360-degree feedback: Definition, benefits, and examples

February 25, 2022 - 17 min read

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What is 360-degree feedback?

Pros and cons of 360-degree feedback

How to use 360-degree feedback

Examples of 360-degree feedback

What is the purpose of 360-degree feedback?

Who is involved in 360-degree feedback?

360-degree appraisal vs. 360-degree feedback

​​Feedback is a key element to keeping your employees engaged and motivated at work. And 360-degree feedback, or multi-rater feedback, is growing in popularity. This type of feedback gives a view of employee performance from different people. So peers, managers, and direct reports provide anonymous employee feedback.

When done right, 360-feedback has a host of benefits. These include strengthening accountability and collaboration among teams and reducing biases. But this kind of feedback isn't without its flaws.

We'll unpack those later, but first, let's look at what 360-degree feedback is and how it can benefit your business.

What is 360-degree feedback?

It's still standard for employees to only receive structured, formal feedback from their manager. And this is usually during an annual performance review. In fact, for many companies, feedback is synonymous with the yearly performance evaluation. 

In addition to this feedback cycle, 360-degree feedback provides extra insight. As we noted earlier, multi-rater feedback facilitates anonymous input from various sources related to an employee. It usually involves eight to 10 people, all chosen because they work closely with a given employee. 

They receive a curated survey or questions about employees' work ethic, work style, competencies, and areas of improvement. These questions also leave space for written answers. This space allows all reviewers to give extra context and specific examples to support their feedback.

Getting more frequent and constructive feedback from different viewpoints can help your employees grow. It's also been shown to improve the employee experience as workers feel more appreciated.

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Examples of 360-degree feedback

Questions and written answers can run the gamut given the breadth of insight 360-degree feedback offers. Here are some examples of the kind of feedback raters can give:

  • Creativity: "This person often seeks out ways to improve our current processes and offers new ideas to streamline our work."
  • Communication: "This coworker has a hard time listening to other people's ideas. They rarely provide context or evidence to support their decisions and instead prioritize their own ideas."
  • Teamwork: "This person helps delegate tasks and organize the team during group projects. They put forth their best effort promptly, so other team members have time to deliver their work as well."

As you can see, responses can be candid or vague. So, once this information is collected, it's essential to review and organize it strategically.

graphic with examples of 360 degree feedback

Pros and cons of 360-degree feedback

No review system is perfect. Just like other systems, 360-degree feedback has its benefits and drawbacks. Let's look at the pros and cons of 360-degree feedback.

Benefits of 360-degree feedback

360-degree feedback and bias

One significant benefit of 360-degree feedback is how it can combat managerial or team bias. According to Deloitte's 2019 State of Inclusion Survey, bias continues to be a big issue for many companies:

  • A reported 68% of people say bias negatively impacted their productivity 
  • 84% say that bias impeded their happiness, confidence, or well-being
  • 70% say that experiencing or witnessing bias negatively impacted how engaged they felt at work

Experiencing or witnessing bias can create a hostile work environment. And unfortunately, over 60% of employees feel bias is still present in their workplace. There's room for improvement here.

360-degree feedback can help employees receive fairer and more balanced assessments.

graphic with workplace bias data from 360 feedback

(Image Source)

Downsides to 360-degree feedback

While there are many benefits to 360-degree feedback, there are still some critical drawbacks that you shouldn't overlook. Creating a 360-degree feedback structure can be challenging. And a poorly developed program may damage team and employee morale.

Some cons of 360-degree feedback include:

  • Encouraging competition, leading to jealousy or hurt feelings
  • Anonymous ratings without commentary can increase insecurity and damage trust in teams
  • Being too focused on weaknesses or negativity 
  • Lack of follow-up and support by a coach or manager to empower the individual to use data to improve
  • Taking a lot of time and resources to garner, anonymize, and sort through feedback

Balancing the pros and cons can help you decide if 360-degree feedback is a good fit for your organization.

How to use 360-degree feedback

Survey questions looking for 360-degree feedback can give managers deep insight into how employees work. Areas of inquiry include employee communication, leadership, teamwork, and conflict resolution abilities.

This information is then often used in one of two ways:

1. As an employee development tool

Such insight is helpful for managers to see where employees excel and to see their areas of improvement. This can clarify if there's a better opportunity or skillset needed for that particular employee to thrive. In short: which skills can they develop, and what do they already do well?

2. Performance management

A 360-degree feedback system can also be used as part of a more extensive performance management system. It is not advised, though, as this can erode trust between employees over time.

Also, 360-degree feedback focuses on competencies rather than the ability to fill their role's requirements. So it may not offer the best data to make an informed decision.

