360 Degree Feedback: The Ultimate Guide (What It Is & How to Make It Meaningful)
Over three years ago, Netflix ditched annual performance reviews for text boxes and multi rater feedback.
360 feedback presents a chance to avoid the awkwardness and tension of giving one-sided, downward employee feedback. More importantly, the weight of constructive feedback is evenly distributed and thus less biased.
Everyone gives input - from the top boss to the lowest-level staff. So it's not just the manager doing all the dirty work.
But how do you create a system that's effective and inspires growth?
Here's everything you need to know:
- Why it matters
- How to create a working 360 feedback system
- When to do reviews
- What questions to ask
- and much more
🧭 What is 360 degree feedback?
360 degree feedback (also known as multi-rater or multi-source feedback) refers to an influx of responses from every angle of the organizational structure.
- ⬇️ Downward: CEOs, Managers, Supervisors rate their direct reports
- ⬆️ Upward: People rating their managers
- 👥 Peer: Fellow team members (peers) rate each other
- ↩️ Self: Employees rate themselves
- 🏢 And even customers can rate employee's behaviors.
Skills they are rating can basically be anything - ideally your feedback system is closely related to your company's competency framework. This way, it is more meaningful and relevant to individual roles and company expectations.
Eventually, you can ask questions on
- Soft skills (eg.how well reviewees communicate with co-workers)
- General employee performance (e.g. rating each others' overall performance)
- Leadership skills
- Values (how well a person lives the company values)
Some also like to follow the Start/Stop/Continue principle as an easy method that works across individual competencies.
The feedback process can be anonymous, so there's no chance of the receiver tracing the answers back to the reviewer. However, an anonymous process might not always be the best choice for your company.
🎥 Netflix's example offers an interesting case for non-anonymous feedback. Get the complete breakdown in our detailed case study.
🌱 How does the 360 degree feedback method work within people development?
Let's have a quick look at the big picture of employee development:
Feedback is where skills are assessed and people get to know their strengths & weaknesses. This makes it the perfect basis for targeted development plans - ideally in combination with clear competency profiles for every role:
💡 By comparing the SHOULD (Career framework) with the IS (Feedback), you have the perfect basis to fill skill gaps strategically.
❓ 7 Use cases for 360-degree feedback
360 degree feedback is most commonly associated toassessing leadership performance - and often for general performance reviews.
But in reality, it's a company-wide tool for all kinds of use cases. Some are more performance-oriented, some more developmental.
Think of it as a looking-glass self exercise.
For example, you may feel you're an assertive leader, but your employees will describe you as arrogant.
Once this feedback piles in, you begin to look inwards and compare your self-perception and their opinions.
When you realize that the majority gave similar answers, this information will prompt you to create a meaningful development plan.
In practice, companies often use some variation of 360, e.g. by leaving out the "upward" part.
📈 360 degree feedback vs. (traditional) performance reviews
Nowadays, both methods are often used synonymously.
But there are nuances to it: Performance reviews often refer to the outdated, one-way downward feedback prevalent over decades. 360 always stands for the more inclusive and unbiased technique. Both can be used for peformance. 360 as a method can also be used purely developmental.
Who gives the feedback
Many people are involved in the 360 feedback process. Everyone is free to air their opinions about staff behavior, regardless of their role in the organizational structure.
On the other hand, an oldschool performance review involved just a manager and their direct report having a one-on-one interaction.
In a 360 evaluation, there is:
- an administrator (who creates the feedback survey and administers it)
- a subject (who receives feedback)
- and the raters (who give feedback) - Most people at Netflix provide feedback for at least ten colleagues, but thirty or forty is common. Each company can decide what works best for them.
In traditional performance reviews, the reverse used to be the case:
One manager and employee sit together to discuss critical achievements, competencies, and challenges.
360 feedback is often given anonymously. It's a confidence booster for employees who are more hestitant in regards to their employers or intimidated by co-workers. They can be candid without the fear of their feedback coming back to bite them.
However, this is a controversial topic among People Ops experts, and we recommend at least making this decision very consciously.
🎓 Check out our in-depth analysis 360 Feedback vs. performance appraisal systems. We seek to help you answer the question, Which one is the best for my organization?
🆚 360 Degree evaluation: Advantages and disadvantages
🙌 Advantages of 360 feedback for your organization
Improved feedback from more sources
The combination of qualitative and quantitative data in 360 feedback makes it a reliable data source, unlike traditional performance reviews where you're limited to one person's viewpoint.
Once the input is over, you still have to confirm if what they say about you is valid before making any drastic decisions.
