How to Launch A 360-Degree Feedback Program in Your Organization

Alison Rhoades

Decades of research has proven the value of concentrated feedback on employees’ performance time and again. As Bob Dingen writes, feedback “motivates, it inspires us to strive to be better, it is essential for improvement in performance.” Praise, as well as constructive criticism on employees’ job performances can help inspire them to be more efficient, creative, and strive toward becoming a better worker.

In the typical working environments of the past, when feedback was given, it happened during regular performance reviews by managers to their subordinates, sometimes as infrequently as once a year. In recent years, however, businesses have been rethinking the way they give feedback. Annual performance reviews, for example, are expensive and time consuming, potentially taking up to 2 million hours a year! The top-down approach is also problematic, shielding managers from what is likely helpful feedback from those on their team as to how they can be more effective leaders. The truth is, businesses need to develop a culture of feedback in their organizations, where praise, helpful critiques, and even self-evaluations are commonplace, resulting in workers of any status in the company excelling in their tasks.

360-Degree Feedback: What Is It?

A template for this “feedback culture” is called 360-degree feedback. When employed at companies, this process gathers feedback from employees’ subordinates, co-workers, managers, and from the employee themselves, usually between 8 and 12 people. This feedback is then gathered and aggregated to give a multi-source, “360-degree” view of the employees’ overall performance as related to their key objectives at work. The results are anonymous, and the anti-hierarchical, cyclical nature of this process means that employees’ get a regular view of their strengths and weaknesses from across the board without judgement, so that the feedback is used to help them improve rather than putting them down.

The objectives of a 360-degree feedback program are simple: allow employees to get the information they need on their skills, strengths, weaknesses, and general work behavior they need to improve upon. Often, we might not notice that we aren’t performing as well as we could at work, or perhaps we are aware that our performance is lacking but don’t know how to fix it. Getting feedback from those working with us every day can help us gain some self-awareness and learn what we might be able to change to do our jobs better. Of course, when such a program fails, it can drive employees to shut down, feel betrayed or defensive. As Eric Jackson writes in Forbes, “When it's done well, 360 programs allow all your team members to improve in key areas that might be limiting their upward career path or actually causing major conflict within a team. When it's done poorly, 360 programs create mistrust, anger, conflict and can leave a team with lower morale than when you started the exercise.” This highlights the importance of launching your 360-degree feedback program properly, so that everyone understands the principles and is ready to fully embrace the process.

How to Launch Properly

The first step in launching a 360-degree feedback program is having a set goal in mind. Make sure to ask yourself the important question: What do we want to achieve? Then, it’s about deciding how that goal can be achieved through the new program. As Innential’s Adam Ambrozy writes: “apart from establishing a clear goal, in order to raise commitment and understanding, it is beneficial for teams to discuss the process and establish a team culture that will address the question 'how will we work together towards our goal'.”

One important way of establishing goals is to reflect on the core values of the company and evaluate workers based on those values. As Harvard Business Review writer Eric Mosely elucidates: Ensure that the metrics on which people are recognized are aligned with your company’s mission.” This, he says, lets companies track progress on both a micro and macro level throughout the company, as the organization’s core values should be adhered to whether you’re in an entry level position or a top management one.

Companies should prepare a “knowledge sharing strategy”, or a plan for how feedback will be given, documented, and shared with its recipients (and with the rest of organization, provided there are common patterns of behavior that might help the entire company improve). Using some available tools on the market (which I will discuss later), employees can review their aggregated feedback and track the results of their progress as they implement the strategies suggested by their peers.

Launching a 360-Degree feedback program also requires getting the whole team on board, including management. If the managers in the company or team are not leading by example, then the rest of the company will have no incentive to follow suit. The next step is making sure that the objectives and process are clear for all involved. Understanding the difference between constructive feedback and outright criticism is key here, as is making sure that people receive praise for what they are doing well, as well as notes about where they could improve. The more commonplace the giving and receiving of feedback becomes, the better it is for the company.

And, just because the leaders of the organization might be the ones implementing the process doesn’t mean that everyone in the company can’t lead by example. By embracing the feedback culture set in place and adopting the best practices, even the newest members of the organization can help make the program a success.

Best Practices

Successful 360-degree feedback programs are not personal. On the contrary, they look at the behavior and skills of an individual based on the objective at hand and evaluate where they are succeeding and where their performance is lacking. This means that focusing on strengths rather than just weaknesses is key to offering a fully-formed picture of the employees performance in your feedback review. There is always something positive to say about someone’s performance, and balancing the positive with the areas that need some work helps to avoid the situation that the person receiving feedback feels attacked.

Additionally, feedback, writes Adam Ambrozy, “should focus on effort, not ability.” Although someone may have the skills to execute a certain task, they might not be putting in the effort, and conversely if they don’t have the skills to do something, they need to exert more effort to gain that skill. Therefore, evaluating the effort exerted for a task should be the grounds upon which feedback is based.

Maintaining Momentum

The goal of a 360-degree feedback program is not to use it as a one-off process to get something done, but to embark on a sustainable, long-term solution for performance improvement. Therefore, it is imperative that management sticks to it to see real results. Companies should encourage regular feedback reviews, for example, at the end of every week. This will provide employees with a built-in structure to adhere to, making the giving and receiving of feedback a normal part of the working week.

Ideally the goal is that employees adopt the principals on an ad hoc basis, giving feedback to their peers, subordinates, and managers when the situation demands it. This, admittedly, demands a high level of trust, but the best way to get there is to start with regular structured feedback sessions and work your way toward it becoming more natural.

Embrace Technology

“Peer reviews shouldn’t feel like work,” writes Eric Mosley. “If they do, you’ll have a hard time getting employees to embrace the system to its fullest capacity.” Part of getting your employees on board is making the process of giving feedback as simple and straightforward as possible, and this means embracing solutions on the market created for compiling and distributing feedback.

Ideally, you want a program that is easy to use and prioritizes confidentiality. Programs that have a mobile option, like Impraise, are even better, as they fit seamlessly into the fabric of employees’ daily lives. Whatever digital solution you use, it is important that it offers an easy-to-view, aggregated picture of the regular feedback received and the progress that has been made. This picture will help employees see how they have used the feedback to change their behaviors, and their managers or team leads to get an overall picture of any employee’s progress. The information gathered with these tools are extremely helpful for performance evaluations or for those wanting to request a raise or change of title.

As with any performance management tool, 360-degree feedback carries the potential of overloading employees and HR teams with data, which is yet another reason to employ a technological solution to distill the information and make it digestible so that it can work in companies’ favors.

A Look Toward the Future

As organizations become more international and less hierarchical, it is imperative that they develop performance management strategies that boost employee morale and serve the company as a whole. Leaders in particular need to recognize that the strength of their own performances are integral to the success of their team. Multi-source feedback also helps avoid discrimination, as it comes from multiple sources across the company.

All in all, 360-degree feedback, with its holistic and even-handed view of individual performance can offer employees valuable insight on their performance and effectiveness, and allow their employers to track the progress of their staff.

In order to effectively kick off a 360-degree feedback program, you might need to begin with an in-depth performance evaluation of those in your company. Innential can help! Contact us today at to set up your free consultation!

Article Editor: Adam Ambrozy