How to Use 360-Degree Reviews to Drive Effective Learning and Performance in Your Workforce
Are you searching for a way to leverage feedback to drive performance, development, and growth for individual employees and teams in your organization?
360-degree feedback reviews offer an interesting alternative to quarterly or annual performance reviews.
With these, employees get feedback from their managers, colleagues, and subordinates – a broader range of voices than they might usually hear.
But are 360 reviews worth doing? Do they require more effort than standard performance reviews? Does peer appraisal risk people hurting each other's feelings and creating workplace tensions?
In most cases, these fears are unfounded. However, you need to be strategic about it, and you'll get the most out of this tool for employee development.
In this guide, we'll explain what 360 reviews are, how to run them effectively, and the good and bad sides of using them in your organization.
🔄 What are 360-degree feedback reviews?
360 degree feedback reviews are a type of review in which employees receive feedback from "all directions" rather than just from above (i.e., from management).
360 reviews can be a highly effective performance management tool. Instead of just hearing from their direct manager about how they're doing, employees hear from other colleagues, direct reports (if applicable), and others they work with. They might also hear from senior managers that don't directly manage them and others within the company they have a connection with that's not a direct relationship.
Tip: Since 360 degree feedback comes from all possible directions, employees get a much more holistic picture of their contribution to the organization, a mix of viewpoints that helps them see themselves from different angles.
But you can use 360 reviews for many different purposes.
For example, you can use a 360 approach to performance evaluations. Another example would be 360 reviews as a pillar of your employee development program.
⚙️ How a 360-degree review typically works
The 360-degree feedback process usually starts with the employee's manager.
First, they'll configure the types of feedback. A fully 360 review will include all of the following types of feedback:
But it's up to the manager to decide if all types of feedback make sense for a particular employee.
Secondly, it's time to select the relevant people to solicit feedback from. We call this the peer nomination phase.
After identifying and nominating the peers, the manager will send out a request for feedback to each person.
You can collect feedback using a survey – anonymous or not – or even through face-to-face interviews.
The survey will ask questions about their opinion of the employee's job performance and their strengths and weaknesses in specific attributes.
Once done collecting feedback, the manager will sit with the employee and review the results. This sitdown is an opportunity for the manager to share their input and perspective on the comments people have left. The manager can also help the employee develop a growth plan based on their observations.
You can complete this process on paper or with a range of e-documents, but this isn't particularly efficient.
Software platforms for 360 degree reviews are available, and Zavvy's 360 feedback solution, in particular, offers an intuitive, customizable system – more on this below.
🖼️ How 360 reviews fit into the bigger picture
360-degree reviews can be super effective in identifying issues and prompting changes, but only if used wisely. So you have to understand their place in your company's review structure to get the most out of them.
For starters, the setup of your company hierarchy makes a big difference.
If there's a high 'power distance' between those in charge and their subordinates, it might be easier for people to give their opinions of one another if they're used to communicating formally.
In a low power distance company, though, where it's more of a closely-knit network that relies on collaboration and close relationships more than authority, people might not want to pass judgment on their peers if they feel more familiar with them.
If you're thinking of implementing 360 reviews into your organization, there are no universal rules about whether it's a good fit for your company culture or not, but you do have to give some consideration to interpersonal relationships and working preferences.
Considering the demographics of your workforce is relevant for deciding how to give feedback best.
For example, 80% of Gen Y employees prefer to be praised on the spot rather than in a review setting.
If your workers show enthusiasm for employee job satisfaction surveys (where they can share personal insights on working conditions), they'll probably be open to participating in 360 reviews, too.
The primary purpose of the 360 review process is to drive improvement, both on the individual level and the organizational one. It's a crucial building block for creating a feedback culture where people thrive on sharing feedback, responding to it, and acting on the insights it delivers.
The alternative is a culture of stagnation and secrecy, where nobody learns from mistakes, and fear of speaking up stifles debate about how everyone can improve.
The 360-degree review isn't just a one-off procedure, either. Instead, it's a rotating wheel of development that goes round and round as time goes on.
You can liken it to the radar on a submarine, with a line spinning around like the hand of a clock, pinging you whenever it discovers an issue or opportunity.
360-degree reviews help you provide structured, consistent feedback that can fit in with an employee's professional development.
Over time, that's a much fairer, more effective way of getting the best out of your people.
While this type of review does take some effort to set up initially, they're more accessible than you might think – especially with the proper feedback tools doing the work for you.
