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Terms and Definitions

What is a 360-degree feedback survey?

Updated: May 22, 2024

360-degree feedback survey definition and meaning

A 360-degree feedback survey is a performance evaluation method that employers use to get feedback about an employee from a variety of sources, including the employee’s manager, direct reports, coworkers, and external stakeholders.

Why some employers use a 360-degree feedback survey

Traditional performance reviews tend to rely solely on management’s assessment of an employee’s performance. As a result, they are often seen as too narrow in scope.

 

Conversely, the 360 degree feedback survey takes a more holistic approach to performance management, moving beyond just the manager’s perceptions. By collecting feedback from both managers and peers, the survey helps employees get the bigger picture on how their performance impacts the team as a whole, including their work styles and behaviors toward coworkers.

 

While these sources are typically internal, there are times when external sources can also contribute if the employee regularly interacts with the public. External stakeholders may include clients, contractors, and vendors. In addition, some surveys also include a self-assessments so employees have the opportunity to evaluate their own performance and compare it to peer feedback.

 

Ultimately, the responses from both internal and external stakeholders can be used to improve employee and organizational performance. In many cases, employers conduct the survey anonymously, so input is as transparent as possible. Participants usually know upfront that their responses will be confidential, though the other parts of an evaluation, like those from the employee’s manager, may not be anonymous.

Benefits of the 360-degree feedback survey

The Harvard Business Review notes that, when executed correctly, the 360 degree feedback process can offer significant benefits:

  • Greater self-awareness: An employee lacking in self-awareness might not see the impact their conduct has on colleagues. For example, they may not understand why they often don’t see eye-to-eye with other team members, or why they don’t get to lead certain projects. The 360 degree feedback process is designed to call attention to blind spots, helping employees recognize how their own negative behaviors contribute to such outcomes.
  • Reiteration of key messages: When multiple people express similar views about an employee’s performance on a regular basis, the feedback inherently gains more visibility, becoming “’louder and clearer.” While this doesn’t automatically make the feedback the “final word,” it does underscore there’s a pattern which may need to be addressed.
  • Higher likelihood of change: This is closely linked to self-awareness. When an employee realizes they are being perceived negatively by their manager or peers, they may be motivated to change when these observations are brought to light. This scenario is particularly relevant for leaders who find out that their leadership tactics are missing the mark.

 

The 360 degree feedback process significantly enhances employees’ awareness of their performance and identifies areas for improvement. As employees address these areas, they not only uncover opportunities for their own career advancement but also contribute to the overall success of the organization.

Reasons a 360-degree feedback survey might be unsuccessful

  • Leadership doesn’t take the process seriously enough or views it as unimportant.
  • The questions do not encourage meaningful responses, due to being irrelevant or vague.
  • Choosing the wrong people as assessors, which can lead to unfair or biased assessments.
  • The feedback is based on personal feelings rather than on objective reasoning.
  • The information collected is discarded, used inappropriately, or not used at all, resulting in no change in employee behavior.
  • Failing to make the feedback process confidential which casts doubt on the system’s integrity.
  • Focusing only on employees’ weaknesses and ignoring their strengths, which undermines the need for employees to continue honing their strengths to keep their skills sharp.

 

Crafting 360-degree feedback survey questions

While close-ended questions or a rating scale (such as 0 to 5) can be used, this approach does not explore the “why” behind the rater’s answer, making it challenging to pinpoint exactly what needs to change.

 

For this reason, including targeted open-ended questions in the 360-degree feedback survey is advisable. This allows for more detailed responses, including insights into why the rater arrived at their conclusion. Questions should be tailored to the feedback provider, with separate survey questions for managers, direct reports, team members, and external stakeholders.

 

For instance, 360-degree feedback survey questions for managers may focus on the employee’s:

 

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management and efficiency
  • Motivation levels
  • Leadership abilities
  • Alignment with organizational goals

 

Both close-ended and open-ended questions can be incorporated. Furthermore, categories such as communication, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills may also be suitable for team members, not just managers. However, the specific questions for team members may vary from those for managers. For instance, team members might be asked to describe the employee’s motivation levels on a particular project they collaborated on.

Using 360-degree feedback survey in a sentence

“Our company has been using the 360-degree feedback survey process for several years, are pleased with the results, and has found that effective administration of the survey system is the key to success.”

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