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Some people call 360-degree feedback cruel, fickle, scary, revealing, deceptive, and disruptive. 

But, whether you like it or not, it is irreplaceable when you get it right. It’s comprehensive, digs deep, provides multiple points of view, and reveals improvement opportunities you might have missed. 

That’s what makes 360-degree feedback a much-needed ally to leaders and managers. Contrary to its bad reputation, plenty of employees actually want detailed, frequent feedback. In fact,  92% of U.S. employees appreciate the feedback, provided that it’s fair and honest.

All the hate for 360-degree feedback comes from one simple fact: plenty of managers can’t be bothered to do them correctly. This is one of those things you can’t approach half-heartedly — you’ll miss out on incredible growth opportunities, and introduce toxicity into your workplace.

Today, we’ll show you what you’ve been missing about 360-degree feedback, and how to improve it:

  • What is 360-degree feedback?
  • What is the goal of 360-degree feedback?
  • What should (and shouldn’t) you expect to achieve with 360-degree feedback?
  • Why do people dislike 360-degree feedback?
  • How do you create flawless 360-degree feedback?

What Is 360-Degree Feedback?

360-degree feedback is an instrument used to collect diverse feedback on someone’s professional performance. It is also called multi-source or multi-rater feedback, as it relies on several sources of feedback to lay out a complete picture.

Feedback comes in different forms of constructive criticism — comments, ratings, evaluations, critiques, and advice. 

People who have worked, or are still working with an employee being assessed answer a series of questions about their colleague’s work. This includes subordinates and managers, team leaders, other team members, coworkers, and customers.

What Is the Goal of 360-Degree Feedback?

360-degree feedback shows the real strengths and weaknesses of the subject, both positive sides and weak spots.

This tool’s value lies in the fact that employees are evaluated by different people with unique viewpoints who are capable of describing the subject’s actions in various scenarios. Feedback on workplace social skills, working under pressure, competence and expertise, , methodology, and general attitude — all paint a fuller picture than other types of employee reviews.

What Can You Achieve With 360-Degree Feedback?

Using 360-degree feedback properly will award you with:

  • Healthy and stable communication, the atmosphere which allows opposing views and compromise.
  • Self-aware employees who can admit when they’re wrong, and use honest suggestions and criticism to their advantage.
  • Increased employee retention: employees are invested in their careers and able to grow them within the company,  with the help of feedback.
  • Help with chiseling out your employee persona, a portrait of the ideal candidate for a certain position. 360-degree feedback will point to missing pieces you can fill the next time you’re hiring.
  • A clear picture of your workforce: their abilities, sensitive areas, and necessary improvements.

What  Shouldn’t You Expect to Achieve With 360-Degree Feedback?

Some complaints about 360-degree feedback stem from people not knowing what to use it for. 

The following examples show the instances where it’s better to opt for another methodology:

  • Measuring razor-sharp data — 360-degree feedback won’t crunch the numbers. Opt for an employee performance tracking system instead to gather impartial data. 
  • Determining whether the subject meets job requirements — Again, not the job for 360-degree feedback. This should be determined during the hiring process.

Why Does 360 Degree Feedback Have a Bad Reputation?

There are no downsides to  properly conducted 360-degree feedback. Do it wrong, and you’ll open the Pandora’s box of workplace conflicts, dissatisfaction, fear, and fumbling with inaccurate data.

Petty and Malicious Comments Poison the Constructive Criticism

Unfortunately, people often use their anonymity to hurt the coworkers they have a personal vendetta against. This article reveals that, in addition to honest reviews, the reviewed employees can expect plenty of mean comments intended to sabotage, hurt, and prevent them from progressing or getting a raise.

There are three ways to stop mean-spirited reviews from poisoning the well:

  1. Discouraging the behavior — At the beginning of the survey, make it clear that intentionally venomous, non-work-related comments won’t be taken into consideration, and that you’ll carefully verify the facts.
  2. Protecting the reviewed party — They don’t need to see everything. Protecting your employees’ feelings is by no means unprofessional if the comments in question are uselessly cruel. After all, letting them see these comments will surely attribute to a bad workplace atmosphere. An unfair review often results in quitting the job, too. Just follow the rule: if it has no impact on the work, leave it out. If there are repeated complaints about a specific behavior, use diplomatic language and investigate the claims.
  3. Monitoring employee performance — Before bringing their supposed unproductivity/ unprofessionalism up, verify it yourself with an employee web tracking software. Monitoring web usage and workplace activities will back or dispute the claims with impartial data. If OKRs and productivity data (hours worked, breaks taken, etc) look good — someone’s probably being disingenuous. 

