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Using a 360 Degree Feedback System

Jul 25, 2008
A 360 degree feedback survey is conducted internally within a company or organization. Its purpose is to provide participants (i.e. employees) with peer and manager feedback. This feedback is delivered anonymously and describes a participant's strengths and weaknesses. Like most surveys, the usefulness of a 360 feedback system depends upon its design and execution. Done properly, it can provide valuable insight for an employee into how he is perceived by those who work around him. Done poorly, the feedback delivered can be rendered useless. Below, we'll explore the basics of a 360 degree feedback survey along with the benefits and drawbacks of implementing it.

Basics Of 360 Degree Feedback

Usually, the number of participants in a 360 feedback survey is limited. While having too few participants involved doesn't provide a clear picture into the competencies of an employee, too many can yield confusing (and often, contradictory) data. A small group of a dozen or fewer participants is typically asked to fill out an online survey about their peer. The employee who will eventually receive this feedback is asked to rate himself using the same online survey. His responses are included with those of the "peer group."

Once the survey responses are gathered, they're tabulated and delivered to the target employee. Ideally, the feedback is used by the target employee to pursue further development in areas in which weaknesses have been identified.

Benefits Of Using 360

The 360 degree feedback system is useful for the recipient (the target employee) in identifying how his peers perceive his abilities. Often, an employee's weaknesses aren't obvious to that person. By noting the perception of others, such weaknesses can be identified. Once identified, they can be resolved with further training and development. This encourages a level of perpetual improvement.

Another benefit of this survey model is that employees are often uncomfortable delivering constructive feedback to their peers. The 360 system allows them to deliver useful feedback confidentially. This provides a valuable opportunity for peers to share their insight with others without having to worry about an emotional reaction.

Potential Drawbacks Of 360

One of the main problems with a 360 feedback survey is the anonymity with which the feedback is delivered (this anonymity is also a benefit, as described above). When the target employee receives the feedback from his peers, he may want to gain further understanding or clarification. In this case, that's not possible given the confidentiality of a 360 system.

Another drawback to using the 360 survey is the possibility of office politics having an impact on the results. Peer responses may be geared to make the target employee look better or worse than is justified. Alternatively, a group of feedback recipients could conspire to make each person in the group look better by providing responses to the 360 survey that rate them highly. When either of these circumstances happen, the data is useless.

Creating A 360 Degree Feedback Survey

You should use questions on your 360 survey that blend both quantitative and qualitative data. While numeric responses are easy to analyze and can provide a quick glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of the target employee, the qualitative questions can be valuable for isolating particular issues. Also, train those who are participating in the 360 feedback survey to provide responses that are clear, concise and unbiased.

While there are potential pitfalls to deploying a 360 degree feedback system, they can be valuable. If implemented properly, they're an effective way for feedback recipients to recognize areas in which they could improve their skills, knowledge, or attitude. Consider using the 360 system to encourage an environment of consistent improvement amongst your employees.
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SurveyGizmo is a leading provider of online survey software, check them out on the web for more great ways to use surveys to enhance your business.
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