Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms
A 360 survey, also called a 360 review or 360-degree feedback, is a process that solicits feedback on an employee’s performance from several different sources: managers, peers, reports, and self-assessments. In cases where the employee interacts with the public, a 360 survey may also include feedback from clients, suppliers, contractors, or vendors.
The goal of 360 surveys is to help employees understand how their work, skills, and behaviors affect people of all levels at their organization. 360 surveys can offer a comprehensive view of performance, and more importantly, identify areas for improvement.
A 360 survey generally includes a list of statements or questions that are organized into competency categories. The scores are averaged out in each category, which is then presented to the employee.
What Is the Purpose of a 360 Survey?
The purpose of a 360 survey is to help employees excel in their roles and boost their engagement. The results of a 360 survey can help employees:
Understand their strengths and weaknesses
Map out an effective professional development plan
Make adjustments in their behavior to better support their team and organization
What Are the Pros and Cons of 360 Surveys?
Organizational leaders need to understand the pros and cons of 360 surveys, so they can map out an effective feedback strategy.
Here are the main benefits 360 surveys offer:
Provide a broader perspective on employees: 360 surveys give employers and managers insight into the specific roles employees play within the organization. Though managers oversee specific team members, they may not know everything there is to know about each employee’s performance; the employee’s colleagues and clients may have a better perspective on this.
Identify performance gaps: A 360 survey uncovers blind spots in an employee's performance and behavior. This can encourage team members to be more self-aware and work to improve on these weaknesses.
Create a better sense of teamwork: When employees hear from teammates about what they need to improve, they can grow into better team members and enhance overall productivity of their team.
Create accountability: When feedback comes from all levels of an organization, employees may feel more driven to improve and be more conscientious of their actions and behaviors. Moreover, 360 surveys provide a record to help employees stay accountable for their improvement goals and managers to track their progress and provide support.
Highlight career development opportunities: Feedback from the surveys may offer insight into an employee’s talents, which can open up possible career pathways for them. Managers can work with employees to map out possible promotion opportunities based on the data received from 360 surveys.
Without the right training or understanding of the purpose behind 360 surveys, these reviews can backfire and actually have a negative effect on employee productivity and workplace culture. The drawbacks of 360 surveys could include:
Inaccuracies: While feedback from adjacent people can be helpful in finding better ways for employees to interact with coworkers or clients, coworkers and subordinates don’t have all the information an employee’s direct manager has. Therefore, these possible inaccuracies can create a false picture and bias.
Biased assessments: Coworkers can sometimes allow unfair biases to taint their assessments of each other, which can create tension or even resentment in the workplace. This lack of trust can be detrimental to the overall performance and productivity of teams and the organization.
Potential to create a negative culture. With the setbacks listed above, 360 surveys can create a negative work environment employees will not feel safe in.
When Should 360 Surveys Be Used?
As with other feedback sources, one of the challenges with 360 surveys is deciding when this type of feedback method should be used. Not all organizations will be a good fit for it. There are conditions that should be met to ensure an effective assessment process.
Employers should use 360 surveys if:
The survey’s intentions are consistent with their organization’s performance management philosophy. In other words, are the intentions of 360 surveys aligned with your company goals and values? If your business holds a high level of transparency and trust, it may experience more success with 360 feedback than organizations that are still working on these areas.
The survey promotes two outcomes: employees’ accountability for past performance and development for future performance. This requires mapping out a thorough performance action plan and ensuring all employees understand the intent and value behind it.
It’s important to ensure 360 surveys will work at your business. Therefore, employers should customize this feedback system as needed to set up their employees for success.
How Often Should 360 Surveys Be Used?
360 surveys should be conducted every six to 12 months. This allows enough time for:
Employees to build and work on their development plan
Managers and employees to discuss the employee’s progress and raise concerns.
You also need to consider how this additional performance assessment method fits in with your other performance review cycles, if any.
If employers want to see changes, they must do their part to help employees stay accountable. Leaders should periodically review their employees’ progress during the six- to 12-month time frame. Employees can ask questions, and managers can offer guidance and coaching.
How Do You Deliver 360 Survey Results?
Employers should deliver 360 survey results to employees in person rather than through email. In-person sessions offer a personalized experience that can lead to more productive conversations. Employees can ask questions and get answers in the moment, rather than have to write them up and wait for their manager to respond. Employees might also be more comfortable asking questions in person than in writing, and they’re more likely to take bad news well if they can talk through the problems instead of stewing or feeling like they've been blindsided by a written review that lacks context or explanation.
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