The 7 Keys to Mastering the 360-Degree Performance Review

We’ve all undergone job performance reviews.

Ideally, you experience them at least once a year — hopefully more often if your organization keeps a tighter rein on strategic alignment. As a manager, you’ve probably conducted any number of them on your own employees.

Until a few years ago, such evaluations went in one direction only: downward. All criticisms, praise, and suggestions came from leadership to team members.

In recent years, however, the workplace has begin to evolve away from the “Me Boss, You Not” attitude. Professional work has become more of a collaborative affair.

Feedback from all directions

Many managers lead by consensus and example, rather than by handing down edicts from senior leadership. As a result, the 360-degree feedback review has gained popularity.

As the name suggests, in a 360 review, you get feedback from all directions: your leaders, as well as selected peers and direct reports. For obvious reasons, these also go by the term “multi-rater reviews.” Initially, they weren’t mandatory and rarely tied to compensation; the original idea was to help underperformers improve.

Despite some experts’ recommendations to the contrary, however, 360 reviews now tend to be mandatory, and companies often use them to determine both compensation and promotion.

Both sides of the camera

If your company’s performance assessment system now includes 360 reviews, you’ll need to take various factors into account before either conducting or participating in one. Let’s look at how to handle the former situation first.

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  1. Determine the right skills to assess. Which competencies matter most in the participant’s job? Focus on those, assessing them based on specific benchmarks, and focus on no more than a few at a time. Be sure the review relates back specifically to the organization’s strategic goals, mission, vision, and values.
  2. Carefully select the raters. Choose individuals who work closely with the participant and have no axes to grind, so they can provide balanced, unbiased feedback.
  3. Explain the intent. Communicate to everyone involved the purpose of the review, and how you’ll use the feedback.
  4. Ensure confidentiality. The identities of the peer and employee raters should remain unknown, even to each other, to heighten the effectiveness of the feedback.
  5. Keep it simple. Create a questionnaire consisting of no more than about 50 questions the raters can complete in 15-20 minutes. Questions should allow assessment on a multi-point scale (usually 1 to 5 or 1 to 7). Use normal, everyday language for your questions.
  6. Search for strengths rather than weaknesses. While you may discover deficiencies in the participant’s performance as a result of the assessment, focus on strengths they can fine tune. After all, which represents the most profitable investment: going from good to great at something, or from poor to mediocre?
  7. Follow up. Some people treat 360 reviews as ends in themselves — and that’s a huge mistake. Any assessment is just a tool to help you decide what to do next. Pay attention to the feedback. Debrief participants immediately in a constructive manner, and help them implement any necessary changes.

You, the recipient

If you face a mandatory 360 review, keep these things in mind:

  • It’s not the end of the world. The intent of an honest 360 review is to help you maximize your performance, not to punish you. Move forward with the review in a dignified manner.
  • Implement the feedback. Don’t just stick the feedback forms in a drawer somewhere and ignore them. Take the results seriously and try to better yourself.
  • Don’t go off on anyone. If you receive negative feedback, don’t get upset, especially if you think it came from one of your employees. Remember: it represents not proof of inadequacy, but someone’s perception of it.

The Bottom Line

While 360 reviews can be controversial, in general the results prove positive. Among other things, good 360 reviews:

  • Provide well-rounded, useful feedback;
  • Aid team development;
  • Contribute to performance development;
  • Enhance the individual’s career development;
  • Reduce accusations of discrimination; and,
  • Determine training needs.

Mandatory or not, these all-the-way-around reviews provide a much-needed balance largely missing from traditional boss-employee assessments.

Instead of being limited to one boss’s perceptions, they can reveal lateral and downward issues that may need improve so as to maximize team productivity — even more important than individual productivity in the long run.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.

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4 Comments on “The 7 Keys to Mastering the 360-Degree Performance Review

  1. 360 reviews are a REALLY BAD idea…A person’s job performance is a negotiation between the employee and his/her manager…that is, the two agree on what the employee is supposed to accomplish (and hopefully, how to do it)… Different audiences have different expectations making it impossible to be all things to all audiences. When you ask an entire range of folks to provide performance input (especially one where pay or promotions are concerned) only a dullard would expect people to be honest. Research shows within about three years, the majority of 360 reviews degenerate into either personal vendettas or mutual admiration societies.

    1. Wendell, In their book Execution, Bossidy and Charan made it clear that organizations and their leaders get the behavior that they are willing to tolerate. Thus if 360 feedback degenerates in 3 years, it is not the system, but this is the behavior the organization’s leaders are willing to tolerate.

      Like any system, if it done well, it can be awesome, and if it implemented poorly, it will smell really bad. So don’t blame the system as it is only a tool. Blame the implementation…

  2. Laura,
    I like so much of what you say. It is just good common sense management of people. Here comes the “but”, but it is only a small but. Absolutely “Keep It Simple”, but 50 questions on a scale from 1-7 isn’t simple. I would suggest think in terms of 1 or 2 SMART goals with a response of “yes” or “no” and space for comments.

    We have been talking about 360 feedback for over 20 years, but it is still the exception and not the rule. Maybe someday.

  3. although the 360 degree performance appraisal towards employee are good, but there are some disadvantages of it.

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