Effective 360-degree feedback: an overview

360-degree feedback is a fantastic tool to use within organisations and one that I enjoy using the most on assignments. I think that this enjoyment stems from witnessing numerous leaders who participate in these programmes receiving such effective 360-degree feedback that it results in positive change. The initiative provides participants with an opportunity to self-reflect on their performance as well as taking on board the constructive feedback that they receive.

Many of those leaders move onto building better relationships across their organisation. Even some leaders who feel that they’re not particularly skilled at what they do, receive positive feedback that improves their self-esteem.

How 360 feedback is used in organisations has been debated for a number of years. Although I do share and agree with a number of the concerns highlighted about the tool, I believe that it’s still effective. 360-degree feedback encourages self-reflection and to build self-awareness when executed corrected.

As I’ve both designed 360 tools from scratch as well as managing the roll-out of programmes within companies using a tool from an external provider.

Where does 360-degree feedback originate from?

360-degree feedback has been in existence for over 25 years but the identity of who originally created the tool is unclear. However, many researchers have stated that it was created by Marshall Goldsmith (1949). But one of the earliest records of its actual usage has been with two researchers called Edwards and Ewen (1996).

What is a 360-degree feedback survey or tool?

360-degree feedback is a well-established tool that has been used prolifically in numerous businesses globally across all industry sectors. 360s are essentially an HR process that is widely used to measure an individual’s performance in a role. Participants can be surveyed at the individual level, as well as compared at team, group and organisational level.

How does 360-degree feedback work?

360 programmes are usually rolled out to a group or sub-section in an organisation, as part of a wider initiative. But the tools can be set up in a company’s internal HR systems. This enables employees to apply to take part in an assessment for development purposes. For instance, if they were considering applying for a promotion or if they would like to gain further development.

Essentially, how the process works is that a participant invites others to provide them with feedback on their performance. The participant would usually ask a variety of respondents who have differing working relationships with them. This is so they receive broad and in-depth feedback on the perception of their performance at work.

The multiple respondents are asked to complete a feedback form, that includes numerous questions based on a set of criteria. The set criteria usually measures how well each participant demonstrates one or more of the following. For example, key organisational behaviours; values; competencies; results or agreed on ways of working.

As a best practice, the survey questions should not only focus on what an individual achieves in their role (WHAT). But it can also include, (HOW) they executed their role, both technically (hard) and behaviorally (soft). The focus of the set criteria is usually set and agreed at the organisational level. This set criteria is usually linked to the purpose and desired outcome that the company would like to achieve.

When responders are invited to complete a 360 survey on a participant, they should receive instructions about the survey by email and in the survey introduction. The respondents are also informed that their responses will be held confidentially and their responses will be anonymous. This helps to encourage respondents to participate in the survey and provide honest responses.

Who’s asked to complete a 360-degree feedback survey?

There are multi respondents and they can include colleagues; peers; stakeholders; direct managers; other managers and clients (usually the internal ones). The participant should also be invited to complete the survey to generate a self-assessment to measure the gap in their perception of their performance compared to their respondents. The reason behind using multiple sources of feedback is to make the process objective, fair and to provide the participants with feedback on how they work and respond with a variety of people in varied settings.

What should you include in a 360-degree feedback survey?

A number of questions based on a set of criteria. For instance, if an organisation has five sets of key behaviours that an individual should display at work, then the respondents are asked to respond to a series of questions on each of the behaviours. For example, they may need to respond to six questions on each of the 5 behaviours and therefore the survey would comprise of 30 questions.

The survey tools usually include a mixture of qualitative comments and quantitative varied responses on a scale. For the quantitative responses, the respondents respond to each question rating their performance on a scale such as an observed frequency 4 to 6 point scale or a strengths Likert 5 or 7 point scale. For the qualitative comments, the respondents then provide further information to qualify and provide evidence to support their scores to their related qualitative response.

What’s the purpose of 360-degree feedback?

The purpose of introducing a tool into an organisation is usually for either development feedback or performance appraisal reviews. However, there is a debate about whether 360-degree feedback should be used solely for developmental purposes and not for performance reviews, especially if performance is linked to remuneration.

How can 360-degree feedback tools be effective?

To be effective, any tool needs to be able to confidently compare and contrast responses, differentiating the various respondent’s perceptions of a participant’s performance and making meaningful comparisons between the respondent groups. It also needs to be clear where there are agreements between respondents and this can be achieved by implementing the correct statistical analysis of the results. But most importantly, in any survey, there needs to be an option for the participants to self assess their own performance to identify their gaps in their perception of themselves, compared to their respondents.

What are the different ways that you can use 360-degree feedback in organisations?

360-degree feedback is used for the following purposes:

What are the benefits of using effective 360-degree feedback in organisations?

Effective 360-degree feedback can lead to the development of better working relationships in teams

What can be some of the challenges of using 360-degree feedback in organisations?

These are some of the challenges that I’ve had to predict and eliminate, as well as respond to while rolling out 360s programmes. But luckily, any number of challenges can be addressed and prevented with the right preparation, planning and delivery.

How can you ensure that a 360-degree feedback roll-out is a success?

If you’re interested in implementing a 360-degree feedback programme in your organisation that you want to receive consultancy advice on, designed as a bespoke programme from scratch or if you want to receive project management support to the roll-out of a programme using a preferred external supplier, then please get in touch by completing the contact form below.


Edwards, M. R., & Ewen, A. J. (1996). 360° feedback: The powerful new model for employee assessment & performance improvement. New York, NY: AMACOM.Google Scholar

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