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What Is "360-Degree Feedback" and How Do You Use It?

What Is "360-Degree Feedback" and How Do You Use It?

Something as small as a change of perspective could make us all a little better at work. That's what the 360-degree feedback system is all about.

Instead of just hearing feedback from a boss, team members can get collective feedback from everyone – coworkers, managers, and even clients. This gives them a much more fair and balanced look at what they are doing great, what is acceptable, and what could use improvement. Best of all, it's anonymous.

The results? It can really change your team's performance for the better. When everyone gets a say, it helps build a much stronger and more connected team.

Let's talk about how you can also use this powerful strategy!

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The Structure of 360-Degree Feedback

The 360-degree feedback is a powerful tool that gathers performance reviews from everybody an employee mixes with, like managers, peers, subordinates, and even clients.

It focuses on important skills that align with the company's strategic goals and limits them to a manageable count, usually about four. These chosen skills are really important for improving performance at work. I've seen the process start by carefully identifying the behaviors connected with each skill. It seems these behaviors set the groundwork for the questions asked of all reviewers, which also add a few open-ended questions to look deeper into these competencies.

A Leader Gathering Feedback

During the survey, you want to make sure all answers are confidential. This usually means six to ten people providing their feedback anonymously online. This promise of confidentiality results in real and constructive feedback without the fear of starting personal conflicts.

The feedback is not recognized by name but presented as average scores from all sorts of groups – managers, peers, and those being supervised. This strategy helps keep privacy while providing a clear view of an employee's performance.

After this feedback is compiled into a report, it will show important opportunities for development. This leads to a powerful debriefing session led by a seasoned facilitator. The part of the facilitator is they are there to help the recipient understand the feedback and use it to create growth and help with performance.

The facilitator's ultimate goal is to ensure continuous personal development and to make sure that the action plans derived from the feedback translate into tangible measures!

Setting Goals for Feedback

Setting goals for 360-degree feedback is really important because the choices you make here determine how effective this assessment tool will be. You might find yourself wondering why it's totally necessary to set clear, precise goals right from the start.

Here's what I think: when your goals are well-defined, the feedback process aligns perfectly with individual development and broader organizational goals, like boosting leadership skills or creating a continuous improvement culture. If we use the S.M.A.R.T. goals template:

Let's talk about the specifics of your 360-degree feedback goals. Are they complete enough to find what you're actually trying to achieve? To give you a little more context, instead of a large goal like "improve leadership skills," why not narrow it down to something more targeted, like "enhance conflict resolution abilities among mid-level managers"? This strategy fine-tunes the feedback and shapes the activities that follow to develop these specific skills.

Are your goals measurable? Well, it's pretty important to quantify them to track any progress. To give you an example, if you're trying to help with conflict resolution, you might measure success by noting a reduction in team disputes each quarter. Seeing measurable results lets you directly observe the change in your feedback process.

A Person Setting Goals

Then, think about if your goals are achievable. Setting the bar too high can really be a recipe for disappointment. It's super important to make sure your goals are reasonable, especially when you think about your resources and timeframe. Ask yourself if the mid-level managers have the tools and training they need to help with their conflict resolution skills. This consideration keeps expectations reasonable and promotes a culture of growth.

Also, your goals should be relevant. They need to be closely tied to the individual's latest part and responsibilities. Feedback that doesn't align with their day-to-day duties will be impractical – it's unlikely to be applied at all.

Lastly, make sure your goals are timed well. Creating clear deadlines creates accountability and brings a sense of urgency, spurring people into action. Just to paint a clearer picture: you're trying to help with conflict resolution skills within six months, which sets a definitive timeline for everyone involved.

Do you think your goals are SMART enough to make sure your 360-degree feedback is successful?

Picking and Training Feedback Providers

Picking and training a good choice of people to give feedback is important for an effective 360-degree feedback process. I think it's really important to choose raters who have a good understanding of the participant's work performance and behaviors. They should usually be those who have worked closely with the participant for at least four to six months. Their expertise will make sure their assessments are more complete and meaningful than touching the basics.

It's equally important to add a diversity of perspectives. Managers, peers, direct reports, and even customers can give you a powerful view of the participant's interactions and effectiveness. I always try to make sure a representative cross-section from these groups fully captures the participant's professional dynamics and the complexities within the organization. Usually, the number of raters can vary from five to twenty depending on these factors.

A Leader Training a Rater

Just as picking the right raters is important, training them is equally important. The right training will ensure that all feedback providers understand their part in the 360-degree feedback system and the process and possible outcomes. The training should show how to give you respectful, relevant, and constructive feedback that really benefits the participant while staying away from common risks like vague or biased comments, which are not helpful and can even be harmful.

To support this, resources should be readily available to both raters and those handling the 360-degree feedback system. This support helps address any uncertainties or errors during the process. Such a support structure is important for everyone involved to understand their part and the change of their contributions, which is important for the success of the feedback process and, finally, the participant's development.

Designing the Feedback Tool

Designing the right feedback tool is very important when working with a 360-degree feedback system. It starts with identifying the specific behaviors, skills, and outcomes that your organization was built to create, setting clear goals and lining up the feedback process with your strategic ambitions. Picking who gives the feedback carefully is equally important.

Supervisors, peers, direct reports, and sometimes even people from outside your company can give a well-rounded perspective that really improves your understanding of an employee's strengths and areas for improvement.

