The Correct Application and Effectiveness of 360-Degree Feedback

The definition of 360-degree feedback, also known as multi-rater feedback or multi-source feedback is “feedback that comes from members of an employee's immediate circle of coworkers.”

Over the last 30 years the 360-degree feedback process has become very popular in HR and psychology. Back by popular demand, this process is one that can be extremely useful for those employees wanting to grow in their career by receiving feedback from critical people in their workplace. This type of feedback needs to include internal employees who are co-workers/peers, subordinates, superiors, and even customers. Having various relationships rate employees provides different perspectives on individual job performance. This approach can provide a well-rounded picture of individuals’ strengths and areas for development.

The Correct Application and Effectiveness of 360-Degree FeedbackPrior to initiating a 360-degree assessment and feedback process in your organization or to an individual, it is vital to truly understand the process to guarantee positive outcomes. A well thought out 360 can be insightful, powerful, and dynamic for individuals. Take these things into consideration before initiating a company-wide initiative.

The results of effective 360-degree feedback should be measureable, positive, and lead to growth and development. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Make sure intentions and expectations for feedback are clear to both employees and raters
  2. Ensure anonymity for raters and that they have a clear understanding of the purpose of the feedback
  3. Hold a preparation meeting with the employee on what results of this type of feedback typically looks like
  4. Start the 360-degree assessment and feedback process
  5. Debrief employees on their results
  6. Help employees develop action plans to improve areas in need of development
  7. Set up follow-up meetings to check in and see how things are going

Proper preparation is vital to the success and positive outcomes of these types of assessments.

So what are my suggestions for when these tools are appropriate? I find 360 tools most useful when paired with performance management processes and/or with problematic employees. Companies typically use 360 feedback tools in one of the following ways: as an assessment, as developmental and performance tools, or as tools for succession planning. I have found in my experience that 360 tools can provide employees with great insight on how others perceive them and how they can improve performance. How these insights are shared with employees can sometimes be challenging, but if presented well, a basis for productive conversations is developed and hopefully, behavior changes will occur.

The Correct Application and Effectiveness of 360-Degree FeedbackIf you plan to use this type of tool across your organization, establish criteria for its use and educate your employees. If the tool is used consistently, employees will feel the process is a company practice rather than a personal attack on them.

In my many experiences with 360-degree tools the most important part of the process is accountability. If an employee is engaged in this process, receives feedback, and creates an action plan, but doesn’t change their behavior, it was a waste of time and energy. So tie the feedback to a performance objective or goal to increase employee engagement with results. 

There are many kinds of 360-degree tools. Choosing a tool isn’t as important as educating your audience, developing an obtainable outcome for the results and ensuring the participant is accountable. Start with a willing participant (maybe even yourself!). When you have achieved success, move to a department or team and provide them with a place to voice their opinions on the process and outcomes. This will provide valuable input to assist in making any last-minute tweaks to your model. You will then be ready to make it a formal part of your company-wide initiative to improve individual performance through feedback.

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  1. Melinda Brown's avatar
    Melinda Brown
    | Permalink
    True, Kara. Assessments on their own are not worth much if not followed up with a plan for feedback and putting an action plan in place.

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