In 20 years of honing best practices, we’ve developed a nuanced understanding of how participant experiences affect 360 data, and vice versa. In this series we will take you on a 360 degree tour of 360 degree feedback. We’ll run through the experience of the 360 from the perspective of each participant: the project sponsor, the HR manager, the feedback recipient, the direct report, the peer, and the boss. As we pan the view to take in each perspective, you’ll get a sense of what’s important to each player. Balancing these priorities is both the challenge and the key to success in implementing an effective, transformative 360 degree feedback program.
On the next stop on our tour of the perspectives of 360 degree feedback, we come to the center, the subject of the 360: the feedback recipient. We’ll use a fictional person as an example, and walk through what he experiences in each phase, paying special attention to how HR can make sure his participation is fruitful.
In the 360 process, the feedback recipient’s direct reports, colleagues, and supervisor(s) each complete a survey in which they rate the recipient’s behaviors and skills at work. The workgroup or firm conducting the 360 survey—that’s us, 3D Group—aggregates the resulting data into a report.
The feedback recipient might have any role in an organization, from being on the front lines to being a top executive. While the content of the 360 degree feedback survey should change to reflect the competencies that are important to the person’s role, the actual 360 process is not any different for a CEO than for an entry-level employee.
Let’s use a fictional person as an example. Meet Diego, the feedback recipient. We won’t pin him to a particular level of the organization, except to say that he has direct reports, peers, and a supervisor who will all provide him with feedback.
As far as Diego is concerned, the 360 process starts when he hears about it at a staff meeting, workshop, or in an email. 360s are common enough, but Diego is glad to learn more about how his company will conduct it. He needs to know:
- Who else will be going through the process?
- How will his raters be selected?
- Will it reveal specifics about who rates him, and how?
- Will he encounter harsh personal criticism?
- Who will view his report?
- What is the purpose of the 360, is it for professional development or will it be tied to his performance review?
- Will the 360 affect his pay, promotions, or reputation?
- What support will he have during the process (e.g., coach, HR)?
- What is he expected to do with the report?
The beginning of the 360 process is a powerful opportunity to frame the 360 in a way that benefits Human Resources and the company, in addition to the employee. By communicating the purpose of the 360, Diego’s company can influence whether he sees the 360 as a threat or a useful development tool. Not surprisingly, this can make all the difference. For example, if he knows that his report will only be viewed by himself and HR, and used for development purposes alone, he is unlikely to feel threatened and his self-scoring is more likely to be accurate.
As he takes the survey, Diego will encounter items such as these: “listens attentively,” “follows through on commitments,” “speaks with credibility,” and “delegates to develop staff.” He will use a rating scale that asks him to rate specific behaviors on a scale. In most 360s, this is a 5-point scale (87%). Diego will have to thoughtfully consider his own work and give himself accurate ratings by choosing answers that reflect his real-life behavior (rather than his plans and intentions). He might be tempted to inflate or lowball his score, either in an attempt to achieve a particular result, or due to his self-perception (which might be skewed by insecurity or by arrogance). He will need to dismiss thoughts about how his colleagues might rate him and rely on his own opinion. The mild trepidation and uncertainty Diego feels (which may be masked by vocal resistance to the process) is a normal response to the vulnerable nature of self-reflection and knowing that others are also “passing judgement.” In many surveys, he also will likely experience relief at the objective neutrality of the rating items. He will see that while he can’t avoid accurately assessing failures, there are also items for which he can claim genuine success.
Clearly, there is a variety of challenges Diego will encounter while rating himself. HR can help by providing information and training. The more the feedback recipient knows about what to expect and how the survey works, the better he will be able to use the tool as it’s meant to be used. Training can be delivered through in-person meetings and workshops (35%), and even in webinars or recorded trainings (14%).
Likewise, the way HR handles follow-up to the survey will make an enormous impact on Diego’s experience. Effective follow-up support is all that’s needed to leverage 360 degree feedback from a mere exercise in observation, to transformative development of both Diego and his team. Strong follow-up includes:
- ensuring that Diego (and anyone who needs to read the report) can understand and interpret his results correctly
- inviting him to meet and discuss results with appropriate parties (which could be HR, his boss, his team, or a coach, depending on the situation)
- establishing expectations for how he should incorporate feedback into his work
- helping him maintain a development focus by establishing resources, expectations, and timelines for how he should incorporate the feedback into his development
Whether it comes from within or without the company, coaching can be a tremendous asset for creating change from a 360. It’s also a good idea to provide recipients with a channel for giving feedback on the 360 project itself.
The feedback recipient’s perception has a serious impact on the efficacy of the 360 process. From the recipient’s perspective, the most important things in the 360 process are usually how the data are used, how the feedback makes them feel, and how they can use it for their own development purposes. HR can demonstrate responsiveness by communicating clearly, providing support, and implementing follow-up. The 360 process is yet another HR practice in which give-and-take benefits both individual and organization.
 Current Practices in 360 Degree Feedback: A Benchmark Study of North American Companies, 3D Group, 2013
 This is an experience our users often report having with our 360 tools. We prefer to use positively-worded survey items because they lend themselves to development better than negatively-worded ones do.
 at 3D Group, we created a detailed interpretation guide to explain the specifics of our survey and how to read, understand, and draw conclusions from our 360 tool. We also offer workshops and coaching to help people with their results.
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