Last reviewed 29 July 2013

Val Moore explains “360 degree feedback” and its usefulness as a management tool.

Choose your terminology

The term “360 degree feedback” is often referred to by the shorter title “360 feedback”.

The individual being assessed is called the “appraisee” (although other terms used are “recipient”, “ratee” and “receiver”). Those giving the feedback are called the “appraiser” (although other terms used are “respondent”, “rater” and “evaluator”). Whichever term the organisation wishes to use is immaterial, providing it is consistent.

What is 360 feedback?

360 feedback is the use of a questionnaire to gather information on an individual’s performance from a number of sources. Thus, 360 degrees, meaning “all around”.

The number of appraisers involved

The sample size will depend on how many appraisers know the appraisee and how wide a base of appraisers is desired. Will it be just colleagues or will it also include parents/carers and outside organisations? For an overall picture, if only using colleagues, 5–10 appraisers should be involved, and around 10–20 for a wider assessment.

The appraisers are asked to complete a questionnaire, which is usually a number of statements that are rated on a scale (eg 1–10). It is recommended that there are also a number of text boxes in which the appraisers can make comments.

Most will be familiar with such a questionnaire as they are the type used in “customer satisfaction” surveys.

Why use 360 feedback?

Managers are not always fully aware of the day-to-day interactions of those they manage. This can be particularly true in a large organisation where the manager is not in close daily contact with the appraisee. The manager may work off site or on several sites; the provision may be managed by a voluntary organisation whose members do not attend the provision on a daily basis; and the appraisee may work off site, with not all actions performed in the presence of a manager.

The appraisee will work with colleagues, parents/carers and outside bodies, who could all be asked to complete the questionnaire. This will give managers (and the appraisee) quality information about the skills, performance and working relationships that the appraisee has.

It will allow the manager to have a better, all-round view of the appraisee, who will be helped by understanding how others perceive their performance and behaviour.

  • People can see themselves one way, but be perceived differently by others (eg appraisees may believe they always have a sunny disposition while the appraisers believe they can appear distant. In fact they can be both: eg feeling “sunny” inside but, when thinking through a problem, appearing distant.

  • There may be different weightings between perceptions. An appraisee may not think he or she is very good at talking with parents (giving themselves a score of 5/10), but the parent appraisers may believe this to be one of their main strengths, giving a score of 9/10.

  • One group of appraisers (colleagues) may have a different opinion from others (eg the provision’s early years external advisor). Colleagues may say that the appraisee rarely gives an immediate answer to a request, while the advisor praises them for their immediate responses. The appraisee knows that he or she has time to consider a response to colleagues to ensure giving the right answer, whereas the advisor is usually seeking only information which can be given immediately.

When the appraisee can understand how their behaviour is perceived by others, slight adjustments in style and belief will increase better understanding from all involved.

The process

The questionnaire can either be in a paper format or, for those provisions with the relevant IT systems; it could be made available online.

Appraisers should be given a timescale in which to complete and return the questionnaire; it is not a process to be hurried or done under pressure if seeking thoughtful and constructive responses. The person processing the responses should also build in time to ask for further information or clarification from an appraiser should it be necessary.

The questionnaire should be based on skills, competencies and performance, and the questions must be relevant to the appraisee’s job (see table below).

Behaviour

Definition

Rating 1–10 (1=weak, 10=strong)

Comments

Time-keeping

  1. Appreciates the need to be in good time.

  2. Flexible during hours of work.

Interpersonal skills

  1. Is thoughtful of the feelings and opinions of others.

  2. Polite.

  3. Communicates clearly.

  4. Respected by colleagues for their personal manner, professional approach and professional skills.

Telephone manner

  1. Professional approach with cheery manner.

  2. Understands nature of enquiry.

  3. Deals with enquiry or able to take comprehensive message.

The appraisers’ responses should be anonymous, and the questionnaire should also be completed by the appraisee, assessing their own performance.

The questionnaires should then be collated by the manager in two ways, summarising the answers to show the following.

  1. The individual ratings (anonymously) for each question.

  2. The averages for each question.

Done in graph form, this can be a very visual feedback that can help to see patterns between individual questions and responses. Although it is tempting, do not use just the averages, as this can mask important information.

Text comments should be paraphrased, not written down verbatim. Often, an appraiser’s writing style will enable the appraisee to distinguish who wrote it.

The best feedback reports are those that are a combination of a discussion of the scores and a report-style feedback, highlighting areas of praise and where improvements could be made, for example:

“Your laidback management style means that staff are not always sure what their priorities should be. Staff mentioned that sometimes you can be a little dismissive of an objective achieved if you did not feel it was a priority. Average score for relationships with staff 7/10.

“You are, however, seen as being extremely patient when explaining a situation to parents, willing to explain something several times and in different ways. Average score for relationship with parents 9/10.”

There must be a note of caution, however: should one appraiser’s opinions differ radically from the others, then clarification should be sought from that appraiser by the manager. It is rare, but not unknown, for there to be spiteful feedback in an unrealised clash of personalities.

360 degree feedback is just one of several tools available for providers to assess and support their staff, from the most junior person to the most senior. It can be a useful tool in general assessments, appraisals, personal and business development. It is rarely a “stand alone” exercise.

The individual must, of course, be given support to understand the feedback and any constructive plan for change. In the words of the poet Henry Longfellow: “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”