360° feedback is a way of providing multi-source feedback for, typically, a manager as a precursor to a development plan, training or more usually coaching.

The feedback is given to the person, called the “recipient” by “raters”, who are usually from inside the compnay and who know how the person operates in an organisationsl setting, the recipient also uses the exact same questionnaire for their own self-evaluation.

The raters are usually made up of peers, the recipient’s direct line-manager or N+1, perhaps their N+2, their peers and their subordinates and even in some cases sources from outside the organisation such as clients or suppliers.

The rationale is that the raters give feedback to the recipient in a confidential and anonymous framework that is aimed to do two things:

1. Raise awareness of how our behaviour is viewed by and impacts on others.

2. Provide a starting point for a development plan of coaching or training.

Most 360° feedback questionnaires are typically made up of a family of headings that address areas of work and behaviour such as:

  • Character
  • Leadership
  • Business & Technical Skills
  • Professional Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Building Talent

It is not a good idea to have a standard”model” of a 360° to be used as a ‘one size fits all’ solution as you will generally find that it doesn’t make sense to generalise across organisations and cultures.

A well planned 360° feedback questionnaire also needs a lot more than just a good set of questions.360° feedback needs to handles and managed with extreme care and caution as it can do a great deal of damage to an individual and to the organisation. It also needs to work within a highly rigorous framework of deontology for it to have any chance of success.

360° Feedback will not work in a dysfunctional team or in organisations that do not have a culture of open, honest feedback. It is neither a universal panacea which cures all ills – it cures nothing, but managed well will serve as an excellent launchpad for a coaching or development program.

The main tenet behind a 360° is that multi-source feedback provides a fuller picture than single-source feedback given at the time of annual appraisal meetings and also focuses on behaviour rather than technical business objectives, although this can also form part of the 360°.

It is of utmost importance that clear communication is use and that trust is built from the outset – raters, after all, are usually stakeholders in the success or failure of the 360° project.

Confidentially and anonymity must be 100% guaranteed and raters should not be identified at a later date. If confidentiality and anonymity is not guaranteed than the results will more than likely not reflect true feelings or opinions so are worth nothing.

Exceptions could be made with close-knit cooperative teams working in an organisation that actively encourages a corporate culture of feedback and openness, but you need to be sure that this is the case before embarking on this risky venture.

So how do I go about building the questionnaire?

Firstly you need to be able to spend time with the organisation and stakeholders to get a good feel of what you are dealing with. Go along to some team meetings, get invited to formal meetings as an observer to gain an insight into the corporate culture and how the company works. If this is refused then you already have a small clue as to how things are working in the organisation.

OK, I’ve done that, Can I build my questionnaire now?

Well you could, but how are you going to start? What are the areas that you are going to attempt to assess?

You now need to sit down with the sponsor of the project, typically the N+1 or N+2 and the human resources department and come to agreement on what needs looking at with your questionnaire.

After this you can then start building your survey, if you have a good, solid experience of working with organisational behaviour or organisational psychology. If this isn’t the case you may be well advised to look at some of the online versions of 360° Feedback that are available -at a price.

Right, my questionnaire is together now.

What do I do now?

Now is the time to talk to the company again and the future coaching client to decide who is going to be asked to be a rater for the 360° program. After this you then need to present the 360° to these people, giving them a clear explanation of your deontological constraints and a step-by-step guide as to how you are going to roll it out, how you are going to analyse the results and what you are then going to do with the results.

So that’s basically it for the data gathering and restitution of the analysis so what is this all for?

What’s the point of a 360° Feedback

This is now where we come to the delicate part – the way that you present the results to the recipient. Our job, as coaches is to guide the recipient to make clear and almost objective interpretations of the results.

You will have already done the analysis and decided whether to give the recipient a formal report of the data (or not). Human nature, being what it is, you will find that 99.99% of people will look directly at the “negative” feedback first and may also want to defend their reasons for their negative (in their mind) behaviour on certain points.

Let’s stop, right there! The purpose is to give a full picture that can then be acted upon – defending behaviour is not a very action-oriented technique, but you will have helped the recipient beforehand on how to react to feedback, wouldn’t you?

We also need to help the recipient look deeper into “Why?” people have given feedback ‘a’ or ‘b’ and then what can be done to rectify this if it is causing difficulties in the team or in the organisation.

So now that has all been done – there needs to be a clear development or coaching plan put in place to accompany the recipient through the process of change.

Follow up to triangulate

At the end of the development process, it is often a good idea to run another 360° program to ensure that the development goals have been reached. This doesn’t mean that we will be entering a never ending cycle of 360° feedback – this second will sound the end of the process.

In short a well-planned, intelligently built and implemented can be a great aid to an individual and the organisation – on the other hand, a poorly planned and implemented 360° feedback program managed by a novice, can only spell trouble for all involved.

© Active Learning 2011. All rights reserved. Reproduction by permission only.

1 Comment

  1. Tom McConnon

    I’m glad that this article focuses on using 360 feedback for individual development, rather than personnel changes. 360 feedback gets exciting when its used for making strong employees even stronger.


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