While traditional employee performance reviews are a useful way to evaluate overall employee performance, they sometimes fall short in being able to provide specific, detailed feedback on an individual’s current skill set. After all, an employee’s ability to meet their goals isn’t the only contribution they bring to the workplace; their leadership, communication, collaboration, organizational, and creative skills not only impact their job performance, but also affect the larger team’s success.
However, managers don’t always have that comprehensive view of their employee’s skills and competencies, whereas an individual’s team members would have more detailed insights into their daily contributions. That’s where 360-degree reviews come in: Managers and HR teams can provide meaningful feedback and career guidance to employees by using this type of review to collect feedback from an employee’s teammates, direct reports, and colleagues. Additionally, this will enable managers and HR to understand the full extent of an employee’s workplace abilities.
Here's how to implement a 360-degree review process at your organization, and give your employees more comprehensive skills assessments that can help them develop their careers — and benefit your company, too.
While traditional performance reviews share manager feedback with an employee, 360-degree reviews collect anonymous feedback from four to five of an employee’s team members, colleagues, or subordinates. By combining feedback from multiple sources, rather than just an employee’s manager, 360-degree reviews provide a more balanced view of an employee’s skills, strengths, and areas for improvement.
This type of review can also provide a more detailed view of an individual’s performance. Whereas performance reviews tend to look at an employee’s overall performance and their ability to meet goals, 360-degree reviews dive deeper into an employee’s specific competencies to give a more holistic view of their strengths and weaknesses.
A 360-degree performance review might surface perspectives on an individual’s ability to lead a team, work cross-functionally, and collaborate with teammates. Because they take a more balanced and comprehensive approach to employee performance, 360-degree reviews are an effective way to not only fairly evaluate an employee’s workplace contributions, but also identify areas of improvement that can help guide their professional development.
Collecting and giving 360-degree feedback involves quite a bit of effort, but it’s worth the investment. If you’ve never used this framework before, you might be wondering what the 360-degree feedback process looks like. To help you implement your own 360-degree reviews, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to gather and share actionable feedback with employees.
To get started, you’ll need to decide what questions you want to be answered about your employee’s performance. These questions will need to be personalized to each employee based on their role, responsibilities, professional goals, and strengths. Common areas that 360-degree reviews can help assess include leadership, communication, collaboration, teamwork, creativity, and project and time management. You may also want to include questions that touch on your company values and reveal to what extent an employee embodies them.
Aim to have around 50 questions on your final survey, or for it to take respondents 10-15 minutes to complete, so people aren’t overwhelmed by survey length and can take the time to leave meaningful feedback. You’ll also want to incorporate a mix of Likert scale questions, where respondents must choose from a list of answers ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” on any given statement, as well as free-response questions. This combination will give you both quantitative and qualitative data to help guide your analysis.
Next, you’ll need to select who will be on the 360-degree review panel. Again, these people should be purposefully chosen for your specific employee. They might be teammates who can talk about that person’s collaboration skills, cross-functional colleagues who can speak to their project management abilities, or direct reports who can weigh in on leadership capabilities.
Select enough participants to ensure you get balanced, diverse perspectives, and take care to secure the anonymity of your sources. “To maintain rater confidentiality, it’s best to include at least three people per group, meaning peers, colleagues, or direct reports. That allows for their data to remain confidential and comments and feedback become harder to trace,” advised Bryan Gillette, President and principal HR consultant at Summiting Group, an executive coaching and organizational strategy consulting firm.
Whomever you select to be reviewers, make sure to provide them with specific, detailed instructions of what a 360-degree review is, as well as why their responses matter and how they will be used in the feedback process. It might also be useful to remind your participants what helpful feedback looks like.
For example, “Jessica’s leadership skills just aren’t up to snuff” doesn’t give Jessica or her manager much to learn from or discuss. Instead, encourage respondents to share specific examples of when and how Jessica’s leadership skills negatively impacted the team. This could look something like, “It can be hard to track Jessica down and get her input on key projects or her help eliminating roadblocks, which makes it difficult to ensure we’re on the right track. It would be helpful if Jessica could have more frequent one-on-one meetings with project leaders to keep activities moving forward.”