The Lack of Context

If you’re only using 360-degree feedback once a year, better save some time and don’t do it at all.

Annual 360-degree feedback evaluations are robbed of context. If you’re doing multiple 360-degree evaluations on a company scale, it’s impossible to make every question open-ended and read through all of them in a reasonable time. This is why reviews rely on the strongest, most recent/ lasting impressions, often subjective and blurred by the time passed since the last review.

The solution would be to:

  1. Use more 360-degree feedback throughout the year.
  2. Create a continuous feedback loop, and encourage the frequent exchange of thoughts and opinions. A quick Friday chat, direct post-meeting conversations, and weekly recaps can bridge the distance between two 360-degree feedback sessions.

The Data is Unreliable

This Harvard Business Review blog decimates 360-degree feedback, claiming the data it collects is outright bad. The questions are too vague, and the answers are completely subjective.

We’d argue that 360-degree feedback still doesn’t belong in the bin — but rather needs to be revamped. Get super-precise with your questions so the answers are specific, contextualized, and as measurable as possible — here are some examples of open-ended questions where the subject is a team leader:

  • Did (subject) struggle with meeting the goals on the (insert project name)? If so, describe the issues
  • List up to three ways (subject’s) leadership helps your career progress
  • Does (subject) set challenging, yet realistic goals for the rest of the team?

After all, 360-degree feedback’s purpose isn’t to handle hard data. It is there to fill in the areas which require human intelligence, and rate leadership and problem-solving skills, work ethic, and overall effectiveness.

No Follow-up

Making all the effort to conduct the entire review process, get the results, and have a mandatory chat with the subject — only to abandon everything until the next one?

360-degree feedback won’t fulfill its purpose until you create a plan to patch the weaknesses the feedback discovered. This is a multi-step process:

  1. Create tangible goals related to employee performance improvement
  2. Schedule a couple of follow-ups to check in on the subject’s progress
  3. Take a mentor’s approach, and help them continuously improve with each employee review

How to Get 360-Degree Feedback Right

Getting 360-degree feedback right is what makes the difference between a failed investment and a powerful organization excited to grow.

In addition to coming up with precise survey questions, discouraging malicious answers, and thorough follow-ups, you’ll create rock-solid 360-degree feedback with the tips below.

Create a Careful Selection of Feedback Providers

The criteria for selecting the most competent reviewers are as follows:

  • They’ve worked together for at least six months and were able to see the subject on good and bad days.
  • The reviewers need to understand the subject’s scope of work and daily tasks — and preferably be trained to provide high-quality survey answers.
  • You’ve picked them from different levels: managerial (team leaders, mentors, senior staff), coworkers within their team, and people they’re overseeing.
  • Go beyond internal feedback and ask the customers and clients they’ve worked with to take part.

If you fail to select the right people for the feedback, the answers will either deceive you or make no sense.

Ongoing Feedback Is In; Annual Reviews Are Out

Organizing 360-degree feedback takes a chunk out of your resources, so it’s too ambitious to conduct it too frequently.

Company culture is what you should pay attention to — one that facilitates genuine and well-meaning conversations. Advise employees never to wait for official 360-degree feedback to speak their minds. Pent-up dissatisfaction is bound to explode in an ugly way, and good ideas stay hidden when staff doesn’t bother speaking their mind. 

Avoid Conflict of Interest

Bonuses and promotions are scarce, and tying 360-degree feedback to them may result in reviewers getting jealous and bringing the subject down with dishonest feedback.

This is why you should make 360-degree feedback a developmental tool only. Detach it from rewards and punishments. The feedback *is* the benefit you’re looking for because it shows people you’re invested in them and don’t want to see them go, but rather keep advancing where they are. 

360-degree feedback should never result in a downgrade or firing. Otherwise, it produces anxiety and is detrimental to growth.

Enrich 360-Degree Feedback With Employee Monitoring Data

To see whether reviewers speak the truth and if the subject’s described work matches facts, real-time employee tracking easily jumps in.

Want to see what your employees are doing on their computer? Monitor web usage during working hours?

Employee monitoring software is an excellent supplement for 360-degree feedback. It handles precise data such as the number and length of breaks, mouse and keyboard activity, and the number of hours actively worked, while the feedback illustrates what it looks like in real life in the eyes of their coworkers. This way you can create an intelligent, bias-free employee review.

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