Providing consistent and timely feedback to employees is one of the means for improvement and career growth. Organizations have different ways for employees to provide feedback to each other. In my current organization, providing feedback is one of our main focuses. We regularly talk about our feedback metric in our leadership team more frequently than any other employee engagement metric.

What is 360 Feedback?

There are different ways to provide feedback, with different frequencies and qualities. One of the more expensive, time-consuming ones with a higher level of quality is 360 feedback.

360 feedback process involves an employee nominating some of their colleagues (and stakeholders) and asking them for their feedback. The optimum number of people you usually ask for their feedback is around 5 to 8 people. After feedback is in, you and your manager will go through the answers, discuss them one by one and implement follow-up and improvement actions based on the highlighted themes.

Who Should Provide Feedback?

A good level of diversity in the group of feedback providers ensures that you acquire a realistic 360 view of yourself. It is essential to work with your manager (or coach) to choose a good level of diversity, consisting of peers and colleagues, indirect managers, customers, and reports. Your line manager and yourself should always provide your feedback as well.

Feedback Format

Most of the 360 feedback templates that come out of the box are scaled 1-10 questions. That makes the collection and aggregation of the data simple. While this method scales well, it does not give many contexts behind feedback itself. After all, the context is king. It is imperative to follow up the quantitative questions with open-ended ones. Employees can benefit from tailored feedback to their needs based on their career development journey. That is why 360 feedback is very effective yet time-consuming.

An example for a team member who leads a critical path on a project could be as below:

Q1a. On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate Alex’s ability to communicate with key stakeholders? (1 being not effective at all and 10 being extremely effective)

Q1b. Please describe a situation where Alex’s communication skills impacted the project in a meaningful way.

Best Practices as a Leader

Here are some of the best practices that may help you as a leader to get the most benefit from 360 feedback.

  • While sometimes necessary, I recommend not reducing 360 feedback to an HR apparatus that negatively impacts salary or incentives. In other words, there are easier ways (for both parties) to manage and improve under-performance in a team. Consecutively, if you need 360 feedback to adjust your employees' compensation, perhaps you need to double down on a more comprehensive progression planning and sponsorship for them instead.
  • It is becoming more of a norm to deliver the feedback directly to the individual. While it depends on the team and individual maturity, anonymizing the open-ended answers is encouraged.
  • As a manager, you need to consider all the feedback, identify the patterns and themes, and prioritize the most important ones before delivery. No matter how good of quality feedback it is, ineffective delivery can defeat its whole purpose.
  • You will be surprised to see how many people state the same feedback. Those are the signals you need to identify and highlight to the individual.
  • Make a clear distinction between leading and lagging areas of improvement. In some cases, areas of improvement are the stepping stones towards their next promotion. In other cases, they are areas that they need to get better at in their current capacity.
  • 360 feedback is very time-consuming for all parties. Make sure to free up some time for team members to provide quality feedback. In some companies, they factor this time into their delivery capacity. In others, they may cancel some weekly meetings.
  • Write up an announcement to all the people involved in the process. Clearly explain the intention behind the process (hopefully aimed at progression and improvement of individuals) and best practices to provide feedback.

Delivery of the Feedback

After the feedback is in, you (leader or coach) will arrange a meeting with the individual and go through the feedback together. As mentioned in the previous section, delivering feedback is as important as feedback itself.

Some words on delivering the feedback:

  • Ensure the individuals have enough time (but not too much) to read the result of feedback in advance.
  • The time of the day for the meeting should suit both parties. Leave enough time (1 hour) to discuss and have a conversation. Make sure it is not too early or late in the day.
  • Remove any distractions such as phones or unnecessary devices. Mute all notifications.
  • If you conduct the meeting in person, make sure it is a distraction-free and private environment (a meeting room, not a cubicle or a cafe.)

Final Words

360 feedback is just a vehicle. Feedback tune will reflect your organization’s moral compass. If the organization is a Pathological one, the feedback will be either watered down among peers to avoid any negative impact on their teammates or are retaliatory across organization silos. In other words, it is crucial to have a psychologically safe environment so that individuals use feedback mechanisms as a tool to improve and progress in their careers.

Further Reading