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Your ultimate guide to 360 Development

12 min read
360 Development, or 360-degree feedback, is a way for managers to get a fuller picture of someone’s strengths and weaknesses. Instead of a two-way conversation, where the manager reviews the employee, this helps widen the lens and reduce manager bias.

What is 360 Development?

A 360 Development assessment, or 360-degree feedback, is a way for individuals to understand their personal strengths and weaknesses through the feedback of others that work with them the most. It’s a development tool for individual leaders and employees, where the combined insights from the collective feedback is used to inform an individual’s development plan.

This guide will help you to understand more about what 360 Feedback Development assessment is, when you should use it, and the steps you need to take to implement an effective program that will help develop your people into more effective leaders.

Learn more about 360-feedback best practices in our free guide

Who can give an employee 360 feedback?

360 Development should be given by those who work directly with the person who’s receiving the feedback. This can include supervisors, colleagues, direct reports, customers, and vendors.

It’s also best practice to choose a reviewer who has worked with the subject for 6 months or more so that they have a more consistent experience of working with them and have seen them through various scenarios at work.

Assessments vary according to an employee’s placement within the organization. Some 360s target HiPOs (high-potential employees) or C-level leadership and executives, whereas others may target the grassroots level (e.g. field employees), managers or frontline leaders, or mid-level management (e.g. Directors or VPs).

Hub article: Find out how to develop great leaders with 360-degree feedback

Why you should only use 360-degree feedback for development

Many clients ask us about the ideal use case for a 360 assessment. Some of them use it for performance management while others purely for development. At Qualtrics, we believe that 360 is ideal for development because feedback should be seen as an investment into an employee through feedback from peers, direct reports, manager, leader, and customer rather than a tool that determines their pay, performance, or promotion. To ensure fidelity of responses and be seen as an authentic review (not a political tool), our recommendation is to use 360 for developing your employees and not evaluating them.

6 steps to implementing a 360 Development program

A 360-feedback assessment is designed to work within a training and talent management program that is meant to grow and develop your people. It provides complete communication and transparency between employees, peers, and managers.

However, it’s important that it’s customized to suit your company’s specific set of needs. At Qualtrics, we embrace 360s for development, but not performance management or evaluation.

Be wary of isolated metrics

We recommend using 360s as a way to inform talent management conversations and not as isolated metrics that drive decisions such as promotion or succession. 360s provide valuable qualitative and quantitative inputs and are best used as a way to provide additional and critical context to objective performance metrics.

Step 1: Have a clear vision across the organization

Having a clear vision and direction for the organization helps everyone to work towards a common goal.

This clear vision should be understood and shared broadly and also aligned to business priorities and goals for the organization. Ensuring you have buy-in from internal stakeholders and executive sponsorship will make sure your 360 vision is successful.

You can then translate this into leadership competencies and behavior statements. These will help you to capture the organization’s unique needs for both current and future success.

Step 2: Communicate effectively 

360 Development is most effective if everyone involved thoroughly understands the process.

When communicating to raters and those being rated make sure to include:

  • The purpose of the 360 Development assessment
  • Confidentiality guidelines
  • How the data will be used
  • What behaviors will be rated

Raters should be provided guidance on how best to tailor feedback based on their own experience with the person they’ll be rating.

It’s important that they’re guided to not let one experience overshadow all others, and that they provide specific examples on what the person they’re rating does well – as well as what they could do differently.

When orienting raters, we suggest that you don’t use terms such as always or never but rather quote specific examples of behavior that you would like the subject to start, stop, or continue. Specificity over generalization will help the employee to identify what is important and a key takeaway for action.

Consider including an outline of the process in the survey invitations including the timeline, who to reach out to with questions or concerns, and expectations for next steps.

You might also want to consider structured training for each of these groups: rater training, subject/participant, HR partners.

Step 3: Help employees choose raters

The right people, or ‘high-quality raters’ are those who can provide meaningful feedback based on quality interactions.

High-quality raters will be those who can provide meaningful feedback based on quality interactions.

Making sure that raters have worked closely enough with the individual being assessed will help to:

  • Ensure the person who’s being rated can be confident in the feedback being provided. Plus, they’re more likely to act on the feedback if they have trust in their raters’ credibility and motives
  • Give enough detail in their feedback for it to be meaningful

In most cases, subjects should be able to choose their raters, but should do it in collaboration with their manager or someone from HR. A good mix of internal and external (where applicable) can also provide a good balance of perspectives on the individual.

