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360-degree review process: How to use feedback to develop your people

9 min read
In a new world of work, organizations need the right tools to develop talent at every level. 360-degree feedback can help you identify and develop the skills your people need to be successful.


Employee development has never been more critical. New business models, increased automation, greater digitalization, self learning, and remote work are all driving a fundamental shift in the skills and behaviors employees need to be successful.

And it’s not just leaders who need to develop new behaviors and skills to adapt to the future of work. All employees, including people managers and individual contributors, need to understand which skills and behaviors will have the most impact on their careers – and your organization.

If you’re looking to get started using 360-degree feedback to develop your people for a new world of work, you’ve come to the right place. At Qualtrics, we strongly recommend that a 360 assessment be utilized purely for developmental purposes. And so, we’ve outlined how a 360 review program works, its benefits, and the steps you can take to get started designing a 360 program that will help you develop talent at your organization, below.

What is a 360-degree review process?

A true 360-degree review program collects feedback from the people employees work closely with, including managers, peers, direct reports, vendors, and customers.

This type of varied feedback can be extremely valuable for employee development and can act as a powerful feedback tool that delivers well-rounded feedback to individual employees.

Why? Because true 360s give employees actionable insight into their behaviors and performance, which in turn, drives development and behavior change.

How effective is 360-degree feedback?

360-degree feedback is a common and powerful approach that many organizations use to combat the issues inherent in traditional performance management. However, at Qualtrics, we don’t recommend using 360 feedback in performance reviews. Instead, we recommend its use to help people positively, through development.

360 feedback is effective for developing your people in the following ways:

  • Increasing employee self-awareness
  • Creating a balanced view of the organization as well as the broader growth and development strategy and expectations
  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses 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

Read more:  Your ultimate guide to 360 Development

7 steps to designing an effective 360-degree review program

Qualtrics 360 Development helps you develop all levels of talent across your organization to close talent gaps and accelerate organizational performance.

Following this seven-step framework, you will be able to successfully deliver an actionable development program that empowers your employees to quickly identify and close their talent gaps so they can become better leaders and drive greater business impact.

Step 1. Set clear goals

It’s critically important to identify clear goals when starting a 360 assessment program for leaders, managers, or individual contributors. As mentioned above, we strongly recommend that a 360 assessment be utilized purely for developmental purposes.

Here’s why: When feedback is tied to performance rating, pay, or promotion, it can negatively affect the fidelity of responses from raters or sometimes be viewed as a political tool. The reason for this is often the scarcity of promotion opportunities and rewards in organizations. Peer feuds can be created by feedback mechanisms and a phenomenon known as “sandbagging” can take over where self-interests trump the investment in developing others.

However, when the purpose of a 360 program is purely developmental, such conflicts of interest can be avoided. 

Step 2. Train raters

Before getting started with 360 assessments, we recommend that you provide adequate training for anyone who will be involved in the rating process. Proper training ensures consistency in how feedback is provided.

When raters are trained to operate from a standpoint of providing feedback that will positively impact a person’s growth, the exercise can create positive momentum for engagement, productivity, and better, more honest relationships with colleagues, leaders, and direct reports.

Step 3. Focus on natural strengths

We also recommend a strengths-based approach to development where the primary focus is on an individual’s natural strengths rather than areas that do not come most naturally. Focusing coaching on only developmental areas will give only incremental results while focusing on people’s natural talents can provide exponential growth.

Step 4. Involve managers and leaders

Wherever possible in the process, involve managers and leaders to convey clearly what is being asked of their teams. Encourage them to spend time with each of their employees through both formal and informal check-ins.

Likewise, managers must be supported and informed in advance about how to communicate the feedback results by specifically focusing on desired behaviors on the job. It’s also important to coach them on setting behavioral goals for their team members while setting up the program.

Step 5. Create buy-in and trust in the 360 development program

It will be critical to engage senior leader champions for a successful 360 development program. Take the time to educate and reiterate the importance of feedback and how it helps to address future skill needs of the organization as well as provide development to employees.

Development is considered one of the top benefits provided by employers. Stress clarity of roles and hold all stakeholders accountable for their roles (Subjects, Managers, Evaluators) while entailing what is expected of each of them.

Step 6. Know what to ask and how to ask it

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to start designing your 360 feedback program. Ideally, your 360 assessments should not exceed 30 to 40 total items to avoid survey fatigue. Keep in mind that a rater could be providing feedback to multiple employees.

Also note that no more than 8-10 competencies should be included in the assessment. This helps employees understand the most critical competencies to their success in the role. 

Learn more about how our new 360 Development framework exemplifies this approach here.

Here are examples of 360 competencies that you might want to include in your assessments:

 

360 review competencies - competency table

As for rating scales, we encourage you to use frequency scales (Rarely > All the time) instead of “agree to disagree” scales. This will help evaluators focus on the consistency of important behaviors. If you are using open text items, phrase them in a way that it leads direct evaluators to identify concrete examples of demonstrated behaviors or provide actionable feedback for improvement.

Here are some other helpful tips for navigating the right items to ask about in your 360 assessment.

Do: Don’t:
Focus your question on a single behavior Focus on multiple behaviors (double/triple barreled)
Start with an action verb (e.g., motivates, listens, and so on.) Include jargon or overly technically language
Capture an important aspect of a key competency Include too many/unnecessary adverbs (e.g., efficiently, effectively)
Ensure the item can be acted upon if identified as an opportunity/weakness Ask questions that are too technical or hard to understand
Ask questions that match the rating scale Ask anything that might be culturally biased
Measure related competencies only Loosely or fail to measure an important competency

Step 7. Personalize the 360 development program to your organization

One of the biggest advantages of using our 360 Development solution is that you can design a program by and for your organization. You can use your own competency model, an external consulting model, or a hybrid of the two. The 360 Development solution affords the flexibility to ask exactly what is required for the organization.

Personalize 360 development program

With our technology and services, you can customize your survey as well as your internal communications, such as invites, reminders, and more. Your 360 feedback program should also consider if different competencies and items need to be asked at different organizational levels and roles.

To offer a more seamless experience to your employees, we also recommend that your feedback programs be directly linked to your talent management processes so that the employees can act on the feedback and development ideas provided by the assessment.

Ultimately, 360 programs should be treated like two-way communication where the organization is highlighting the competencies that are critically important to the culture and employees can see how they are doing against the criteria.

Learn about the power of 360 feedback and why it matters