Personal and organizational performance development
Andrew has just received the following feedback:
"I love that you try to solve problems by yourself. But sometimes, we all need help from others. I feel that It's important for you to grab more opportunities to seek counsel. That way, we can work in sync as a team."
Andrew learns that he can be such a lone ranger sometimes. With this information, he begins making adjustments to his behavior by solving problems together with teammates.
Tip: Communication becomes a two-way street when everybody hears and understands each other, leading to organizational growth and increased performance.
Responsibility for career development
You are your own CEO, so leveraging 360 feedback equates to investing in your career. By welcoming the opinions of your peers and superiors, you learn new things about yourself and gain new values. You can also put a stop to behaviors that are making you redundant.
Reduced discrimination risk
360 feedback can come from anyone, regardless of skin color, age, or gender. This makes it difficult for subjects to feel personally attacked.
Also, the focus of 360 feedback is on individual skill sets such as communication, reliability, planning, and problem-solving. It's not about that one time you made an unresponsive UI design or missed a meeting.
🙅 Issues with 360 evaluations
The best 360 feedback survey tool is tailored to your organization's needs as there is no one-size-fits-all model. Anything contrary to that, and you'll end up with bottlenecks. This is one factor many organizations neglect when choosing 360 degree feedback software.
Feedback manipulation is another serious issue during 360 degree reviews. Employees will be tempted to mess with survey results for numerous reasons.
For one, some organizations use 360 feedback to determine who gets promoted or kicked out. This is wrong as it can build an unhealthy sense of competition among staff. Employees will feel that by giving their peers good ratings, they'll be helping the rival.
On the other hand, employees who have formed a tight bond may want to give their "friends" good ratings so they can all stay ahead in the competition. All these factors make 360 feedback an unreliable data source, so it's essential to train employees to give 360 feedback objectively.
🕵️ Pros & Cons of 360 feedback in a nutshell
⚙️ How to create a 360 degree feedback system in your company
1. Define the purpose of your 360 degree feedback system
The first step is determining why you want to implement a 360 feedback review program.
Is it to improve employee performance, identify development needs, or foster a culture of continuous feedback?
⚖️ Will you opt for developmental versus evaluative feedback?
Many companies use 360 feedback programs to provide employees with constructive feedback on their performance and to identify areas where they can improve.
🔍 Curious how Google does it?
Discover how Google's 360-degree feedback gives managers a holistic picture of their direct employees and eliminates latent bias.
2. Develop evaluation criteria
Once you have identified the program's purpose, you need to determine the evaluation criteria.
Are you going to focus on OKRs like Google?
Or are you using a competency framework? In this case, what are the core competencies and behaviors that you want to assess?
Or are you taking the Zappos route, focusing on culture fit?
No matter your evaluation criteria, make sure that you focus on elements within an employee's control and behaviors rather than personality traits.
You don't want to create a chart with the most charismatic employees.
3. Choose the methodology for your 360 evaluation
How are you going to collect data? Are you going to use surveys, interviews, or focus groups? A mix of multiple methods?
💡 Learn how to use 360-degree feedback surveys to drive your company's productivity, growth, and accountability.
Now is the right time to consider whether you want to collect data anonymously.
👀 Are you torn over whether anonymous feedback is the way to go? Then, review five cases for and five against anonymous feedback.
4. Design your 360 feedback survey questions
Regardless of what methods you will use, one thing is clear. You will need questions.
Be intentional with your questions. Target the skills that impact your organization most, rather than asking every question in your books. Then put yourself in the raters' shoes.
If your questions focus on the subject more than the skills and behaviors, they need a makeover. 360 feedback should be a tool for personal development and not a way for rivals to air grievances.
Lucky for you, we have many more tips, and examples of 360 feedback questions (both open-ended and close ended questions).
➡️ Check out 55 questions for your employee feedback survey.
💡 And if you need more targeted questions, check out 44 sample 360 feedback questions for leadership and 75 sample self-evaluation questions.
In practical terms, you can run the survey via Google Forms or Typeform.
But once you'll combine different inputs, this will quickly become a lot.
5. Choose a tool to enable data collection and analysis
We are jumping the gun here in assuming you would not want to run a 360-degree evaluation process via spreadsheets.
The good news is that there are many tools out there that can help you manage the process.
Select a tool that is easy to use and can provide you with the data you need to achieve your objectives.
For example, there are many online survey tools that can help you conduct the feedback review.
Shameless plug: Check out Zavvy's powerful 360 feedback builder features: ease of use, friendly interface, flexibility, and expert support.
