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360˚ Feedback Tips

360 Feedback Tips and Best Practices

360 Feedback Best Practices Webinar

Join us as we provide our best practices for running a 360 Feedback Session based on our 20-years experience in using this process.

360˚ Feedback Tips: The Challenge of Doing it Right

Our firm has offered 360˚ feedback services and products for over 20 years. We have found it to be a very powerful tool for professional development.

Unfortunately, we have also seen it have devastating effects if used inappropriately. We created this guide and identified nine 360-degree feedback tips, hoping that some of what we have learned over the years can help you meet the challenge of doing 360-degree feedback correctly.

We’ll pull in our personal experience using two 360 feedback products: 20/20 Insight Gold, published by Performance Support Systems, and Checkpoint 360.

Let’s start with a simple definition of feedback, which forms the underlying foundation of why you would want to conduct a 360 project in the first place:

Feedback: the communication of information about behavior or performance in a way that enables the feedback receivers to use the information to their advantage and benefit.

Of course, day-to-day feedback between managers and direct reports and peer-to-peer feedback fits this definition and is very important in professional development.

However, when you add a number of people providing feedback on the same behavior, it becomes a 360-degree feedback or multi-rater process.

Different rater relationships often result in different feedback. This, in itself, becomes a coaching tool as you try to understand why one group observes the feedback recipient in one way while another group sees the same person very differently.

This leads us directly into our first 360-degree feedback tip.

1. 360˚ feedback is for development, not discipline.

Organizations should use 360-degree feedback for development purposes only. 

The feedback should never be tied to disciplinary action, pay, or promotion. The resulting data and report should be confidential and viewed only by the subject of the feedback and their coach.

Disciplinary action, pay, or promotion should be based on observable behavior, not on the ratings or comments of others — no matter how significant the ratings may seem.

Done well, the ratings and comments obtained through a 360˚ feedback process can be used by the subject to develop actionable goals that can be monitored and evaluated. More on that in tip #7.

2. Assess what is important to YOUR organization.

What is important in your business environment today? What issues are you facing?

Mergers, acquisitions, growth, decline, flat sales, new competition, loss of talent, new leadership, low employee engagement, and high turnover are just some of the potential issues that may have brought you to consider feedback tools for your organization.

Based on your current business environment, what does your organization hope to get out of the 360-degree feedback process? Keep this vision in front of you. It helps communicate the importance of the process, and ties it to business needs and results.

If there are specific behaviors that will help meet current organizational goals, evaluating how well subjects are executing those behaviors can be very important in professional development. Likewise, putting an organizational vision, or the values that drive it, into observable behaviors will help develop the desired culture to attain the vision and live the values.

3. Write feedback items as single, observable behaviors.

How would you rate the following item on a 10-point scale?

  • “Subject” has good problem-solving skills and deploys them with team members.

What if the subject does have good problem-solving skills, but never uses them? Additionally, what if the subject has great skills but is not good at using them with team members? What score would you give?

If collaborating with team members in solving problems is the important behavior, something like this would focus on a single behavior:

  • When brainstorming with team members “Subject” records ideas for all to see.

Be sure each item is a single behavior and is very observable to the rater. If you are creating custom questions, always ask someone to review them to determine if the questions are measurable in the way that you intended them to be.

4. Choose raters with a good “line of sight” to the subject and use an invitation approach.

If raters are not in a position to actually observe the subject’s behavior regarding a specific assessment item,  be sure to provide a “Not Observed” option. If that option is not available, there will be a tendency to give an inaccurate rating. Depending on the relationship with the subject, the rater may use the opportunity to rate high (halo effect) or rate low (hoof & horn effect). They may also choose a middle of the scale rating. In either case, the report will not provide accurate information.

The subject should invite as many people as possible who are in that good “line of sight” category while making sure not to choose only those they believe will provide positive ratings. The primary purpose of a 360˚ feedback project is to help the subject truly understand how his or her behavior is being perceived by all stakeholders.

We have also found that it is not unusual for a subject’s intentions to be misunderstood because the behavior is perceived by the raters differently than the subject intended. We coach subjects to consider these situations as a “marketing problem.” They are not letting people know their real intentions. It’s important to remind subjects in this situation that people can only see our behaviors, not our intentions.

5. Conduct an orientation for the subjects and the raters.

360 Degree Feedback Tips - Feedback Cycle includes four steps: identify raters, conduct orientation session, collect & interpret the data; coach and debrief the assessment results.

Once a good set of raters is identified, it is time to invite them into the process. Communication at this stage is critical. The raters need to know how the feedback will be used and what confidentiality and anonymity procedures are in place.

