve. Typically this process should focus on an employee’s personal and professional development, with the aim of helping them achieve goals related to these concerns.

Next, define the key competencies, values and behaviours you want to evaluate, whether these relate to organizational values or competencies specific to the employee’s role. Leadership competencies such as problem-solving and strategic thinking are other factors worth considering since these are universally positive traits to develop.

2. Define how you want to rate the feedback

Once the objectives and competencies have been determined, the next phase is to establish the rating method to be used when gathering feedback. Performance management tools offer versatile solutions to this process, allowing managers and HR leaders to choose the rating scale most appropriate for the situation.

Some examples of the rating scales you can use as part of a 360-degree feedback process include:

3-Score Rating

This simple rating system allows users to rate employee performance as either unacceptable, meeting expectations, or exceeding expectations.

Customer Scorings

360-degree feedback isn’t necessarily limited to an internal process within the organization. Customer scores rating their experience on a scale from poor to great can help business leaders analyse employee performance in a wider context.

IDP 1-5 Scores

This rating allows respondents to score people on a sliding scale of performance, from needing improvement and requiring development, to exceeding expectations and delivering exceptional work.

A comprehensive performance management suite allows users to add a scoring template of their own. This makes it easy to tailor the ratings to suit the specific requirements of the 360-degree feedback program.

3. Outline the content of the questionnaire 

The type of questions featured in 360-degree feedback will vary depending on the roles and responsibilities of the employee in question, and the aspect of development the feedback relates to. Questions regarding the performance of a new hire who has reached the end of his or her probationary period will be significantly different to the questions asked relating to a long-term employee reaching their annual appraisal.

With that said, there are a range of generic questions which you can include in 360-degree feedback that are appropriate for a wide range of circumstances. 

For example, consider including the following open-ended questions:

  • What are the employee’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is something this employee should do more or less of?
  • How effectively does the employee manage their time and meet their deadlines?
  • How would you describe this employee in three or four words?
  • What areas would you like to see this employee improve in?

Additionally, 360-degree feedback can include closed-ended questions which the respondent chooses from a list of options. For example, each statement can be responded to with “strongly disagree”, “agree”, “neutral”, “agree”, and “strongly agree”. Statements to consider using in this category include:

  • This employee demonstrates effective leadership skills and helps motivate others.
  • This employee communicates well and exhibits strong interpersonal skills.
  • This employee is a great team player who effectively helps organise groups.
  • This employee embodies the core values and principles of the company.
  • This employee is good at solving problems and discovering creative solutions.

4. Choose the platform to implement the 360-degree feedback process

A successfully implemented 360-degree feedback process requires the right platform for the job, and high-quality performance management software includes these necessary tools. Customisable 360 appraisals are easy to set up and scale, and can be applied to a wide range of 360 feedback processes for all employment and review types.

Some other features you should look for in performance management software to assist with the 360-degree feedback process include:

  • Development objectives. Understanding an employee’s development goals and overall plan helps orient 360 feedback questions towards the appropriate topics.
  • Skills. Tracking employee skills helps managers, HR leaders and employees to see clearly their areas of expertise, and fields where further development is necessary.
  • KPI Objectives. Analysing where an employee is currently at with regards to their objectives can help to focus priorities when conducting 360 degree feedback.

5. Decide which employees you wish to nominate for the 360 feedback process

It’s a rare occasion when managers and HR leaders will need to gather 360 feedback from the entire workforce. Any given employee only works with a finite number of colleagues in their given team and department, so company-wide feedback will result in a lot of irrelevant data and create an unnecessary workload.

One way to make sure the 360-degree feedback questionnaires are sent to the appropriate people is to use department and organisational charts and skills databases, which are included in some performance management systems.

These charts, which are automatically updated whenever a new employee joins the company, present an accurate overview of the various roles within the company. This makes shortlisting the relevant people with a working relationship with the employee simple. The addition of a skills database means that 360 feedback can be solicited from those with the appropriate skills and training to make a clear and appropriate judgement.

6. Implement the mechanisms for support and feedback

I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

Gathering feedback on your company’s 360-degree feedback process is crucial, especially if the organization lacks experience with this process. Such feedback will help managers and HR leaders to refine the questions included in the process and ensure participation in the process is optimal.

You should also use your existing feedback and communications mechanisms to offer any support to participants as and when it is needed. This can help identify any misunderstandings about the process, verify the overall purpose and clarify how the results will be communicated to other employees.

7. Launch the 360-degree feedback process

Once the process has been fully established and the list of intended recipients for the 360-degree feedback finalised, it’s time to launch the process in full. Use the performance management tools you’ve assigned for this task to ensure a smooth rollout.

You can use these tools to deliver push notifications to each recipient so that managers and HR leaders who are responsible for assessing the feedback can receive verification that the 360-degree feedback questions have been received and understood.

Consider running a pilot 360 degree feedback process

If this is the first time running a 360 degree feedback session of this kind, you might consider developing and running a pilot process before rolling out the actual plan. To do this, nominate a small group of employees to form the test cases, and work through the process to better understand the overall impact and effectiveness it has. 

A pilot process is also useful for identifying any issues or roadblocks which might negatively impact the results so that these can be fully addressed before you roll out a 360-degree feedback program across departments or throughout the company at large.

8. Generate reports to analyse the feedback received

Performance management software allows business leaders to generate extensive reports covering a wide range of metrics. This data analysis can be applied to the information gathered during the 360-degree feedback process.

Data based on the rating system established in the early phases can be used to analyze employee performance across a range of measures. This gives managers and HR leaders a clearer understanding of how their performance has changed over time, what issues have been resolved since previous appraisals, and any new concerns which need to be addressed.

It also gives business leaders a more detailed overview of company-wide issues, allowing them to identify trends that are affecting multiple employees within a given team or department or a particular category of roles.

9. Use the feedback to generate an action plan for the employee

The fundamental objective of gathering 360-degree feedback is to make a better-informed decision regarding employee performance and development. This feedback provides the necessary context for understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and how well they work with colleagues. It also flags any problems which need addressing that are otherwise overlooked during the traditional manager-to-peer feedback process.

360-degree feedback can inform the development of an employee by:

  • Allowing employees to address performance-related issues not previously flagged by their direct reports
  • Helping employees improve their working relationships with their colleagues
  • Guiding employees to the appropriate training and coaching to address performance issues
  • Redefine an employee’s duties and responsibilities by updating their personality profile and behavioural traits
  • Sharing the (anonymous) constructive 360 feedback with the employee to give them an opportunity to create their own plan of action for improvement

10. Update the 360-degree feedback process to improve it in the future

As with traditional feedback, 360-degree feedback is an ever-evolving process that business leaders should constantly seek to improve. Not only does this process help improve the development and performance of the individual, it also serves to foster a sense of organizational justice.

As a study from the Journal of Business Research explains:

“A sample of 400 employees occupying various positions in home appliances and electronics organizations contribute to this research. The results of the path analysis (PA) demonstrate that the implementation of 360-degree feedback in an organization not only gives rise to organizational justice but also aids in sustaining this justice and making justice an integral part of the organizational culture.”

360 feedback helps employees identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can become the best they can be, both as individuals and as team players. The additional insights provided through this process contextualise their overall performance. Reflecting on the process and refining the mechanisms in place ensures optimal results