🟢 3 Key advantages of 360-degree feedback reviews
Providing holistic and diverse feedback
Rather than a single perspective from a manager, 360 degree reviews help avoid bias and blinkered viewpoints.
For example, a line manager will only see employees performing in certain situations, whereas other colleagues will encounter a different side. Plus, a line manager will have a specific way in which they like to give feedback.
In contrast, getting feedback from various sources can provide a broader range of insight.
Highlighting paths to development
With a wide variety of feedback comes a wide variety of development suggestions. 360 degree feedback provides multiple options for how some might improve.
It can also uncover patterns that an employee might not have been aware of.
For example, if several people suggest they need to work on their time management skills, it's likely an issue that needs addressing.
360 degree feedback is also helpful for managers, as it can give them ideas about better supporting their team members in achieving their goals.
Help address discrimination and power balance issues
Individual relationships can become tense due to personal matters or personal biases.
Opening up feedback to a diverse group can go some way to ensuring fairer treatment for any individual. Although not guaranteed to remove issues such as gender or racial bias, it can still be a small part of addressing such issues.
🛑 Disadvantages of 360-degree feedback reviews
They require careful consideration of who's involved
You must commit to getting a diverse set of responses to get meaningful data.
If you only question a few people with close relationships with the subject, you risk entrenching incorrect assumptions about them.
For example, some employees might be really friendly to their teammates but nasty to people in other departments. But this wouldn't show if you only surveyed their teammates.
Tip: Since you want to find out their impact on the organization, remember to choose a cast that reflects that.
They can take more effort than traditional reviews
Naturally, if you're asking multiple people to participate in the review process, it will take a little effort.
But it all depends on how you frame it.
While it could be a tedious chore, we prefer to position 360 reviews as an empowering, fun, and valuable process.
And thankfully, we've got some tools to make the process much easier for you: firstly, a free question template to use and our very own 360 review software platform.
📝 360 review template
The great thing about 360 reviews is that there's no defined size, and you can gain valuable insights from only a few questions (similar to employee pulse surveys).
You can run a complex questionnaire with closed answers on a numerical scale if you want.
➡️ For more inspiration, check out our 360 degree feedback examples, where we provide insightful phrases you can use for more specific feedback.
🔍 How to do 360-degree reviews well
If you've decided 360 reviews are the right choice for your organization, it's important to get them right.
Here are some ways to make 360 reviews an enjoyable and valuable process for everyone involved.
Don't make it too long
The more effort needed to give feedback, the more people will dread it – and you want them in a positive frame of mind to deliver constructive insights. The template above should give you an idea of a reasonable length.
It's important to give folks time to provide valuable and thoughtful answers, but they shouldn't have to write an essay about anyone.
Tip #1: You can always ask for specifics in an additional conversation if anything needs clarifying.
Tip #2: Employees might run out of patience and gloss over the last questions if a survey is overly long.
Don't make it too personal
Encourage honesty and constructive criticism.
Focus on highlighting behaviors that employees can change rather than personality traits that can't.
In a way, this is all about judging others, which can open up vulnerabilities. So don't provide an opportunity for personal attacks or misunderstandings that might hurt feelings.
Tip: Of course, as a manager leading the review, you should be able to monitor responses before sharing them with those under the spotlight.
Take it seriously, but not too seriously
360 reviews shouldn't just be a formality to get through; they should be a worthwhile endeavor for everyone involved.
So ensure that responses get shared and discussed with employees and their reviewers, and make sure they contribute to the development process!
If answers are just filed away right after they're made, people won't see the benefits, and their enthusiasm will wane the next time review season comes around.
Tip: Frame 360 reviews as fun, easy, positive, and beneficial if you want people to engage with the process.
➡️ Why the right software can make all the difference to your 360 reviews
Some managers dread upcoming employee reviews because they think it'll be a logistical nightmare.
We don't believe it has to be that way.
Organizing a company-wide feedback campaign is easier than ever with Zavvy, your employee enablement platform.
With Zavvy, you can arrange feedback in every direction with only a few clicks; upwards, downwards, sideways, cross-departmental, however you want to.
You can define open or closed questions, manage feedback campaign cycles, and use its insights for better monthly or quarterly one on onemeetings.
Our software solution has tangible effects in the real world, contributing to a more open, constructive company culture. Book a free 30 minute demo to discover its many benefits.