Try a quick survey of everyone you know, and ask them how excited they would be for an opportunity to be the subject of a 360˚ feedback project. Not many hands would go up! You could also ask how many would enjoy being raters. Again, not many hands would go up because giving and receiving feedback is not a significant part of our culture. We have not been taught how to do either part of it well. This is why an orientation is a significant piece of any good 360-degree feedback project.

We like to conduct two orientations: one for the feedback subjects, and one for the raters

During both orientation sessions, we will: 

  • Share a sample of the final report.
  • Explain how the assessment tool works.
  • Answer questions of confidentiality, anonymity, and the professional development process.

During the subject orientation, be sure to cover the rater selection process and the importance of a positive invitation so that the raters know their feedback is both important and welcome.

For the rater orientation, spend time on how to write a good comment (if your assessment allows for them, which we hope it does!). Comments explaining or illustrating the numerical ratings are critical to maximize understanding. This is where the action is. If someone gives me a specific comment on a positive behavior, I am more likely to repeat it in the future. A specific comment on a negative behavior can give me guidance on how to improve or change my behavior.

In a system such as 20/20 Insight Gold, which allows for open comments, reviewing how to write a good comment is particularly important, since raters may unintentionally (or intentionally) write a comment that’s downright hurtful. Other assessments, like Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders, provide constructive, pre-written comments for raters to choose from, which will eliminate that problem.

6. Avoid rater fatigue.

this picture shows a meme of Bernie sanders saying "I am once again asking for you to complete a 360 assessment". The meme is aimed to make fun of the experience people may have when they are asked to complete too many 360 assessments as a rater.


The first 360˚ feedback process we conducted included 100 assessment items.

The client had a lot of ideas on behaviors they thought were critical. Of course, an assessment of this magnitude means a lot of time is required of each rater. And, if a rater is asked to provide feedback on multiple subjects (as is often the case), the project is doomed to failure.

Pay attention to how many subjects a rater may need to rate.

We suggest you break a large feedback project into smaller projects over time.

Another idea that we have pushed our clients to implement is to set aside a specific time in your organization dedicated to responding to the assessment. You can name this time (i.e. feedback time, do not disturb time) so the responses can be thoughtful.

When you add this structure for the raters, you should be able to catch when too much is being asked of a single rater.

7. Never deliver a report to a subject without a debriefing process.

The next, and most important step is delivering the feedback to the subject and setting up a professional development process.

We have developed a process for both of the feedback systems we use. In each case, it begins by showing the subject(s) how to read the report. Usually, this is done before providing the personal report. Once the subject has their report, encourage them to look for strengths and for ways to build on their strengths. Many subjects are inclined to skip this step and look for the negatives first.

When reviewing the negatives, make sure the subject does not launch a “witch hunt” trying to figure out who provided them with negative responses. Review the “intention/perspective” problem mentioned in Tip #4. If possible, include a behavioral style assessment, such as DiSC, for the subject. Many times the perception of behavior is built on either the subject’s strong style or the filtering of the behavior through the rater’s style, or both. This is not to be an excuse for behavior. However, in our experience, it helps the subject formulate ideas on how to solve the “marketing problem,” assuming the intentions were appropriate.

It is also a good idea to help the subject(s) evaluate the source of performance gaps. A good place to start is in Bob Mager’s classic book, Analyzing Performance Problems.  For this, we like to use a tool in the 20/20 Insight Gold system or a simple handout showing the Mager model.

Include suggestions in this initial review of the feedback on how to best communicate with raters:

  1. Truly thank them for taking the time to provide feedback.
  2. Ask for additional, clarifying feedback.
  3. Identify one behavior change that can be made immediately to show raters that the subject is serious about professional development.

Assuming the subject’s immediate supervisor considers the professional development of their direct reports to be part of their role, provide some guidance on how the subject can take a section or more of the report to their supervisor for support and goal setting. Generally, this would be the category summaries without specific item ratings or comments. Then, in collaboration with the supervisor, a coach, or both, the subject can use the report data to identify 1-3 SMART goals to put into action and track over time.

8. Consider evaluating your organization’s readiness for 360˚ feedback.

A number of years ago, we worked with a very large organization that conducted a regular employee opinion survey. One of the questions on the survey asked raters: “Do you believe the results of this survey will be acted upon?”

Less than 25% of the raters chose “Yes.”

Knowing your organization’s culture, past experiences with 360-degree feedback, and beliefs on whether the feedback will be taken seriously (or even utilized) is important.

There may be some organizational work to be done before you embark on this journey. It has been said, “do it wrong, and you will never have the opportunity to do it again.”

Conducting a readiness survey before you start a 360 process will help you understand what hurdles you may encounter before you even begin the 360 process.

9. Take your time, and do it well!

360˚ feedback is a powerful process that can positively affect on your organization’s professional development program if it is done right. We hope you use these tips to reap the benefits of feedback.

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