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.
One of the people who care most about the outcome of the 360 is the feedback recipient’s manager. In our fictional company, that’s Layla, Diego’s supervisor–the “boss rater.” This article discusses her perspective on the 360.
In a 360, the subject’s colleagues (direct reports, peers, and supervisor) each complete a survey in which they rate the recipient’s behaviors and skills at work; then a work group or firm (like us) conducting the 360 survey aggregates the resulting data into a report.
In many organizations, the manager would be invited to participate (and trained) just like any other rater. But Layla is part of a workgroup that hired their survey vendor and made decision about the implementation of their company’s 360 process. This means that she is familiar with the 360, objectives, and best practices. It also means she was able to air her concerns as a boss rater ahead of time. Here are her concerns–and the resulting decisions her team made about the 360 process.
Will her feedback appear as her own, or aggregated with others’? If her feedback is connected to her name, can she be honest? On the 360 report, Layla’s feedback will be in a column by itself (and, naturally, as a part of the overall average). This means that Diego will know exactly how she rates him. Whether or not she is honest is up to her–but if she feels she can’t be honest, there is an underlying dysfunction that should be addressed. It’s worth noting that many feedback recipients have two or three people who might be “boss raters;” nonetheless it is better not to anonymize their ratings as it has a negative impact on the feedback recipient’s perceptions.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider Layla’s experience while she is rating her employee.
As she takes the survey, Layla will rate Diego on all the same competencies as the rest of the raters, such as, “listens attentively,” “follows through on commitments,” “speaks with credibility,” and “delegates to develop staff.” As in most 360s (80%), the ratings are on a 5-point scale. As she rates his behaviors, she thinks about how she will talk with him about her feedback down the road, making sure to think of specific examples. She also considers the following questions:
Who else will see Layla’s feedback for Diego? If the 360 affects Diego’s pay, promotions, reputation, or retention, will she rate him accurately? Who sees the report depends on the company’s decisions for how to implement the 360. In most cases, Layla’s superiors and HR will see the report. More importantly, whether an organization uses 360s for raises or promotions is also a matter of discretion: this in fact is an industry controversy, with potentially serious implications. The majority of 360s are used primarily for development, but 32% of companies also use them for making personnel decisions.
Certainly, when a rater knows a 360 will determine their colleague’s fate, they are likely to skew the feedback they provide.
How can she balance critical feedback with being a supportive manager? What repercussions might she face in working with Diego, if her feedback is critical? Since Layla’s ratings will appear under her name, she certainly needs to be accountable for it in her relationship with Diego. This can be off-putting, but it’s actually an incredible opportunity to sit down and have an honest conversation about performance, with a built-in framework and an excellent pool of other raters’ data.
Will she receive a copy of the report? If so, how will she use the information? Again, this is a matter of choice. The majority of managers (51%) do receive copies of their employees’ reports. For Layla, getting a copy of the report enables her to see how Diego’s peers and direct reports see him, compare her feedback to theirs, and get a detailed picture of Diego’s strengths and weaknesses. This grants her enormous insight into what he needs to improve and whether his skills are being fully utilized. Indeed, she will hand-deliver her employees their reports, after she reads them herself; this way she can better use the 360s as a development tool.
When it comes to 360 report delivery and follow-up, Layla follows industry best practices in order to maximize employee development results. For example, she:
- ensures that all of her other employees understand and interpret the results correctly
- meets with Diego one on one: she emphasizes positive ratings and they collaboratively determine strategies for improvement in the areas that need it
- actively listens to Diego’s responses to both his results and the 360 process
- establishes a development plan with resources, expectations, and timelines
(59% of companies follow this recommended course of action)
- provides Diego with a coach (a neutral party) to further his professional development
While the 360 certainly adds to Layla’s workload, she has no doubt that it’s all worth it. Diego and the rest of her team are already doing good work. She knows from experience that this yearly round of surveys, reflection, and development will deliver real results: her team will communicate better, work more efficiently, and tangibly improve performance.
 p17, Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback, 5th Edition 3D Group, 2016
 P11, Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback, 5th Edition 3D Group, 2016
 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.
 p29, Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback, 5th Edition 3D Group, 2016