Your Guide to Designing an Effective 360 Feedback Process

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360 feedback is an excellent way to provide holistic feedback to an employee. Yet, establishing one is challenging due to the sensitive nature of multi-rater feedback. This article explores the steps in designing an effective feedback process.

Employees today know that in order to be successful in the current workforce, they need more opportunities for development and are asking for it. Organisations, too, need employees to focus on developing their skills, especially leadership skills, for the future of the business.

360-degree feedback reviews are an excellent way to provide holistic feedback to an employee. Companies are aware that conducting a 360-degree feedback process is crucial for employee and organisational development.

Yet, establishing one is challenging due to the sensitive nature of multi-rater feedback. This article will explore the steps on how to conduct an effective 360 feedback process.

What is 360-Degree Feedback?

360 feedback is a way for employees to understand their personal strengths and weaknesses. This can be done using the constructive feedback of others who work with them the most. It also provides managers with a bird’s eye view of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Managers should ensure the feedback process is a two-way conversation to widen the lens and reduce manager bias.

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360 Feedback vs. Performance Reviews

However, McLean & Company stresses that 360-degree feedback should only be used for developmental purposes rather than performance reviews. Using 360 feedback for performance-based decisions is risky as it can create a culture of mistrust. It is hard to rebuild trust once it is broken, thus impacting both the quality and sincerity of the feedback gathered.

Both approaches may revolve around improving job performance based on feedback, but they each have their own differences and can still be conducted alongside one another. Here are some of the differences between 360 feedback and performance reviews.

360-Degree Feedback Performance Reviews
360-degree feedback is all about continuous development. A review recognises the achievement of set goals for future performance.
360-degree feedback depends on input from various sources. A performance review is all about the metrics and measurements.
360 feedback system typically entails full anonymity for all parties involved with honest and constructive feedback given. A performance review is not anonymous and relies on face-to-face conversation between a manager and the employee.
360 feedback is about development and has neither competition nor rewards, which may prevent raters from giving objective feedback. A performance appraisal is a competition among employees for recognition, rewards, prizes, and promotions.
360 feedback is synonymous with development and is perceived by employees to be just that. An appraisal is a feedback process that results in rewards – either career promotion or remuneration.

Ready to Develop Your 360-Degree Feedback Process?

According to McLean & Company, 360-degree feedback should only be used for employee development, and that organisations should make this the sole purpose of the program.

Only organisations with a strong culture of trust should embark on the 360 feedback process. This is to ensure that feedback given is honest and constructive to promote rater confidentiality and allow the employee to take ownership of their feedback report. If feedback is vague, it will only produce a “garbage in, garbage out” effect on the program, considerably diminishing the benefits of having such a process.

Creating an effective 360-degree feedback program requires executive buy-in and participation, agreement on the competencies for evaluation, as well as comprehensive communications and training effort for participating employees. With that in mind, we have identified five steps to get you started from establishing the purpose to piloting an effective 360-degree feedback program.

Step 1: Defining the purpose of your process

Prior to conducting 360 feedback, senior HR leaders should define the metrics and competencies to be assessed and the level of support that will be provided throughout the implementation. Some questions to consider include:

  • Why this? What is it trying to solve, and how will 360 help?
  • Why now? What has made this a priority?
  • Who is it for? Who will be receiving the 360 feedback? 
  • What outcomes does the organisation expect from the 360 feedback initiative?

Get early buy-in from senior leaders and stakeholders to determine the objective, the outcomes to drive the process and identify the employees to target. For example, the aim may be to assist high potential employees understand the areas of focus for performance improvement.

Step 2: Designing the workflow of the process

A 360-degree process requires commitment from various stakeholders within the organisation, so it is important to understand how each person’s contribution fits into the program. Here are some key questions to answer during this phase:

  • Who nominates the evaluators?
  • Do managers have the right to approve nominations?
  • Do evaluators have the opportunity to opt out?
  • Who will be receiving the reports?
  • Who is responsible for initiating the assessment debrief meeting?

Remember that implementing the initiative will require a strong communication plan in order to create a positive and sustainable impact. Announce the new organisational 360 feedback initiative in a compelling and unique way that fosters engagement. Look beyond communicating about the new process and treat it as an internal marketing campaign about talent development.

Step 3: Building a competency model

Employees should not be rated directly on competencies but on specific behaviours associated with each competency. If an organisation does not have an existing competency model, one should be prepared by conducting focus groups with the incumbents and leaders to identify the characteristics that need to be developed for the success of a role.

The characteristics or behaviour-based assessment items capture important aspects of a key competency. These should focus on a single behaviour and start with action verbs such as motivates, listens, and so on. Avoid using jargon or technical language and limit the assessment items to a maximum of 40 to 50.

Use open-ended questions sparingly and combine them with frequency scales to get the most useful mix of information. Ideally, use one open-ended question per competency, which could be the final commentary box at the end of each competency.  Once identified, these assessment items should be acted upon as weaknesses or opportunities.

Step 4: Observing the best practices of the process

Naturally, a psychologically safe workplace with trust and openness will help people feel secure in providing candid and authentic feedback. Organisations, however, should not rely alone on that. It is important to create clarity from the beginning to ensure that outcomes are clear and the confidentiality of data and anonymity of feedback are addressed. 

Reports from the 360 feedback should provide robust data for employees and are easy to digest so employees can take action based on the insights. They should also provide meaningful comparisons with internal benchmarks so that employees know where they are in relation to their colleagues, including the information from open-ended questions.

Step 5: Following up on results of the process

The 360 feedback process shouldn’t stop once the reports are distributed. Practise formal and informal follow-ups on results and behaviours to ensure lasting behaviour change. This includes goal setting and ongoing conversations regarding development. It is advisable to focus on one or two areas at a time to make change manageable.

Receiving, evaluating, and discussing a 360 feedback report is assessment. Development is what happens after that which is what matters most to organisations.

In order for the organisation and the employee to maximise the effectiveness of a 360 initiative, there needs to be a process for creating a development plan, providing support and following up. Make sure employees know how to analyse their reports, understand what the 360 results mean, and have a framework for setting and achieving development goals.

360 Feedback in the Future of Work

The widespread shift from a physical office to hybrid work has become one of the biggest stories of 2021. According to GetApp, at least 70% of small businesses are planning to keep the hybrid work arrangement even after the pandemic is over and will remain so in 2022 and beyond.

But one area that has remained largely uncertain is performance management. According to GetApp’s Employee Experience Survey 2021, 43% of employees who went from working on-site to a hybrid or remote work arrangement during COVID-19 say that their employer hasn’t changed how performance is measured.

Ideally, the best way is to have a face-to-face conversation. Giving feedback through emails can be cold and impersonal, and may give employees the impression that their managers aren’t interested in addressing their issues. Implementing 360 can be complex. Managers, employees, and those giving feedback need to understand the purpose and their roles in the process for this to work well.

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