360 feedback (or 360-degree feedback) is a type of employee performance review in which an employee receives feedback not just from their direct supervisor but also from peers and, when applicable, direct reports and customers. Feedback is generally anonymous, and the number of raters varies (we’ve seen anywhere from four to 12) depending on the employee’s seniority.
360 feedback enables employees to see how they are performing through a holistic lens, providing a balanced view of performance that often uncovers behaviors (both positive and negative) that a supervisor alone may not be aware of.
Download our sample template for conducting 360 reviews.
360 Feedback Basics: Who & When
Typical performance reviews only provide one perspective—the employee’s direct supervisor—whereas 360 feedback includes input from across the spectrum of an employee’s relationships. Every employee should receive 360 feedback. Not only will this help avoid accusations of discrimination, but it will also give accurate and timely information on how employees view each other.
An employee’s manager should still, of course, participate in the 360 review process, along with colleagues who work closely with the employee—choose those who have worked with the employee for at least six months. You want genuine and productive feedback about the employee’s behavior and performance. The more senior an employee and the more workers they oversee, the more raters they should have. Entry-level positions only need two or three raters.
It is also recommended that you include other employees who may have had important interactions with the employee being reviewed during this review period. Though not required, some organizations like to include feedback from outside the company by soliciting help from vendors, clients, or customers.
Why 360 Feedback Should Be Anonymous
Feedback from managers does not have to be anonymous, as managers should be able to have direct conversations with all of their employees. However, to get honest and transparent information, all other feedback should be anonymous. An anonymous process also:
- Reduces stress on the raters
- Puts the focus on the feedback and not the source
- Helps avoid workplace conflict
When To Give 360 Feedback
While we recommend doing a 360 review annually, it’s not necessary if that doesn’t work for your company. You can also give 360 feedback after completing a major project, to encourage an employee’s development, or on a more frequent basis.
Note that a 360 review should not take the place of or be combined with a regular performance review. Additionally, don’t let this take the place of real-time feedback. 360 feedback should simply be a part of your broader review and feedback process, along with other types of feedback.
Adding 360 feedback to your performance review process can create additional work for you or your team; however, there are programs that help, such as BambooHR. It allows employees to review themselves alongside their managers, and companies can look at this data across multiple levels—departments, salary levels, positions, and so on. You can sign up to try it for free.
Benefits of 360 Feedback
Soliciting feedback is crucial to effective employee management. Feedback from multiple sources gives managers a balanced view of the employee being rated and helps them identify areas where they can offer better support to help the employee grow.
How To Conduct 360 Feedback
As a manager, you need to ensure you get accurate data on your employees. Following a structured process like the one outlined below will help you get honest feedback on your team members.
Step 1: Speak With the Employee
Many employees haven’t participated in 360 feedback before. While this should ideally be part of your company’s onboarding process, it’s not a bad idea to remind them of how it works.
Discuss the process, what information you’ll solicit from others, and when you expect to meet with them again to review the results. Keeping your employees informed will ease their concerns about what’s happening behind closed doors.
Step 2: Choose the Raters & Give Guidance
As we’ve covered in the earlier sections, 360 feedback should involve managers, colleagues, and even clients. If you can, choose raters that the employee worked with on a recent big project.
When you assign raters, give them a timeline. It’s important to provide raters a reasonable amount of time to complete the feedback. Especially if they’re rating multiple employees, this can get time-consuming. Generally, a deadline of two to four weeks is good.
Also, raters should be given guidelines for completing review forms, which can include open-text questions and ratings. Ideally, these forms should be used for every review. Remind raters to keep comments focused on work-related actions.
If you’re asking raters to give their colleagues a score of one to five, make sure they have an understanding of what each numerical value represents. Some companies use three as exactly where they expect people to fall and five is rare and shows exceptional value. No matter what you want, make sure you tell your raters what you expect.
Finally, encourage raters to give positives and negatives—at least one each, but preferably three. This helps you get accurate and honest feedback on employee performance.
Step 3: Send the Questions
Keep in mind that 360 feedback should be open-ended, not scaled. So, your questions should allow for the raters to expand on their answers. If you want to include a three- or five-point rating system, go right ahead. But, make sure the raters know they need to provide written detail to answer each question.
Here are questions you might want to ask of people within your company:
- Provide a specific example of a task or project this employee recently did well.
- Provide a specific example of an area where this employee could improve.
- What sets this employee apart from others in the company?
- How has this employee lived our company values?
- Have you experienced or witnessed any interpersonal conflicts with this employee?
- How can this employee improve their performance?
- How can this employee improve their behavior?
- If you were in charge of this employee’s development, what are the next steps you would take?
Here are questions to consider using for customers or vendors:
- How effective is this employee at resolving your concerns?
- What have you enjoyed most about working with this employee?
- Describe the most stressful situation you’ve encountered and how this employee contributed to your stress or to the resolution.
If your company uses performance review software, you may be able to send these questions directly from the program, making your next steps simpler. If you don’t, we recommend creating a template and sending it via email to each rater.
You can use our sample 360 feedback review template to craft a form based on your company’s needs.
Step 4: Review the Responses & Compile Data
As a manager, this is where you step back in to review all of the comments and scores (if you used any) and compile them before sharing them with the employee. You may also want to request additional information if something is unclear.
Putting the data together into a report for the employee to review can be as simple as copying the responses into your 360 feedback template. But, should you? Some companies prefer to paraphrase the comments rather than show them directly—making it less likely that the employee will decipher who made the comment. We don’t recommend doing this for two reasons:
- First, it defeats the purpose of having anonymous reviews if the manager is going to paraphrase all of them.
- And second, the manager may have a bias that comes through in the paraphrased comments, even unknowingly, which can affect how the comments are received.
However, be certain to review comments very closely. Remember that anonymous feedback also opens up opportunities for rude and unprofessional comments. In case there are responses that may be too blunt, managers may have to step in to paraphrase them or omit them entirely. Ultimately, managers should use their judgment when reviewing the results with the employee.
Step 5: Deliver the Results
Up to this point, most of your work has been automated or electronic. Delivering the results of the 360 feedback should be personal, whether that’s in person or via video call.
Make sure that you know how to approach concerns the employee might have before going through the results with the employee. It’s not always easy to share negative feedback, but it’s crucial for the employee’s development. Also, share positive feedback. Too often, an employee fails to recognize their own contributions to the team. When they hear from their manager about the things they’ve done well, it can boost their morale and remind them that they may have very few areas that need improvement.
Delivery Tip: We don’t recommend calling feedback good or bad, positive or negative. There’s just feedback, and it’s all actionable. And, that’s why you need to come to your discussion with a plan for how you’re going to help the employee improve and develop. Without this last component, gathering all the data is pointless.
A structured performance management process helps businesses achieve their goals—and 360 feedback is one goal in your arsenal. We review what makes it unique, when and how to give it, and how it helps shape an employee’s development within your organization.
360 feedback gives you great insight into how other people perceive an employee’s work performance. Instead of just giving your perspective, the employee gains knowledge from every direction, giving them the information necessary to improve and develop. Even for small teams, 360 feedback can give managers exceptional data about how to support their teams.