This kind of specific feedback can help the employee being reviewed to be more conscious of how their actions impact others, and enable them to grow personally and professionally from the review experience.
You’ll also want to cover a few logistical details like where respondents will need to share their feedback — via an online form, email, or Excel document, for instance — and any applicable deadlines. You can send out an anonymous feedback survey to collect responses, use any existing feedback tools your company has, or try this peer performance review template. Lastly, remind the reviewers that their responses will be anonymous, so they can feel comfortable sharing candid but constructive feedback.
Once you’ve collected feedback from your entire review panel, review the responses and try to segment the findings into two buckets: strengths and weaknesses. Then, schedule an in-person or virtual meeting with your employee to review and discuss the results together. Frame the development conversation as a growth opportunity and end your discussion with clear next steps and a follow-up plan.
You can work together with your employee to create goals or you can identify external learning and development opportunities, like an online course or conference, that can help them work on their areas of improvement. As a development tool, a 360-degree review can help direct and shape an employee's personal development plan.
Typically, annual reviews only include the feedback of an employee’s direct manager, which can introduce bias into the review process. A manager might also have blind spots in their understanding of an employee's performance. But because they incorporate peer feedback, 360-degree reviews give a more holistic view of employee performance by collecting and weighing the feedback of multiple respondents.
The feedback from 360-degree reviews explicitly identifies an employee’s strengths and weaknesses, helping employees better understand their unique skill sets and how best to leverage them in the workplace. Once aware of their areas of improvement, employees can invest time and effort into honing their technical and/or soft skills.
Being aware of an issue is the first step in being able to solve it. When an employee is more aware of their behavior and how it affects others, everyone benefits. Plus, including employee feedback in your 360-degree reviews shares a powerful message: You care about what your employees have to say and want to improve the employee experience for everyone.
“360-degree reviews communicate to people that the value of their work is based not only on their managers’ assessment, but also on how helpful they are to their peers and what positive contributions they make to the work environment as a whole,” noted Marie Krebs, People Operations Manager at learning and development software company Learnerbly. “As a result, employees will likely make more effort to help and cooperate with their colleagues, which can lead to a more supportive team environment.”
There’s no getting around it: These comprehensive reviews take serious organization and effort to run smoothly. From brainstorming questions to sharing feedback with employees, 360-degree reviews can be a very time-consuming process. That said, they can also be an invaluable tool for employee development.
Some detractors argue that because 360-degree reviews are trying to identify and surface employee weaknesses, they come off as too negative and can hurt employee morale.
“A potential disadvantage of 360-degree reviews is that if the information is compiled or delivered poorly, it can land poorly or create resentment. If not executed properly, it can harm employee effectiveness, make individuals insecure in their roles, or [cause them to] feel uncertain with their teams,” cautioned Julie Gurner, PsyD, an executive performance coach with her own consultancy firm, Gurner, LLC.
Luckily, this can be prevented by asking questions and providing valuable feedback around employee strengths as well as areas for improvement. That will enable managers to share more balanced reviews that don’t disproportionally dwell on an employee’s shortcomings.
There’s also the possibility that 360-degree review participants might be reluctant to share their true feelings about a colleague or manager out of fear of retaliation. Even with the promise of anonymity, people might sugarcoat their responses or leave out crucial examples that could compromise their identity.
“In a workplace without a strong, friendly, and transparent teamwork culture, people might give dishonest reviews for a number of reasons. They could feel unsafe giving negative feedback and only give positive reviews, for example. Worse still, people could give colleagues negative ratings out of spite or in harsh competition,” said Krebs.
While there is no quick fix for avoiding these issues, thoughtful and deliberate preparation and execution can help. Despite their potential pitfalls, 360-degree reviews still offer great benefit to employees and companies alike, so managers and HR professionals should carefully evaluate whether this type of review process could be beneficial for their particular workplace culture.
Because of their comprehensive nature, 360-degree reviews can help your workforce optimize their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses, which can enable your employees to become more well-rounded and effective professionals as a result. By being organized, intentional, and positive as you develop and implement your 360-degree reviews, you can leverage them to give employees the direction they need to grow their careers — and improve employee performance and engagement at your company in the process.