What is 360-Degree Feedback?
By Timothy Bentley
"Feedback" (noun): Useful new information about oneself, provided through an evaluation by others.
"360-Degree" (adj): Received from every direction on the compass.
A Tool For Growth
360-degree feedback is a tested method of improving productivity and job satisfaction. Responses to a questionnaire, usually provided via the Internet, help employees see themselves as others see them.
Generally, 8 to 15 people provide the feedback. The resulting report encourages the individuals being assessed to capitalize on their strengths, and points out areas to make changes.
A Strategic Initiative
Most 360-degree feedback programs are strategic initiatives. They are designed to support increased competitive advantage, development of leaders, increases in productivity, improved morale and job satisfaction, and retention of high-performing employees. Such programs often begin by assessing the senior leadership, then migrate to managers and front-line employees.
360-degree feedback is used to support initiatives in performance improvement, continuous improvement, the learning organization, kaizen, total quality management, quality circles, process re-design, and re-engineering.
To provide a powerful strategic perspective on the entire organization, feedback for all the individuals can be aggregated into a single report.
A Secure, Confidential Questionnaire
Here's how it works. People who are familiar with performance of the individual are invited to answer a simple, secure questionnaire, with the promise that their replies will be kept anonymous. Responders rate the individual on the skills most valued in the workplace. They also provide comments in their own words.
The Report Combines All Responses
Within a week or two, once everyone has replied, the responses are combined into a confidential report. Generally, it is presented to the individual in the context of coaching, mentoring, or other support.
In most cases, the report is intended to remain private, to guide the individual's own development. Sometimes the results feed into other processes: succession planning, performance management, or compensation.
A Wealth Of Information
By enabling individuals to see themselves as others see them, 360-degree feedback gives them information they can act on, spotlighting both strengths and areas for development. This helps forge a partnership between the individual and the organization to maintain the process of continuous growth.
- Increases self-knowledge
- Encourages continuous learning
- Stimulates individuals to enhance their strengths
- Identifies areas that need development
- Provides guidance for positive change
- Supports coaching and mentoring initiatives
Why Call It "360-Degree"?
The most common criticism of the standard performance appraisal is that over-extended supervisors can assess only a few aspects of an employee's work. On the other hand, the individual's self-assessment doesn't always lead to growth, because it is limited in perspective.
The power of 360-degree feedback is that it collects data from a panorama of points of view. Responders provide frank feedback on the individual's behavior, from every point of the compass: managers, peers, direct reports, internal and external customers, and more.
For the organization, individual growth is only one benefit of a 360-degree feedback project. The aggregated results (or "group report") can also provide strategically rich measurements of their human capital, guide marketing, target training—all without breaching individual confidentiality.
A Growing Trend
In constantly evolving forms, 360-degree feedback programs have been with us for half a century, inspiring remarkable performance improvements. But the advent of the Internet took the tool to a new level of speed, efficiency, reliability, and global accessibility. That's why 360-degree feedback has shown such remarkable growth during the past decade.
However, In The Bad Old Days....
360s were generally carried out on paper. For the person who had to administer the project, the logistics were daunting.
You had two choices:
You could devote hours to calculating (and re-calculating!) endless rows and columns of figures.
(We tried that. We didn't like it.)
Or you could mail out the completed questionnaires to a 360 service company and wait several weeks for the results to be returned.
The delay was serious enough. But the service company often controlled the format of the survey, and even the questions it asked.
Then Came On-Line Feedback....
The first Web-based 360 was developed in 1998 by the pioneering Panoramic Feedback organization. This was the first time that users could control the design of their own questionnaires while using the facilities of a provider.
Responders found it simpler and more confidential than the old pencil-and-paper approach. They simply click on their choices, and type in their comments.
Once the last responder has replied, compiling the reports is effortless. The system looks after all those mind-bending calculations.
And does it in the twinkling of an eye. Being Internet-based, the final report is available in literally two or three seconds.
That means the people being assessed gets the results before their motivation fades. Because the results are presented in a clear and concise way, they have a compelling, intuitive guide to making change.
The individual's report, supplemented by a Workbook, provides the information required to decide on the most useful directions for growth, and to develop a specific action plan.
Now these people can experiment with creative new behaviors. The positive changes they make encourage those all around. Soon the entire organization is benefiting from a rising tide of productivity and enthusiasm.
That is what we mean by 360-degree feedback.
Timothy Bentley is Chief Operating Officer of Panoramic Feedback