Zavvy's 360 feedback software lets you combine upward, downward, peer and self feedback all in one place. You can use it to automatically create feedback cycles across the whole organization.
6. Decide who will participate
Are you going to run company-wide 360 feedback cycles?
Or you may want to leave more flexibility to department heads to run separate cycles.
Make sure you have a documented process to get everyone on board.
Another aspect to consider when collecting multi rater feedback, is the number of peers.
How many peers should you involve in rating a single employee?
Do you want to set a clear limit?
Do you want to leave this decision to the managers or the reviewees?
Netflix goes really wild here:
"Most people at Netflix provide feedback for at least ten colleagues, but 30 to 40 is more common. I received comments from seventy-one people on my 2018 report" (Netflix CEO Reed Hastings)
We generally recommend at least 3 and some of our customers are aiming at 5.
7. Communicate the introduction of 360 degree assessments
The communication step is critical to the success of a 360 feedback program because it sets expectations and clarifies the program's purpose. Plus, it helps ensure that all employees are on the same page and understand the importance of the feedback they will be receiving. Effective communication can also help build trust and encourage participation from all employees, which is essential for a successful 360 feedback program.
A lack of communication or unclear messaging can lead to confusion, skepticism, and resistance from employees, ultimately hindering the program's effectiveness.
You can create a culture of transparency and trust by emphasizing the importance of open and honest communication.
Here is a sample email you could send out company-wide.
We're excited to announce that we'll launch a 360 feedback program in the coming weeks. This program will provide valuable insights and help us identify areas where we can improve as individuals and as a team.
Here are the key points of the program:
- The 360 feedback process involves gathering feedback from colleagues, managers, and other individuals we work closely with.
- The feedback will be anonymous and confidential, so everyone can feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts and opinions regarding themselves and their team members.
- The feedback will cover each role's key competencies and behaviors.
- Managers will share feedback results privately with each individual. They will also be able to see the aggregated results for their team.
- We'll use a tool, Zavvy, that makes collecting and analyzing feedback easy.
- We'll provide training and support to help everyone understand the process.
We know that feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it's essential to personal and professional growth. Therefore, we encourage everyone to approach this process with an open mind and a willingness to learn from the feedback provided.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to reach out to us, your People Ops team.
8. Train participants on feedback methodologies and tools
Provide training to employees on how the process will work, how to complete the surveys, and how to formulate meaningful feedback.
We highly encourage you to cover the following topics in your training:
1. The purpose and benefits of the program: Emphasize that the goal is to support their growth and development.
2. The feedback process: Take the time to go over the steps of the feedback process, the mechanics of the process (e.g., how many team members can evaluate a person?), and the expected outcomes. You will need to clarify expectations.
3. Guidelines for giving feedback: It's important to provide participants with straightforward strategies for giving feedback. You can include information on the types of feedback to give, how to structure feedback, and how to phrase their input constructively.
4. Confidentiality and anonymity: Emphasize that the purpose of the feedback is to help them grow and develop and that the input does not reflect their worth as a person.
5. How to receive feedback: Receiving feedback is just as important as giving it. Teach your participants how to remain open and receptive to feedback, listen actively, and ask clarifying questions. Your goal is to use feedback for positive behavioral change so that participants get the most out of the feedback they receive.
9. Launch your 360 feedback survey
Collect feedback from all participants.
10. Evaluate your new 360 feedback system
Once the cycle is complete and all employees have received their insights, it's time to take a step back and evaluate.
Focus on the effectiveness of the feedback program and use this information to make improvements as needed.
You can consider the following questions:
- Did employees find the feedback provided to be helpful and constructive?
- Were the evaluation criteria and feedback questions clear and relevant to employees' roles and responsibilities?
- Did all employees receive the opportunity to provide feedback to others?
- Did employees find the process fair and equitable?
- Were there any technical difficulties or issues that arose during the feedback process that impacted the quality of feedback received or given?
- Are there any suggestions for improving the feedback program in the future?
- Looking back at the goal of the process (set at step 1), did the feedback program impact employee performance, productivity, and job satisfaction? Look for specific examples of how the feedback has been used to improve performance or solve problems. (Obviously, you won't be able to draw these conclusions immediately, but you should keep this question in mind.)
⏱ When to do 360 reviews for your team
Here are other scenarios where you can give feedback:
- Recognition of employee milestones and achievements.
- Support new initiatives or ideas.
- As motivation for disengaged employees.
- Promotion of teamwork and better communication.
Tip: We recommended to conduct 360 degree reviews every quarter of the year. This ensures consistency in keeping employees motivated and supported.
