Understanding participant experiences is key to an effective 360 process. In 20+ years of honing best practices, we’ve developed a nuanced understanding of how participant experiences affect 360 data, and vice versa. To give you the benefit of our experience, we’d like to take you on a 360 degree tour of 360 degree feedback. We’ll describe the experience from the perspective of each 360 participant: the feedback recipient, the direct report, the peer, and the boss. As we rotate the view, you’ll get a sense of what’s important to each player. Balancing these priorities is both the challenge and the key to success in implementing an effective, transformative 360 degree feedback process.
The Feedback Recipient
Let’s start with the subject of the 360: the feedback recipient. While the content of the 360 degree feedback survey may change to reflect the person’s role, being a feedback recipient is essentially the same for a CEO or a front-line employee. We’ll use a fictional person, Diego, as an example.
For Diego, the 360 process starts when he hears about it at a staff meeting, workshop, or in an email.
He wants to know:
- Who else will be going through the process?
- How will his raters be selected?
- Will it reveal specifics about who rates him, and how?
- Will he encounter harsh personal criticism?
- Who will view his report?
- What is the purpose of the 360, is it for professional development or will it be tied to his performance review?
- Will the 360 affect his pay, promotions, or reputation?
- What support will he have during the process (e.g., coach, HR)?
- What is he expected to do with the report?
The beginning of the 360 process is a powerful opportunity to frame the 360 in a way that benefits Human Resources, the company, and the employee. The way the purpose of the 360 is communicated will influence whether Diego sees the 360 as a threat or a useful development tool. For example, if he knows that his report will only be viewed by himself and HR, and used for development purposes alone, he is unlikely to feel threatened and his self-scoring is more likely to be accurate.
Rating yourself can be challenging, but HR can help by providing information and training. The more Diego knows about what to expect and how the survey works, the better he will be able to use the tool as it’s meant to be used. 76% of organizations provide some form of rater training.[i]
While completing the survey, Diego will be asked to rate himself on specific behaviors such as: “listens attentively,” “follows through on commitments,” etc., using a 5-point scale. He’ll have to thoughtfully consider his own work and give himself accurate ratings by choosing answers that reflect his real-life behavior (rather than his plans and intentions). He might be tempted to inflate or lowball his score, either in an attempt to achieve a particular result, or due to his self-perception (which might be skewed by insecurity or by arrogance). He will need to dismiss thoughts about how his colleagues might rate him and rely on his own opinion. The mild trepidation and uncertainty Diego feels (which may be masked by vocal resistance to the process) is a normal response to the vulnerable nature of self-reflection and knowing that others are also “passing judgement.” In many surveys, he also will likely experience relief at the objective neutrality of the rating items. He will see that while he can’t avoid assessing failures, there are also items for which he can claim genuine success.[ii]
The way HR handles follow-up to the survey will make an enormous impact on Diego’s experience. Effective follow-up support transforms 360 degree feedback from an exercise in observation, to a potentially game-changing development opportunity for Diego and his team.
Follow-up best practices:
- ensuring that Diego (and anyone who needs to read the report) can understand and interpret his results correctly[iii]
- inviting him to meet and discuss results with appropriate parties (HR, his boss, his team, or a coach, depending on the situation)
- establishing expectations for how he should incorporate feedback into his work
- helping him maintain a development focus by establishing resources, expectations, and timelines for how he should incorporate the feedback into his development
Whether you choose to use an internal or external coach, coaching can be a tremendous asset for creating change from a 360. It’s also a great practice to provide recipients with a channel for giving feedback on the 360 process itself.
The feedback recipient’s perception has a deep impact on the effectiveness of the 360 process. From the recipient’s perspective, the most important things are usually: how the data are used, how the feedback makes them feel, and how they can use it for their own development purposes. HR can demonstrate responsiveness by communicating clearly, providing training, and implementing follow-up.
[i] Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback, 5th Edition, 3D Group, 2016
[ii] This is an experience our users often report having with our 360 tools. We prefer to use positively-worded survey items because they lend themselves to development better than negatively-worded ones do.
[iii] At 3D Group, we created a detailed interpretation guide to explain the specifics of our survey and how to read, understand, and draw conclusions from our 360 tool. We also offer workshops and coaching to help people with their results.