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By: Ber Leary on February 1st, 2021

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Are 360 Degree Reviews Right for Your Business Needs?

Business Management & Strategy

360-degree feedback reviews are the HR equivalent of a full-body CT scan. They’re both intensive, highly revealing, and they can make the subject feel a little claustrophobic. But they’re also terrific tools for finding out precisely what makes a person tick.

Of course, your doctor won’t send you for a full-body scan when you’ve got a broken pinkie. HR teams should be equally discerning when arranging a 360 review. It’s a powerful tool when you use it for the right reasons with the right people.

What is a 360 degree review?

Most review techniques focus on a single voice, which is usually the employee’s direct manager. This is enough for the majority of employees, but sometimes you need more information. The 360-degree technique involves talking to everybody – managers, clients, colleagues, and anyone else with whom the subject interacts.

The result is a 360o perspective of the subject that will reveal things that you don’t get from a single-voice review. You’ll discover what it’s like to work with that person, what it’s like to buy from them, and how they interact at meetings. Most importantly, contributors will corroborate each other’s opinions, which allows for a more objective analysis.

When is it right to do a 360 review?

First things first: most employees don’t require a 360 review. A managerial assessment will be accurate enough to tell you what you need to know about most staff members, such as their productivity, skill level, and training requirements.

360 reviews are useful when you need to dig deeper and learn everything about a person. That includes:
  • To support leaders: Executives benefit the most from 360 reviews, as they interact with so many people in the organization. When an executive assumes a new role, it’s often a good idea to carry out a 360 review, which will help identify strengths, weaknesses, and possible development areas.
  • To bring through leadership candidates: A 360 review can also help to bring people through the succession pipeline. Leadership candidates have to stay focused on developing the skills they’ll need to make it in the C-Suite. A 360-degree feedback review can help identify potential coaching requirements.
  • To inform a professional development plan: 360 reviews are great for highlighting training and development needs, especially for non-technical skills. The review report can help assess an employee’s soft skills, organizational ability, and other talents they need for business success.
  • To support people who need it: People sometimes hit a career ceiling and don’t know how to progress. This may even cause them to slip a little in terms of productivity. A 360 review can pick up on whatever is holding them back and allow you to draw up a plan to start moving in the right direction.
  • To identify productivity issues: Sometimes, 360 reviews can help to identify broader organizational issues. If you’re seeing general levels of low productivity, customer dissatisfaction, or staff attrition, a round of 360 reviews might help identify some of the underlying problems.

As you can see, 360 reviews work best as part of a broader strategy to support, develop and engage people. If someone is already on the right development path, they probably don’t need this level of scrutiny.

360 reviews are not a great tool for salary or performance reviews. These reviews are to help you get a better feel for the subject’s skills and characteristics, not to assess their contribution to the business.

How to get the best from 360 reviews

A study in the American Psychiatric Association’s journal found that 360 reviews can be detrimental, with one in three subjects experiencing lower productivity after a review.

This kind of negative response is generally the result of a bad process. A 360 review should empower the subject to make positive changes and move their career forward. You can help by taking the following steps:

1) Know what you’re measuring

The 360 approach is an excellent tool for assessing hard-to-define qualities like:

  • Leadership ability
  • Communication style
  • Organizational ability
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ethics, values, and cultural alignment

For attributes such as productivity, accuracy, and technical knowledge, you’re better off relying on hard data from the employer’s direct manager.

2) Help participants give quality feedback

Remember that your participants are not HR professionals. They’ve likely never done a formal evaluation like this before, so you need to make questions as clear as possible. Try to focus on easily definable attributes. For instance, instead of asking them to rate communication skills, you could ask if they agree with statements like, “He/she explains things well.”

Your rating system is also important. A 1-10 scale can be too subjective, as one person’s 5 might be another person’s 9. Instead, consider a rating system like great – okay – could be better. Finally, don’t overwhelm your participants with questions. It should generally take no more than 15 minutes to complete the survey.

3) Triangulate the data

Each participant can see a part of the subject, but they don’t have a full view. Your job is to take all the feedback and assemble it into a 360o perspective by comparing results and identifying trends. You’ll start to see recurring themes between feedback reports. Several participants may feel that the subject is highly empathetic, for example, or that they have poor time-management skills. Look for correlations and focus on these areas of interest.

To do this, you’ll need a decent volume of feedback. Around 10-12 participants is a commonly cited number, although you also have to weight results according to the participant's knowledge of the subject. People who regularly interact with the subject will provide more accurate data.

4) Talk through the report

360 reports can feel brutal. Even if the overall report is positive, negative feedback can really get under your skin. That’s counterproductive from a human capital perspective, but you can avoid it by carefully talking through the report together.

At the end of the conversation, both employee and manager should have agreed on a new professional development plan. This plan must include actionable steps to help the individual improve, such as coaching or training. It’s a good idea to check in after a few months and seeing how they processed their feedback.

5) Use a consultant

If you’re not confident about getting this right, it might be worth outsourcing to a professional. Experienced consultants can help you design surveys, collate results, and put together a meaningful report.

360-degree feedback reviews are intense and personal. It can be a lot of pressure on the subject. That means it’s up to you to make the process as pain-free and reassuring as a trip to the doctor’s surgery.