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What you need to know about 360-degree feedback

Last updated

18 July 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

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A 360-degree feedback program can be of great benefit to your organization. It can boost your employees’ motivation and self-awareness, and help them (and you) to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

360-degree assessments can also build and improve the culture of your company and support your learning and development strategies.

If you're new to the 360 assessment method, keep reading. Learn what today's leaders need to know about how it works, the benefits, best practices for implementation, and more.

What is 360-degree feedback for development?

360-degree feedback involves gathering data about an employee from multiple sources, such as:

  • Their peers

  • Direct reports

  • Managers

  • Internal customers

  • The employee

With this information, managers can better assess an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, and provide a more balanced performance assessment and feedback loop.

Examples of 360-degree feedback

A 360-degree feedback assessment might include a review of leadership skills from colleagues or subordinates. It could consist of communication skills feedback from internal customers and co-workers. It may also gather productivity feedback from supervisors and teamwork sentiments from colleagues.

All the feedback falls into one of two categories: reinforcing and redirecting. Reinforcements are complementary, while redirection statements are constructive suggestions on how the employee could improve.

Examples of reinforcing statements

  • Can be counted on to complete projects on schedule.

  • This person always takes the initiative and submits great solutions or ideas.

  • They are always supportive of other team members, ready to answer questions or provide assistance. 

Examples of redirecting statements

  • Tends to miss deadlines that impact the team. Needs to work on time management and prioritization skills.

  • This person rarely engages in team meetings and rarely expresses ideas and concerns. 

  • They are often hesitant to share responsibility or delegate tasks which sometimes conveys a lack of trust among team members to do their jobs well.

360-degree feedback vs. performance reviews

Traditional performance reviews are one-on-one conversations discussing performance metrics or direct observations relating to productivity. In these traditional reviews, a manager communicates observations from a more singular perspective.

A 360 assessment review consists of multi-source sentiments collected from people who work with or alongside the employee. These opinions and suggestions are collected anonymously, without the presence of the employee, then presented cumulatively during a review with the designated rater.

Other distinctions between a performance review and a 360 feedback assessment include:

  • Performance reviews are finite, whereas 360-degree reviews are ongoing.

  • Performance reviews are goal- and metrics-driven, whereas 360-degree reviews are driven by development insights for perpetual improvement.

  • Performance reviews are performed by known raters, whereas the 360-degree review is based on anonymous rater sentiments.

Who can give an employee 360-degree feedback?

As a manager or organizational leader, you'll want to connect with several others in the target employee's space. This might include:

  • Team members on a project

  • A direct supervisor

  • Subordinates the employee oversees

  • Clients the employee manages

  • Internal customers who rely on the employee

Depending on the employee's position, you might also seek feedback from:

  • High-performing employees

  • C-level executives

  • Field employees within the individual’s circle

Ideally, you'll look for colleagues who have worked with the target employee for at least six months to have the best understanding of what it's like to work with this particular employee.

How are 360 assessments structured?

For the best results from 360 assessments and evaluations, use the feedback as a holistic way to gain a deeper understanding of an employee's strengths and weaknesses. It's not purely about performance metrics or productivity, and it's not about labeling them as a “good” or “bad” employee.

Structure your 360 evaluations in a way that helps you to capture an authentic, broad picture of what an employee needs or seems to excel at. When 360-degree assessments are structured as tools for further development and improvement, participation is more authentic, feedback is more useful, and insights are actionable.

How to view feedback

Feedback has to be understood as an investment in the employee. It must be an authentic learning tool, not focused on finding flaws. And every 360 feedback assessment survey has to be distributed anonymously online (when applicable) for the best results.

How not to view feedback

Never use a 360-degree feedback survey for development as a tool for performance appraisal. Additionally, the feedback tool should never be used to impact an employee's pay rates or performance ratings.

7 tips for designing an effective 360-degree feedback program

When you're ready to implement a 360 assessment program in your organization, follow these tips.

Set clear goals

Establish goals for yourself and anyone responsible for conducting 360 evaluations. Impress upon these key managers that the surveys are to be used only for developmental and improvement purposes, not direct performance evaluation or ratings.

Train raters

Train your raters and anyone involved with developing or gathering survey insights. The goal is to maintain consistency with each evaluation. Raters will also need direction on how to deliver results in a positive, growth-oriented way. The results should empower employees to build on positive momentum with those around them in a professional way.

Focus on natural strengths

Remind raters that 360-degree feedback should focus on the individual's core and natural strengths. Constructively convey how an employee can capitalize on those strengths and continue growing with a "best foot forward" approach.

Involve managers and leaders

Your 360-degree feedback program's success will rely on the involvement and championing of the process from managers, supervisors, and key stakeholders. Look to keep these leaders involved in the process and focused on the employee developmental benefits of the program.

Create buy-in support and trust in the 360 assessment program

Asking others how they feel about someone's workplace efforts can feel like a potentially negative engagement. You'll want to dispel those myths and continuously remind employees, raters, and managers that this is an improvement tool intended to boost every worker's experience and career success. Get buy-in and build trust around the 360-degree process.

Know what to ask in your surveys and how to ask it

Provide guidance to raters and carefully structure your 360 evaluation surveys. Assessments should be kept under 40 questions and contain 8–10 core behavioral competencies. Knowing what to ask in these surveys and how to ask it will solicit honest and positive responses that raters can use during conversations with the employee.

Personalize the 360-degree feedback program for your organization

Customize your 360-degree feedback program in a way that makes sense to your organization. These are ongoing initiatives that can be personalized as your company changes, as your employees change, and as future skillset requirements change.

The pros and cons of 360-degree feedback

When executed correctly, a 360-degree feedback program can net significant benefits. It boosts an employee's self-awareness, provides a balanced view of the entire organization, and is great for identifying core weaknesses and strengths at the bench-strength level. These assessments are also tools for culture-building, succession-planning, and training opportunities.

However, if you're unable to establish a development-focused approach to your 360-degree feedback process, there will be challenges. Employees who don't understand the positive purpose might fear retaliation, have anxiety about their colleagues, or feel overburdened. An employee may feel ‘rater fatigue’ if they’re asked to rate multiple people. And neglecting the follow-through steps to enforce improvements essentially makes the process ineffective.


How do I prepare for 360-degree feedback?

Follow the guide and best practices above. Remember to keep sentiment-gathering efforts completely anonymous. Train managers and raters, and provide clear instructions about how to remain positive and constructive. Establish your goals and training guidance before anything else.

How do you give good feedback examples?

Structure feedback in a way that feels empowering, instructional, and complimentary. Here are a few examples of 360-degree feedback statements that focus on developmental success:

  • This individual is a confident leader.

  • This employee treats others fairly and respectfully.

  • This person is effective at leading groups and teams.

  • This individual is a revolutionary problem-solver.

  • This employee gives clear instructions.

  • This person is a willing team player, ready to assume additional responsibility.

Why is a 360-degree feedback strategy important to consider?

Consider adopting a 360-degree feedback program if you want to explore other ways to improve employee culture, discover broader perspectives of your team members, and continuously develop employees. It's an important method for today's organizations to gain a deeper understanding of employee strengths and weaknesses at every level.

Explore the value of 360 assessments for your organization and begin to gain a big-picture understanding of your teams and company trajectories. Be sure to structure your process in line with this ultimate guide.

Using 360-degree feedback, be prepared to discover incredible insights you can leverage for continuous improvement among your employees and your organization.

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