9 Classic 360 feedback mistakes

Mistake l: Not knowing why you are doing it:

The 360 feedback process is a really useful tool for facilitating change in individuals and teams. We also know that it doesn’t always meet this objective, and one of the contributing reasons for that is not being clear on the good sound business reasons for introducing it.

Do not do this just because a Senior Manager says so, or you feel everybody else is doing it so you should. If a 360 process is a solution then consider what is the organisational problem?

If you are going to invest in a 360 process:
What are the compelling needs that a 360 process will meet?
What are the individual, team and organisational outcomes you expect?
What are the risks to the organisation in terms of culture fit, trust, conflict, stress?

The key is to get specific and ensure you get the best tailored solution for your circumstances.

On occasions that might mean not doing a 360 process until other things are in place.

What has been your experience with 360's?
Any do's and don'ts others can learn from?

Why not share your 360 war stories here?

Mistake 2: Not investing in the right areas:

It is easy to get distracted by the survey design and reporting process, after all that is what glossy brochures and fancy web sites often focus on. Of course these things are important but the real value in a 360 process is at the back end where participant are:
reflecting on what the results mean to them
thinking about how they may need to change.
struggling to write a personal development plan
not developing the necessary learning project management habits

Our recommendation is try and put a minimum of 60% of your investment into the events that happen after the 360 reporting.

This includes a trained facilitator/coach in the feedback session or sessions, skills training for the manager, supporting documentation, templates and general support for development plan, a systemisation of activities like development plan monitoring and follows up.

Mistake 3: Turning people off

The logistics can be complex and unattended little details can lead to major mishaps. Without making it crystal clear who needs to be rating who and in what time frame;sorting out the mechanics of processing and issuing feedback, a theoretically smooth process can degenerate into a confising mess. Overseeing the administration can be a logistical challenge at best and a nightmare at worst.

Regardless of the medium used such as on-line, paper-and-pencil or email, it’s important to have clear decisions and a clearly communicated understanding on how the survey instruments will be distributed and processed and how surveys and feedback will be sent to people.

Mistake 4: Not managing fears and uncertainty

Build trust by communicating early and allow some engagement and discussion of the process. Remember every 360 feedback process carries a perceived risk for the participant...

To avoid potential misunderstanding, or feelings of betrayal, it’s also essential to communicate clearly about confidentiality issues. Be sure that all stakeholders and other interested parties have thoroughly discussed their concerns before implementation and that, at minimum, they understand the rationale underlying major decisions.

Although not one of the most exciting aspects of a 360-degree feedback intervention, the coordination and administration are absolutely critical for success. It’s essential to communicate-and communicate-about such major issues as how confidentiality will be safeguarded and what the potential impact of negative feedback might be on someone’s career.

Mistake 5: Compromising confidentiality

360 Feedback is based upon the idea that people can feel safe in providing anonymous feedback. This is to balance the power that managers have in work places, and peoples' natural reluctance to hold back what they really mean.

Up front be really clear in your communications about what is anonymous and what is not. For example the managers rating and comments are not anonymous but individual team members might be.

Be careful when handling the following and adopt the confidentiality principle:

How written comments will be used or transcribed
What is the minimum number of respondents in a category such as peers?
What information and when will it be shared with the manager
What feedback will be given to respondents after the 360?
Will the participant be open to their teams about the feedback they have received?
How will the 360 feedback data be used in the organisation purely for development or as part of an appraisal process?

Mistake 6: Making it an event rather than a process

360 feedback can turn out to be events rather than part of a developmental and feedback process.Ironically a big launch reinforces that idea but without continuous improvement and follow up and evaluation, a 360 feedback process will not be successful.

Try and think of the actual 360 feedback report but one milestone on the way to people working in a focused and continuous way on their own development.

One way of engraining this process into the culture is to repeat a 360 feedback process after having had some time working on a development plan. (Typically 12 -18 months later.) It can reenergise the persons development identify new challenges and provide a useful benchmark of progress.

Repeating the 360- degree process also allows the organisation to improve the process over time and learn how to get the best out of it.

Mistake 7: Making a crutch for performance management

Beware of managers looking for the excuse of

"If only I had more objective data to put before my team member I could manage their performance better."

Multi-rater feedback can be valuable, but should not replace the feedback that employees should get from their manager on a regular basis on expectations, priorities and performance feedback.

Managers must be willing to confront unacceptable behaviour and manage poor performers on an ongoing basis. They should provide feedback to their staff on an as-needed basis.

This might be a circumstance where 360 feedback might not be the best organisational solution, but skill training or workshopping with teams or vision and values communication strategies might be more appropriate.

Mistake 8: Not being clear about the feedback’s use

It can create confusion and concern if you don’t make sure people know whether the feedback will be used for evaluation or development purposes.

The majority of organizations use 360 degree feedback strictly as a development tool. Here there are no formal repercussions for people getting negative feedback.

Other organizations use 360-degree feedback as a vehicle for performance management, typically as an adjunct to existing systems. Sometimes, 360-degree feedback falls somewhere in between; it’s purpose us for development and evaluation.

There are important trade-offs to using 360-degree feedback as a development tool. If you decide to use it for development purposes, be sure to make that clear. The predominant view is probably that for feedback to be most effective, it must be purely developmental. Feedback providers have to know there’s no pressure for them to be anything but honest and candid, and people will accept feedback more easily when they don’t fear repercussions in the organisation.

Mistake 9: don’t under estimate the culture change required.

Moving to a culture of openly sharing feedback can be a big step for some organisation if not the start of a long journey. You need to assess if you are already far enough along on that journey in order to get the best out of a peer feedback process.The concept of upward feedback can still be seen as radical in more hierarchical cultures as can the idea of employees as stakeholders. This shouldn’t be done lightly and only after the appropriate groundwork has been laid.

Our recommendations to find a high performing Senior Manager to champion a small pilot programme. Make this pilot a high touch process. so you can reassure the participants, deal with any unexpected outcomes, and accelerate the learning process for the organisation.

Tie the outcomes into any other talent or developmental processes and evaluate the pilot using pre and post surveys, focus groups, for the participants and their co-workers, development plan reviews etc...

Changing people’s behaviours can be tricky so consider the pilot evaluation as part of the feedback process for the organisation, so it can learn how it best influences positive changes in behaviour.

It’s important to determine exactly how 360-degree feedback can be used to improve both individual and organizational performance.

Been involved in a 360 degree feedback horror story?

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