360 degree feedback: Definition, benefits, and examples

April 13, 2021 - 14 min read

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What is 360-degree feedback?

What is the purpose of 360-degree feedback?

Who is involved in 360-degree feedback?

What is the difference between a 360-degree appraisal and 360-degree feedback?

Pros and cons of 360-degree feedback

360-degree feedback examples

Turn 360-degree feedback into an actionable development plan with BetterUp

Feedback is a key element to keeping your employees engaged and motivated at work.

Many employees are eager for feedback to understand how they’re doing relative to expectations and how to do a better job, But even though many employees want feedback, they might not get it as often as they’d like. Often, the only feedback they get is from a manager during their yearly review.

Recognition and constructive feedback are crucial to leadership development, and receiving feedback throughout the year from different people can help employees feel more successful and appreciated.

That’s where 360-degree feedback comes in.

If peer-to-peer feedback isn’t common in your company, 360-degree feedback can help shift how your employees relate to and connect with one another. 

In this article, we’ll discover what 360-degree feedback is and how it can benefit your business.

What is 360-degree feedback?

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

But, is that really what’s best for employees?

Getting more frequent feedback from multiple viewpoints can help your employees grow and feel more appreciated. A 360-degree feedback tool can facilitate getting formal, anonymous feedback from direct reports, managers, and peers.

feedback from multiple viewpoints - 360 degree feedback

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 from others can reduce bias, increase employee confidence, and shine a light on the sides of employees’ work that managers don’t see. Constructive feedback, given at the right moment, is an invaluable benefit for any employee striving for professional development or career advancement.

A 360 degree feedback process also makes it easier for team members to acknowledge one another and be acknowledged for their contributions, leading to more engaged, empowered employees.

What is the purpose of 360 degree feedback?

Now that remote working 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 huge asset for any organization in 2021 and beyond.

Since performance recognition programs were cut by 20% in 2020, it’s even more crucial to acknowledge employees for the hard work they do. 360 feedback ensures that employees get noticed more often, even for the everyday things that their bosses might overlook. 

Instead of getting feedback only once a year, receiving continuous feedback from a wider group of people can help employees recognize their patterns, better absorb feedback, and grow as professionals.

The purpose of 360 degree feedback is to offer employees more varied input when it’s most relevant. By receiving anonymous feedback from colleagues and partners after projects, employees get timely recognition and better understand how they can improve.

360 degree feedback tool

Plus, 360 degree feedback can help team members identify strengths and weaknesses, develop stronger relationships with colleagues, and feel more comfortable in an open and transparent work environment. It can help alleviate the unspoken doubts that employees might harbor about whether they are doing a good job or how others perceive their work.

360 degree feedback can help leaders make better development plans, too. By garnering more input on how other team members see a person, managers can develop effective training plans to address skill gaps and help employees excel.

Ready to take your leaders to the next level? Try a demo of BetterUp.

Who is involved in 360 degree feedback?

For 360 degree feedback to be most effective, it has to come from a variety of sources. Asking people from all levels and teams to contribute feedback for an employee offers a well-rounded view of what working with that person is like. Plus, it can ensure that employees get the recognition they deserve for excellent work that might otherwise go unrecognized.

A 360 degree feedback program can involve the employee being reviewed, along with their manager, their subordinates, their colleagues, and 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, 360 degree feedback may be more useful from a business partner or customer. During a review period, feedback from a direct report or colleague may be more valuable. In both cases, there is usually a self-reviewing component for the employee, too.

sources of 360 degree feedback

Each rater receives an anonymous feedback form with different questions to detail what an employee did well and where they could improve. These customized employee surveys better reflect the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewee.

What is the difference between a 360 degree appraisal and 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, happens during review periods when an employee’s pay and compensation are part of the conversation. 

When 360 degree appraisals happen only at review times, there may be an element of competition between reviewed employees and raters.

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 be immensely valuable to prepare for performance reviews. When an employee receives feedback year-round, they can incorporate constructive criticism more quickly and effectively, especially with a dedicated coach

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.

Pros and cons of 360 degree feedback

No review system is perfect, which is why combining feedback from different sources is so important. However, it’s crucial to implement 360 degree feedback correctly to get the benefits.

Offering 360 degree feedback can strengthen your company culture and build trust in your organization. Only 24% of companies foster a culture of change through recognition, and 360 degree feedback can help you use recognition to permanently shift your business for the better. 

Other pros of 360 degree feedback include:

  • Providing nuanced perspectives to help conquer bias in the workplace
  • Fostering teamwork across departments
  • Helping employees feel more appreciated and recognized
  • Improving employee accountability and productivity

One of the major benefits of 360 degree feedback is how it can combat managerial or team bias, which continues to be a big issue for many companies. Experiencing or witnessing bias can create a hostile work environment, and over 60% of employees feel bias is still present in their workplace. 

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

Visual representation of how bias negatively affects employees, with 68% of people saying bias had a negative impact on their productivity, 84% saying that bias had a negative effect on their happiness, confidence, or well-being, and 70% saying that experiencing or witnessing bias negatively impacted how engaged they felt at work 360 degree feedback

(Image Source)

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 correctly can be challenging, and a poorly developed program may damage team morale.

Some cons of 360 degree feedback include:

  • Encouraging competition, leading to jealousy or hurt feelings
  • Allowing anonymous ratings without commentary or responsibility can heighten feelings of insecurity and damage trust on 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.

360 degree feedback examples

Many large companies use 360 degree feedback to provide regular recognition and feedback for their team members. But, the benefits of 360 feedback can easily fall flat in a poorly executed program.

Here’s a good example of 360 degree feedback. 

After project completion, managers can ask for 360 degree feedback from team members their employees worked closely with, including business partners, peers, and other managers. 

Raters receive pre-designed questionnaires via email to anonymously share the employee’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and wins on the project. HR collects the data and creates a report showing common themes, recognition, and feedback from the reviews.

how to ask the right questions  about 360 degree feedback

Then, a manager reviews the report with their employee to create a plan for ongoing leadership development. The employee feels acknowledged, recognized, and less intimidated by the constructive criticism provided.

Meanwhile, here’s a bad example of 360 degree feedback.

After project completion, one employee receives multiple requests for 360 degree feedback and offers constructive criticism. But, that employee’s manager forgets to ask for input for that employee.

Even though 360 degree feedback is common at this organization, there is no fixed structure for when or how it’s received or requested. 

While other team members receive recognition and acknowledgment, one employee feels ignored, even if they received constructive feedback and recognition from their direct manager.

In this case, bias is perpetuated when the 360 degree feedback process isn’t systematically applied.

Turn 360 degree feedback into an actionable development plan with BetterUp

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 timely progression plans for team members.

Plus, working with a BetterUp coach can help you turn 360 feedback into actionable employee development. 

Are you ready to help your employees thrive? Make BetterUp coaching part of your employee development plan today.

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Published April 13, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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