360 Degree feedback, also known as a 360 performance review, includes feedback not only from the employee’s supervisor, but also from the employee’s customers, vendors, peers, and/or direct reports. The benefit is that managers gain insight into an employee’s performance from multiple perspectives.
This article will explain how to conduct 360 degree reviews, when to do them, and tools that can help. We also got a few testimonials from people who both love and hate 360 reviews so you can get some perspective on whether a 360 feedback process is right for your company.
6 Steps To Conduct 360 Degree Feedback Performance Reviews
When you think of 360 reviews or feedback, think of the employee receiving the 360 degree performance review as standing in the center of a circle. Those all around them in the office setting are reviewing the employee’s job performance. It differs from a top-down traditional performance review where only the manager reviews the employee on job performance.
360 feedback performance reviews require some planning because there are more steps than when doing a traditional performance review.
Here are 6 steps to implement 360 reviews at your business:
Step 1. Identify the Reviewers
In a 360 performance review, you first have to define who the reviewers are based on the employee’s work relationships. In other words — who has insight to the employee’s performance? Consider 8-10 reviewers with different perspectives on the employee’s work to ensure a broad set of perspectives. Below are individuals and groups of individuals to consider:
- The employee’s manager — Sam works for Liz. Liz should be a reviewer. This is where the traditional performance review would stop.
- The employee’s manager’s manager — Sam works for Liz, who works for Jill. Jill could also be a reviewer if she is familiar with Sam’s work.
- Direct reports of the employee (if they are a supervisor) — Sam has 7 direct reports. Some or all of them should be included as reviewers. This can give insight on Sam’s effectiveness as a manager.
- Peers of the employee in the same department or job type — There are 3 other people who do the same basic job as Sam. Consider having them share their feedback on Sam’s performance because they’re familiar with what the job requires.
- Cross-functional peers of the employee if they work on teams/projects — Sam worked on 2 projects this year, with 5 people from different departments on each project. Consider inviting some of them to review Sam’s contributions.
- Key customers the employee has done work for — Sam serves 8 key customers. A subset of them could be included as reviewers.
- Vendors the employee has worked with — Sam works with 4 primary vendors. They may be able to provide insight into Sam’s work style and performance.
Wow. As you can see the first step, identifying reviewers, may take a while. 360 reviews really only make sense if there are multiple people to review each employee’s performance. A very small business might not have enough staff to conduct 360 reviews. For example, if there are only 5 of you currently working in your business, it will be difficult to maintain anonymity during a 360 feedback process.
Ideally, you want to be able to identify at least 8-10 reviewers so that feedback can be aggregated, and to do that you’ll need at least that many people in your company. However, consider waiting until your company has about 20 employees before doing 360 reviews if you want reviewers to remain completely anonymous.
Step 2. Create Review Questions
Here are a few sample open-ended questions to ask on a 360 feedback survey:
- How has the employee demonstrated commitment to company values?
- How are the employee’s technical skills in comparison to others in same/similar positions?
- How responsive is the employee to customer service requests?
- How effective is the employee’s leadership style?
- How is the employee to work with on an interpersonal level?
- What do you like most about working with the employee?
- What might the employee do differently to improve performance in the coming year?
- If you could suggest training topics, what might you suggest the employee learn more about?
In contrast to a standard performance review, where you may be reviewing work performance, work style, and goal accomplishment on a 3 or 5-point scale (e.g. 1 is poor, 5 is excellent), a good 360 review tends to be open-ended and anecdotal. So instead of asking reviewers to rate an employee on a 1-5 scale, your questions may be more broad, and you may need only 3-5 good ones.
Step 3. Train the Reviewers
This is often a missed step of a 360 review process, and one that can really mess up your 360 feedback, as well as create an HR nightmare (think lawsuit). You will need to provide instructions and training to ensure that the reviewers don’t use the feedback opportunity as a chance to vent their frustration or provide inappropriate (or even illegal/protected class-type) commentary. For more info, review our articles covering Federal Labor Laws, Anti-discrimination and Hiring Laws.
For example, an untrained reviewer who is frustrated with Sam’s work might respond with: “Sam is a young jerk who doesn’t know the first thing about management” rather than stating something more actionable, like, “Sam, being new to the workforce, could benefit by listening more to his employees’ questions before asserting his opinion, and by asking some of the more seasoned management staff for advice before finalizing his recommendations.” The first example was mean spirited, not helpful, and could be considered illegal because it mentioned Sam’s youth (i.e. age discrimination).
On a positive note, some HR software with performance review programs, like Namely provide training and others, like Success Factors, let you run a legal check on the wording of responses before allowing reviewers to submit their comments online. Otherwise, it’s your job as the manager to make sure that the reviewers keep their comments focused on business-related improvements, not personal attacks or discriminatory remarks, and that comments remain confidential.
Step 4. Use a Survey or Performance Review Software Tool
It’s important to maintain the confidentiality of reviewers’ identities to keep integrity in your 360 degree feedback process. That’s why we recommend using a free survey tool like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo that can maintain confidentiality. Even better, purchase web-based software designed specifically for conducting 360 feedback reviews.
Many of the HR software and performance management software companies we recommend, including BizMerlin and Small Improvements, have special features that allow you to do a 360 review.
Step 5. Aggregate the Data & Check For Trends
You’ll want to plan ahead with whatever tool you use to be able to aggregate or summarize the data in a way that protects the anonymity of the reviewers (so that the person being reviewed doesn’t retaliate, creating an HR headache). You could do this in MS Excel or Google Sheets, but fortunately, many of the online 360 performance review and survey programs do this for you.
As you’re reviewing and summarizing the data, you’ll identify actionable trends. For example, if 6 out of 10 reviewers state that Sam tends to blame others, then that’s something you may want to coach Sam on — taking ownership of his mistakes.
Step 6. Share the 360 Feedback in Person
The summarized feedback responses should be shared directly with the person being reviewed, either by the manager, the manager’s manager, HR, or some combination. Always deliver feedback in person, or via Skype/video conference if the employee is not onsite. If your reviewers were trained properly, your data will provide actionable feedback for Sam to grow his career and improve his performance.
Be sure to share both positive and negative feedback to build your employees’ self-esteem and teamwork skills. For example, if most of the reviewers state that they like how responsive Sam is, share that information right along with the other feedback. Lominger research shows employees are often ‘blind’ to what they do best. Hearing it from their peers can boost their morale, and is a great way to recognize a job well done. And of course, all feedback should be delivered with the positive intent of growing your employee’s skills, confidence, and motivation.
When To Do a 360 Performance Review
Three timeframes for you to consider conducting 360 reviews are:
- Once a year, or annually on the individuals anniversary date
- At the end of a project
- Whenever you want to provide developmental coaching/succession planning
Many companies do their 360 feedback annually. Others only do 360 feedback at the end of a project, or when they want to give feedback to support an employee’s development, such as part of a management/leadership development program. Some do standard reviews annually, with the more in-depth 360 reviews only every few years. The best companies provide informal feedback on an ongoing basis, in between more formalized reviews. Ultimately, you have to decide what timing is best for your business, but we recommend regular informal feedback so nothing comes as a surprise to the employee.