How 360 Degree Feedback Works: A Simple Guide for UK HR Teams

Rachel Greenway
Last updated on March 26, 2024

360-degree feedback allows employees to get feedback from their colleagues, managers, direct reports and other key stakeholders.

This popular performance methodology allows employees to get a full picture of their particular strengths and weaknesses and has become one of the most applied performance assessment tools within UK companies in recent years.

But how does 360 feedback work exactly, and is it all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s hone in on this popular performance assessment method and unravel some of these questions.

What is 360-degree feedback?

At its core, a 360 appraisal is a way to measure employee performance that draws on multiple sources to provide an employee with a holistic view of their strengths and areas for improvement. A simple two-way conversation where the manager assesses their direct report is expanded, pulling in comments from other colleagues, peers, team members and stakeholders. This results in a broad spectrum of perspectives that should, in theory, reduce manager bias. 

But it goes further than this. The 360-degree methodology can help uncover more systemic organisational issues and foster more open cultures and communication. So, let’s look at how this works and why UK businesses should opt for a 360 approach.

 

What is a 360 assessment, and how does it work? 

Typically a company will collect feedback using a structured survey. This questionnaire should be well-rounded and cover a wide range of competencies and work behaviours. 

Your HR team or the employee’s manager can distribute these 360 feedback evaluations to a select group of respondents - including managers, direct reports, and, in some cases, external stakeholders like clients or vendors. You shouldn’t select more than four to eight peers. 

Remember 💡

The anonymity of the responses should allow these peers to express themselves freely, though note this can be a bit of a double-edged sword and result in bold, sweeping statements that need to be taken with a grain of salt. Still, these statements can provide excellent learnings for employees and support further personal and professional development.

Why should UK companies implement 360 performance feedback?

Far from just being a snazzy way to assess your employees, a 360 performance methodology has many other organisational benefits. 

For one, it enhances self-awareness, an essential skill in the modern business era. In other words, it can help employees understand how their behaviour and work performance are perceived by others, thereby identifying gaps in self-perception. In addition to this, it can promote a culture of more regular feedback, resulting in impact at both the individual and collective levels. 

But what’s really impressive is the key strategic role 360 evaluations can play in identifying and shaping future leaders. In fact, if leveraged in the right way, 360 feedback can easily become one of the cornerstones of your entire performance management strategy. 

That’s especially critical for scaling and growing businesses that rely on employees having keen collaboration and leadership skills.

 

Are 360 performance appraisals outdated?

Despite widespread adoption, some critics question the relevance of the 360 method in today's fast-paced business environment. 

To begin with, putting together a 360-degree feedback program takes a lot of work, especially without a Human Resource Management System (HRIS) in place. It can also result in feedback from less experienced raters. Groups can also ‘game’ the program by agreeing to respond to surveys in a specific way. 

To mitigate this, it's crucial to ensure a diverse and representative group of respondents and emphasise the importance of honest, constructive feedback. Training respondents on how to provide effective feedback can also help minimise biases.

All that said, the 360 methodology remains a powerful process. When implemented thoughtfully, it can foster personal growth, enhance team performance, and serve to align individual objectives with organisational goals.

Theories behind the 360 methodology

360-degree feedback is grounded in various psychological theories, including social cognitive theory, which emphasises the role of observational learning, and the Johari window, which highlights the importance of self-awareness and feedback in personal development. These theories support the notion that feedback from multiple sources can lead to greater self-awareness and behavioural change.

How UK HR teams can prepare to deliver 360 feedback

Preparing for a 360 evaluation involves some planning and consideration. Here are the key steps your team should move through:

1️⃣ Define Clear Objectives 

Start by establishing what you want to achieve. Whether it's leadership development, performance improvement, or team building, having clear objectives will guide the entire process.

2️⃣ Communicate Effectively 

Ensure all participants understand the purpose, process, and benefits of 360 evaluations. Transparent communication is crucial to gaining buy-in and participation from everyone involved.

3️⃣ Select Appropriate Respondents

Choose a diverse group of respondents who can provide meaningful feedback based on their interactions with the employee.

4️⃣ Use a Structured Questionnaire

Develop or choose a questionnaire that covers relevant competencies and behaviours. It should include both quantitative and qualitative questions to gather comprehensive feedback.

5️⃣ Ensure Anonymity and Confidentiality: 

Protect the anonymity of respondents to encourage honest and constructive feedback. The confidentiality of the feedback should also be maintained to foster trust in the process.

Examples of good 360 feedback 

Good 360 performance feedback is specific, actionable, and balanced. It highlights strengths while also offering constructive criticism on areas for improvement. For example, feedback like "Your ability to lead by example has significantly improved our team's morale and productivity" provides positive reinforcement. 

Meanwhile, constructive feedback such as "Developing your project management skills could help in delivering projects more efficiently" offers clear direction for personal development.

So, what are some examples of good 360 feedback questions you can ask? Here are a few ideas of questions you can ask to generate these types of responses.

Close-ended 360 feedback questions

These types of questions are more quantifiable and typically plotted on a scale from 1 to 5, like:

  • This employee meets their deadlines and works efficiently

  • This employee communicates clearly when working on projects

  • This employee is solution-orientated and solves problems in creative ways

  • This employee embodies the company culture and values

  • This employee is always thinking about what the customer/audience needs

Open-ended 360 feedback questions 

These types of questions allow you to get more details in a few words, about the employee’s performance, like:

  • What kind of impact does the employee have when working on projects?

  • What is the employee doing well, and should continue to do?

  • What could this employee improve upon/do better?

  • How does this employee communicate, and how are they at taking feedback?

  • What next steps could this employee take in their development?

Other best practices 

The success of any 360 feedback program really comes down to how well you prepare your respondents. 

Leaving good feedback (and we mean really good and useful feedback) is an art form. Not all of your respondents may yet be comfortable or experienced in providing this kind of constructive criticism. So, it’s important that you provide opportunities to help ‘coach’ your workforce. You can do so by holding informational sessions that help teach employees how to give amazing and actionable feedback in a fun and light setting. 

These opportunities are also the perfect time to share with your wider organisation the reasons your team is implementing 360 feedback. Without this key information, some respondents might assume this program has been put into place for remedial reasons or as a disciplinary measure. This is the last thing you want. 

Instead, have your HR team promote a culture of trust and transparency by taking the time to introduce your new feedback program properly and explain the purpose behind it. That way, you get everyone sold on the idea and on the same page!

Are 360 appraisals right for your organisation?

Finally, like many of the tools and techniques we share in this space, it’s important to think about whether or not 360-degree feedback is right for your unique organisation. Remember, no solution is one-size-fits-all. Still, as we just explored in this blog, it can be a powerful tool which results in a whole slew of benefits, including promoting a more feedback-comfortable culture that’s both transparent and empowering for employees. 

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