For another interesting approach, we highly recommend reading an in-depth breakdown of Taktile's feedback system. They have feedback related to certain newcomer milestones.
And once somebody reached their 6-month probation mark, they get enrolled into their own 360 degree process every 6 months after that.
🪟 The Johari window
A successful 360 degree feedback opens the Johari Window. This is a tool individuals use to develop self-awareness and build mutual understanding with others. Each pane of the window represents four parts:
- The free or open area: The part of you known to yourself and everyone else (work ethics and behaviors). When you receive feedback, it expands to uncover the blind spot, and you learn new things about yourself.
When you see yourself clearly through honest feedback, you develop trust for others. You begin to communicate effectively and share the hidden areas of yourself. The pane then shifts vertically to expand the open space.
- The facade or hidden area: The vulnerable part of yourself that stays private (feelings, dreams, opinions, and ambitions). It becomes known to team members through self-disclosure. But that can only happen when you've established a mutual sense of trust with the people you work with.
- The blind spot: everyone sees it but you. For example, you might think of yourself as a confident leader. Yet your employees notice the little things you don't - scratching your arm or hair in nervousness whenever you address a meeting.
- The unknown area: potentials and talents that neither you nor anyone else is aware of. You'd witness more of such cases during the onboarding phase with new hires.
Because they are still unfamiliar with co-workers, it becomes difficult to know who they really are until feedback and self-disclosure occur.
🤹 Best practices for collecting meaningful 360 feedback
Managing the paradoxes of 360 feedback
In his influential 2001 essay, Maury Peiperl formulated the 4 paradoxes of 360 feedback:
💡 # 1: The role paradox
Issue: You can't both be a peer and a judge - people are conflicted between being good colleagues and hard judges.
Overcome by: Offer proper training. Encourage open communication. Make people aware of their different roles.
💡 # 2 The measurement paradox
Issue: We want precise feedback. But the more detailed and specific it is, the more uncomfortable it becomes.
Overcome by: Focusing on the purpose of feedback, i.e. to provide constructive criticism that helps people improve.
💡 # 3: The group performance paradox
Issue: We want to encourage teamwork and collaboration, but also want to recognize individual contributions.
Overcome by: Balancing individual and group performance evaluations and creating a reward system to recognize both.
💡 # 4: The rewards paradox
Issue: We want to motivate people with incentives, but the more we tie rewards to feedback, the more we distort it.
Overcome by: Using multiple criteria to determine rewards and making sure that people trust the integrity of the process.
And some general advice
- Never regard feedback in isolation: Feedback without action is meaningless. Directly connect it to development actions.
- People need reminding: It's easy to forget. Help people remind a) their feedback results and b) the actions taken. Help them follow through.
- Don't overdo it with the scales. 5 points are enough.
- Don't confuse 360 feedback with isntant feedback channels where people simply shout out to each other. It CAN be nice, but also dangerous. It's like comparing a nutritious meal to fast food.
- Ask questions very consciously. It's incredibly easy to end up with loaded or biased questions. Our feedback toolkit has a checklist to avoid this.
You want the more best practices, examples from top companies, and actionable advice?
Get access to our free ultimate 360 feedback and performance review guide!
➡️ Create the 360 feedback system of your dreams with Zavvy
Remember that the changes you want to happen don't magically occur once feedback occurs.
Work alongside coaches and co-workers to devise a follow-up plan and stick to it.
Need a hand?
Our 360 feedback tools are designed to help you run the feedback system of your dreams on autopilot - and directly tie it into your career frameworks, development plans, and concrete training measures.
Speak with our experts to get started!
What does a 360 degree survey measure - and what not?
A 360 degree evaluation measures behaviors and competencies to assess strenghs, weaknesses, and overall performance of individuals.
It is NOT the right tool to measure OKRs such as sales numbers.
What are 360 feedback results typically used for?
- Growth: Identifying areas for improvement and professional development.
- Performance: Providing feedback for performance appraisals and promotion decisions.
- Teamwork: Improving communication, collaboration, and team performance.
- Succession planning: Identifying leadership potential and potential derailers.
What are some best practices for my 360 degree survey?
- Clearly communicate the purpose, process, and confidentiality (if it applies) of the survey
- Select raters who have worked closely with the individual being evaluated and can provide accurate and relevant feedback.
- Customize the survey questions to align with the individual's job responsibilities and performance expectations.
- Provide a mechanism for follow-up and action planning based on the feedback received.
- Train everybody on how to provide effective feedback and include specific examples.
- Use the results as part of a larger development process, rather than as a standalone evaluation tool.
- Ensure the survey results are not the sole basis for promotion or compensation decisions.