360 Degree Assessment

by Julia Miller

Using 360 degree feedback

360 can be used for managing the performance of individuals at all levels of the organisation, for teams, for departments and for the organisation as a whole. Its primary use is as a measurement of someone’s skills. It can also be used as a diagnostic and as a stimulus for action. Some case studies gives some examples of 360 degree feedback in action.

Delivering feedback

If you will be going through their report and giving feedback to someone who has been rated, you should, as part of the process, receive training in doing this effectively and appropriately. It is usual to give feedback within a workshop or face-to-face meeting, rather than by separate e-mail and without discussion.

  • Look at any extremes in the scores.
  • Don’t concentrate on the negative; focus on the strengths.
  • Be prepared for an emotional response to the feedback.

If possible, use internal or external consultants to give the feedback. Research has shown that behavioural change is greater when consultants are used. They can ensure that the report is clearly understood and that any potential negative reactions are managed.

360 feedback interventions

The tool can be used in many different scenarios:

  • Personal development
  • Training and development programmes
  • Team building
  • Performance management
  • Organisational development
  • Quality management
  • Succession planning
  • Leadership development
  • Executive coaching.

You need to make sure the facilitator is clearly briefed and that participants complete agreed action plans as a result of their feedback.

In personal development

A 360 degree assessment can be used within a personal development programme to provide a focus for action. It is often valuable for very task-focused senior executives, as it can highlight the need for them to develop their people skills. As indicated in the diagram below, it can prove a useful tool for change.

Within training and development programmes

A 360 degree process is often used at the start and the end of an organisation’s training and development programme. The behaviours that are being measured are usually related to the competency framework. Using 360 at the start helps the training and development managers to ensure that the programme is structured to meet specifically identified development needs. If the 360 is repeated at the end of the programme, they can measure how far people’s behaviour and skills levels have changed.

If you use 360 in this way with groups, the benefit is that you can share development needs and action plans with others. You must, however, make sure that everyone is happy with sharing their feedback.

Using 360 across an organisation also allows you to identify differences in skills levels across and within groups.

For team-building

Some 360 degree instruments focus on team-working skills. When a 360 instrument of this type is used within a specific team, team members can assess each other on particular skills. Alternatively, you could design your 360 instrument to look at the performance of your team as a unit, asking your customers to rate the team on its problem-solving abilities, on how well you deliver on your promises and so on. Think about what competencies are needed within your team to deliver customer satisfaction and what measurable behaviours can demonstrate these. The benefit of this approach is the opportunity it offers your team to spend more time concentrating on those specific actions that will result in improvement in the areas that matter.


Be careful: some people can see team member feedback as potentially threatening, so you must used a skilled facilitator for this.

Performance management

You can also use 360 degree feedback as part of your current performance management system, either within appraisals or instead of these. On occasion, it may be worth using a 360 degree to inspire better performance by breathing new life into a process that may have become routine. If, as a manager, you are using it to improve your staff’s performance, there are some points to remember:

  • Avoid emphasis on the negatives
  • Concentrate on the process as well as the result
  • Use some of the other topics to help you gain rapport, listen well and be observant while you are giving feedback.

Used correctly, 360 is a powerful technique for performance improvement and can

  • Promote self-awareness
  • Encourage self-development
  • Clarify any problem areas
  • Stimulate change
  • Build confidence
  • Reinforce useful behaviours.

Never use a 360 as a way of managing out your poor performers. It can, however, be built into current organisational measurements of customer and supplier satisfaction, by measuring at an individual behavioural level how your organisation is performing.

Strategic organisational development

This form of assessment can be used very successfully as part of a culture change programme within an organisation, and particularly as a means of helping people to understand how they are perceived by their colleagues and how they might be able to change. Benefits may include the following:

  • More supportive management and better team working
  • Changed attitudes to performance
  • Improvements in the ways in which people give an-d receive feedback on their performance.

You need to get your top-level management or board committed to the use of 360 at the start of any organisational programme.

Part of a quality management process

A 360 degree assessment focuses clearly on evidence and measurement and can therefore contribute to any TQM systems you might already have in place. You can use 360 to give you structured data on customer or stakeholder feedback in sufficient detail for you to develop action plans that you can therefore be sure will impact on your bottom line.

When not to use 360 feedback

There are times when it is not appropriate to use 360 degree feedback, either for individuals or for the organisation. Some examples of this are

  • When an individual is new to the organisation
  • When there are not enough respondents to fully understand the scope of an individual’s responsibilities
  • During a time of change within an organisation
  • Where there is a high degree of mistrust.

It is not a good idea to suggest 360 during times of upheaval or periods of mistrust, as staff will feel threatened by it.