Next up, it's important to set up evaluation criteria that are specific, measurable, and relevant. These criteria ought to reflect the competencies and behaviors important to your organization and should be easily understandable by everyone involved. Lining up these criteria with the company's goals shows their importance and relevance, which means that the feedback process serves a clear job. When it comes to collecting feedback through surveys, interviews, or online tools, you need a strategy that makes participation easy and leads to honest responses. Surveys are often preferred because they give you anonymity and can quantify responses, but the best strategy really hinges on what aligns best with your company culture and the specific aims of your feedback initiative.

Designing a Tool

The creation of anonymity and confidentiality in this process is important as it protects the integrity of the procedure and leads to open candid participation that, as you might expect, leads to more accurate and useful results. Before fully applying your tool, conducting a pilot test can show any problems with the questionnaire, like unclear questions or length, that may induce respondent fatigue. You can use the feedback from this test to fine-tune the tool's effectiveness and ease of use.

An often ignored but important step is training the participants. They need to understand the goals of the 360-degree feedback system, know how to give you valuable feedback, and understand what will be done with the data grabbed. This training will make sure that all participants are coordinated and fully involved in the process.

Creating a clear timeline for collecting, looking over, and feedback is important for handling the process easily. Setting reasonable deadlines for each phase, from the first rollout to the final feedback sharing and carrying out of actions, helps keep the project on track and shows a commitment to getting useful results from the feedback grabbed.

Looking at and Reviewing Feedback Results

Once you've grabbed all the 360-degree feedback, the next step is to review the data carefully so that it doesn't overwhelm the participants or cause any important plans to be forgotten. This process begins by collecting input from self-assessments and feedback from peers, managers, and direct reports. It is really important to compile this data meticulously to make sure the feedback covers all needed areas.

Moving on to the analysis phase, you'll find some definite strengths and areas for improvement based on recurring praise or concerns in the feedback. Taking a goal-oriented look at this stage helps ensure a balanced perspective, which is important for building effective strategies.

A Person Reviewing Data

Building a useful action plan may be the most strategic step. With the identified strengths and weaknesses in mind, set specific achievable goals. For context, if the feedback suggests a need for improved communication skills, think about options like communication training, regular practice sessions, or mentorship with a seasoned communicator. Customize the plan to specifically address weaknesses while continuing to support strengths.

Applying this action plan will need steady execution and regular monitoring. Are improvements appearing in the areas previously identified for improvement? Regular check-ins help keep the plan's momentum and stress a commitment to continual personal growth.

But don't think about the review process being complete just yet. Follow-ups are important for changing the action plan as needed and adapting to new skills and changes in the work environment. This iterative strategy will make sure that feedback continues to create personal development rather than being seen as a sporadic check-in. Each adjustment shows that improvement is regular and often will need fine-tuning of both goals and strategies.

So what should you do to make sure that the feedback you give is constructive and creates a positive, proactive culture? It all comes down to how you present the feedback and how you encourage participants to engage with their results.

What Change Does Feedback Have?

How does 360-degree feedback actually work in real offices? How can companies use this system? One thing I've seen is that this review system really influences job performance and growth. It has a powerful, balanced view of an employee's skills, pulling in opinions from coworkers, bosses, direct reports, and sometimes even customers. It also helps reduce bias.

But what comes next after checking this feedback? Understanding what employees need from 360-degree feedback is just the beginning.

It has to be connected with definite actions and training sessions that build on the plans and the feedback provided. These steps are important as they enable employees to recognize the areas they need help in and work on improving those skills. Creating regular training sessions makes feedback a scheduled and integral part of on-the-job learning. It really improves job performance, which is an important outcome of this process.

A Team Meeting

How transparent is the feedback process to your team, and does it align with the company's goals? Another point that strikes me is that getting feedback from a number of sources builds trust in the process and reduces resistance to constructive criticism. When feedback comes from multiple perspectives, it appears more equitable and welcoming. As you might expect, this improves workplace relationships and creates a culture of open dialogue, teamwork, and shared trust.

The way 360-degree feedback focuses on both strengths and areas for improvement presents a balanced strategy to acknowledge achievements and find opportunities for growth. Maintaining this balance is important to sustain motivation and encourage continual development. Are you creating your feedback processes to push for continuous growth?

Help with Your Employee and Organizational Development

I've seen how important 360-degree feedback is for improving both personal and organizational growth. This system acts as a mirror reflecting different perspectives on employee performance and connects individual goals with the broader aims of the company. It begins by creating some very clear strategic goals and picking the right people to give you feedback. It's also important to pay attention to making outcomes clear and useful.

To make this system work, you'll need a well-thought-out strategy like applying targeted training to make sure the feedback is clear and effective. Keeping the feedback process updated is important for maintaining its relevance and efficiency.

When feedback is consistently integrated into development plans, I have seen companies experience an improvement in employee performance and stronger alignment among their teams, finally creating business success.

Leaders Reviewing Feedback

The Legacy Leadership Competency Inventory from HRDQ can help establish or help with your 360-degree feedback system. This tool goes hand in hand with successful leadership principles and gives a thorough framework for pinpointing leadership skills and creating a leadership-centric culture. It is available in print and online. Built around the Five Best Practices of the "being" and "doing" of leadership, it can be an excellent starting point for improvement in your latest processes.

Think about investing today in both your leadership and organizational culture with the Legacy Leadership Competency Inventory. Turn your feedback processes into strategic development opportunities, letting feedback become the stepping stone you need for success!

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.