360° feedback is a useful tool for helping individuals to gain a greater insight into their own performance and to help them to identify areas for personal development.

The process usually consists of a questionnaire which is designed to assess an individual’s performance and behaviour.  The questionnaire is completed by the individual (job holder), as well as other people who know their work, for example their boss, peers and direct reports (all called ‘reviewers’).  The outcome of the process is a report which compares the job holder’s views of their performance and behaviour against their reviewers.

While a great deal of time is often given to designing the questionnaire and report format, invariably not enough thought is given to the process of providing feedback to the individual and agreeing action on it.

It is important to recognise that the feedback given will to a certain degree be subjective, and those subjective perceptions may well be very different from the job holder’s perceptions of their own performance and behaviour.  Herein lies the biggest problem – people can be very surprised at the feedback they are given, and unless it is handled correctly, all trust and confidence in the process can be destroyed.

To avoid this happening consider the following:

  • Do not send the feedback report direct to the job holder without an opportunity for discussion and explanation.  This is particularly important if the job holder has not undertaken 360° feedback before.
  • Ensure job holders have an opportunity to review/discuss results, before any action is agreed/taken.  Some organisations prefer to have this delivered by an independent third party as it can facilitate more objective and less emotional discussions.
  • The contents of the report should remain confidential between the job holder and their manager.  No other copy of the feedback needs to be retained by the organisation.
  • Feedback should be delivered at an appropriate time and place (not 1600hrs on a Friday afternoon or in Starbucks!).
  • When providing feedback, don’t focus purely on what might appear to be negative comments in the feedback, take equal account of the positive feedback received.
  • Encourage the job holder to take the feedback on board, and to consider how they might use it to develop their strengths further as well as address their development needs.
  • If the job holder feels that the feedback is unfounded, encourage them to provide evidence of how they have behaved differently.
  • Don’t let the Job Holder try to work out who has provided what feedback.  It will not be helpful and invariably their assumptions will be wrong anyway.
  • Ultimately, the purpose of 360° feedback is to help the job holder to identify their key development needs.  At some point following the feedback, there should be a meeting between the job holder and their line manager to agree personal development actions.

360° feedback is a valuable tool for helping individuals to gain a greater insight into their own performance and behaviour.  However, to gain the most from the process it is vital that serious thought is given to how and when the feedback will be given and who the best person is to deliver it.