Ten tips for a successful 360-degree feedback project
360-degree feedback can significantly benefit individuals and organisations, delivering valuable insights around individual and collective strengths and areas for development. However, poorly run 360 projects can not only fail to realise these benefits but may result in negative impacts to individuals and teams. Below are our 10 tips for running a successful 360-degree feedback project to maximise the value of 360s within your organisation:
1. Be clear on the purpose of the 360 and communicate it –
Is the 360 for personal development or will it feed into wider performance management and evaluation activities? Providing this clarity should reduce the anxiety or uncertainty that feedback recipients might feel about the process. Additionally, it will also ensure that potential raters understand the intention of 360 and how their ratings will be used, so increasing the likelihood of them providing honest, constructive feedback.
2. Provide information about the confidentiality of data –
Related to Tip 1, feedback recipients and raters should be informed about how their data will be used and who will have access to it. Will individual reports be made available to recipients’ managers or coaches? Will anyone else be able to access this data? Will raters be identifiable from their responses, and under what circumstances? Will group-level analysis be undertaken at any point, and who might this data be made available to? These points are key to emphasise to ensure people feel comfortable providing their data and know how it will be used.
3. Use a feedback discussion to share results –
Whilst 360 reports can be informative on their own, the insight gained from 360 feedback is significantly greater if recipients have an opportunity to explore their reports with a manager or coach. This discussion can support the individual to take a balanced, objective view of their report, focus on strengths as well and development areas, prompt exploration of group differences in ratings, and help with action planning. Those providing feedback should be trained around delivering feedback (particularly negative feedback), coaching and the specifics of 360s.
4. Make 360 questionnaire content relevant to the role and your organisation –
Any 360 questionnaire content, whether designed specifically for your project or used ‘off-the-shelf’, should be relevant to your organisation and the roles being assessed, ideally mapped through a job analysis process or other evidence around role requirements. If competencies are being reported, are they aligned with the roles and can they be mapped to your organisational competency framework? Is the terminology used relevant to your organisation?
5. Check the quality of 360 instructions, items and rating scales –
Well-designed 360 questionnaires should include behaviours that be clear, concise and observable. Because many 360 raters are likely to be inexperienced at providing feedback, language should be simple and understandable by all potential raters and should not include jargon. Statements should only describe one behaviour so that ratings can be easily interpreted. Rating scales should be clear and provide verbal anchors to elaborate on each of the points on the scale.
6. Support rater selection to maximise value –
The quality of 360 raters is critical to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the data collected during a 360 process. Raters should know the individual well, be representative of the individuals and groups they work with (e.g. peers, managers, direct reports, customers), and provide honest, objective feedback. Where possible, rater groups should be sufficiently large (e.g. 3 or more) to ensure that individual responses are anonymous. Rater training or briefing is also valuable (particularly for inexperienced raters), if possible. Whether individuals select their own raters, or whether they are selected or screened by someone within the organisation, these principles need to be understood and applied when raters are identified.
7. Collect narrative comments (but make sure they are constructive) –
Narrative 360 comments can provide helpful context to support other feedback and the quantitative scores. However, to be of value they need to be constructive. Ensure instructions or prompts asking for comments point raters towards specific, actionable, job-relevant feedback. Additionally, narrative comments should be anonymous; there may be value in comments being pre-reviewed by the feedback deliverer (i.e. coach or manager) and edited if anonymity is compromised, or if comments are personal, vindictive or otherwise unhelpful.
8. Commit to regular 360s –
A 360 project should not be a one-off event. For 360s and the actions coming off the back of them to become embedded, behavioural change needs to be monitored through follow- up surveys. These will allow participants to understand how their performance might have changed over time, and whether they have successfully achieved their development goals from the previous 360. Around 12 months is typically recommended, to allow sufficient time for behaviour to have changed since the initial administration.
9. Ensure there is follow-up –
360 processes are only effective if they result in behaviour change. Rather than 360 feedback reports and action plans gathering dust in a desk drawer, never to be revisited, there should be follow-up after the initial feedback session to ensure progress is being made. For example, managers could schedule mid-year or quarterly sessions to check in on action plans and provide support. Additionally, further 360s (see Tip 8) will also help to keep this momentum and focus.
10. Ensure the process has top-down support – Sponsorship from senior stakeholders is key to ensuring that the 360 process has credibility and is well supported throughout the organisation. Involving senior stakeholders in initial communication about the process is one way of achieving this, in addition to those stakeholders also participating in the process as feedback recipients or raters.
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