360-degree feedback in action

Regardless of how managers use the information, most 360-degree feedback initiatives follow the same basic steps.

  • After project completion, managers ask team members who worked closely with one another, including peers, and other managers, for feedback.
  • Raters receive pre-designed questionnaires via email. 
  • Respondents anonymously complete the questionnaires. They share the employee's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and wins on the project via these forms. 
  • Human resources collects the data and creates a report showing common themes, recognition, and feedback from the reviews.
  • A manager reviews the feedback report with their employee to create a plan for ongoing leadership development. 

Ideally, this process is a comfortable one for all parties. Hopefully, the employee feels acknowledged, recognized, and less intimidated by the constructive criticism provided.

graphic illustrating how to ask the right 360 degree feedback questions

What is the purpose of 360-degree feedback?

This type of feedback has benefited teams for some time. But its value has grown thanks to this new normal.

Now that remote work is the norm, leaders may not have a clear picture of where their employees are thriving and where they can improve. That makes 360-degree feedback a considerable asset for any organization from today forward.

Plus, 360-degree feedback has a range of social and psychological benefits:

  • Helps team members identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Develops stronger working relationships with colleagues
  • Employees feel more comfortable in an open and transparent work environment
  • Reduced imposter syndrome and related workplace insecurities
  • Can boost employee engagement by seeking input from all levels or the organization

But 360-degree feedback does not only help employees. It can also help leaders make better career development plans. The insight into team dynamics helps managers develop more effective training plans. This leveling up of current employees addresses skill gaps and can boost retention.

graphic highlighting 360 degree feedback tools

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Who is involved in 360-degree feedback?

For 360-degree feedback to be most effective, it has to come from various sources.

Asking people from all levels and teams to contribute feedback for an employee is the best way to go. It offers a well-rounded view of what it is like to work with that person. Plus, it can ensure that employees get the recognition they deserve for work that might otherwise go unrecognized.

A 360-degree feedback program can involve the following people:

  • The employee under review
  • Their manager
  • Their subordinates
  • Their colleagues
  • Their business partners or customers

Typically, eight to 10 people make up a 360-degree review. More raters can help maintain anonymity and provide a more nuanced view of an employee.

After a project, it may be more beneficial to get 360-degree feedback from a business partner or customer. However, during a review period, input from a direct report or colleague may be more valuable. There is usually a self-reviewing component for the employee in both cases.

Each rater receives an anonymous feedback form with different questions. These questionnaires detail what an employee did well and where they could improve.

Using customized employee surveys gives a well-rounded view of each employee. They also better reflect the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewer.

graphic showing sources of 360 degree feedback

Facilitating 360-degree feedback with company culture

Leadership can use an effective 360-degree feedback tool here. It can facilitate getting formal, anonymous feedback from direct reports, managers, and peers.

However, 360-degree feedback goes well beyond using the right software and processes. Integrating multi-source feedback programs calls for a culture shift, too. 

Creating a culture where employees get honest feedback can reduce bias, boost employee confidence, and increase transparency. Constructive feedback, given at the right moment, benefits employee development and career advancement. Positive feedback is also proven to have positive business outcomes. 

A 360-degree feedback process also makes it easier for team members to acknowledge one another. It creates space for additional acknowledgment, leading to more engaged, empowered employees.

360-degree appraisal vs. 360-degree feedback

While 360-degree appraisal has its value, it’s often not as effective or appreciated as 360-degree feedback.

360-degree feedback can be given or received at any time and often is less biased since it involves an employee’s work on a specific project.

A 360-degree performance review, however, is more formalized. It's usually during a review period when employee pay and compensation are part of the conversation.

While many employees find 360-degree feedback to be helpful, they often feel wary of 360-degree performance evaluations. But, that doesn’t mean 360-degree feedback has no place in yearly reviews.

Collecting 360-degree feedback throughout the year can help prepare for performance reviews. When an employee receives feedback year-round, they can incorporate it more quickly.

With ongoing 360-degree feedback, employees can reflect on their year during performance review time. Plus, managers have a resource to recall what employees worked on throughout the year and see how they progressed.

Yearly reviews are a vital time to set new goals and recognize employees for their growth. 82% of employees see recognition as an important part of happiness at work. 360-degree feedback offers more frequent recognition, so employees are inspired to do their best. However, 360-degree appraisals don’t often have the same effect.

Turn 360-degree feedback into an actionable development plan

360-degree feedback can be a helpful tool to foster teamwork and offer employee recognition. This multi-source feedback program can help your company create more relevant and personal and professional development plans for team members.

If peer-to-peer feedback isn't common in your company, 360-degree feedback is a helpful tool. Use it strategically to shift how your employees relate to and connect with one another.

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Published February 25, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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