This will also help lay the groundwork for the development conversations to follow.

Free eBook: Your guide to talent development using 360 Feedback

Questions for employees when choosing their raters:

  • Has this person had ample opportunity to observe your behavior and/or work closely with you?
  • Do they understand the expectations and nature of your work?
  • Do you feel comfortable discussing feedback with them?
  • Have they worked with you consistently for over 6 months and seen you through varied work situations?
  • Do you predict a very strong positive or negative bias showing up in the feedback?

Set minimum and maximum expectations for the number of raters. There should be enough raters to protect the confidentiality of their feedback. But balance this with the time involved – the more raters involved in the evaluation process, the longer the 360 process will take.

Step 4: Make sure you’re asking the right questions

An open-ended question asking for opinions of an employee’s performance – both good and bad – isn’t helpful. It’ll give you an unorganized cacophony of data.

Instead ensure the questions are relevant and can capture the strengths and areas for the development of the employee who was being assessed.

Every organization has unique characteristics, a distinct culture, and a wide variety of leadership needs. Ask questions that will directly lead to action and pointed improvement recommendations for an individual.

It’s crucial that the content in the 360 is aligned to the competencies with which leaders are evaluated (from a broader performance perspective).

As well as the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the employee to meet their objectives and priorities – it’s also important that their strengths and weaknesses complement the larger growth and development model across the organization.

Step 5: Send, monitor, and nudge

Use your 360 Development tool to send the 360 assessment to each participant.

Monitor to see how the process is going. Make sure to give a deadline that’s realistic, but still keeps it front of mind. If lots of people are having difficulties or aren’t on board you may have to revisit step 2.

Step 6: Share and plan

Share the resulting reports with employees and help them create a plan of action for improvement. Ideally this will be done with their manager who can talk them through their ratings and what they suggest next steps should be. Research prefers that the individual owns the data from the 360 Development so it can be specifically used for personal development.

It’s important that these 360 Development sessions are kept positive. They shouldn’t be an opportunity to berate, but rather a chance for the employee to learn and grow. And most of all, the learnings should be actionable insights.

Pros and cons of 360 Development

When done effectively, the benefits of a 360 include:

  • Increased employee self-awareness
  • A balanced view of the organization as well as the broader growth & development strategy and expectations
  • Identifying strengths and weakness in employee skill sets in order to build on or improve upon them
  • Building a culture of feedback that allows for open communication
  • Ensuring successful succession planning;
  • Generating an optimal flow of identifying training opportunities

When done poorly, some of the downsides of 360-feedback include:

  • Fear of retribution or anxiety over poor working relationships in the future
  • People feeling overburdened by the workload involved
  • Heavy costs of getting consultants to facilitate the process
  • Lack of follow-up leading to apathy around the effectiveness of the process

How to get the most out of your 360 Development program

Consider the future

What are some of the key cognitive and behavioral skills that will become indispensable to the organization in the future? If clients identify some critical skills for the future, through their 360 programs they can not only build a pipeline of leaders and champions who can pave the way forward but also identify where learning and development initiatives should be focused using our organizational dashboards.

Scale the effort

Every employee wants investment. In fact, professional development is considered the top benefit when choosing an organization. It is important to make development accessible to people across the organization and ensure that every employee’s career is nurtured in a personalized manner. Scaling the assessment can also ensure that our clients can scale development by using organizational insights to see where the biggest gaps and strengths exist in the workforce.

Keep it confidential

If employees believe their responses won’t be kept confidential, this can lead to issues related to honesty in giving feedback, increased fear of retribution, negative experiences, and/or organizational culture decline.

Ensure that confidentiality is built in, maintained, and clearly communicated. Raters provide more useful feedback when they know they cannot be identified.

Carefully consider costs

This doesn’t just mean the monetary costs, but time commitment for your people too. Make sure that there are parameters around your process. This should include length of 360 assessment, and number of raters.

Check out how you can use 360-feedback to develop your people

Don’t just listen, act

It’s crucial that feedback is actioned. An employee needs to be given resources to help them if they’re given poor feedback in a particular area.

A lack of follow-up around what happens after going through feedback means that the process becomes pointless. It will also damage future attempts at carrying out effective 360s as employees will be apathetic about how useful it’ll be.

Make sure that you can provide the resources needed in order to help support them if needed.

Develop your people for the future with our 360 Development solution