Best practices in 360-degree feedback

The goal of 360-degree feedback is to provide insight about an individual’s strengths and development needs. The feedback is a great development tool; it is not a performance evaluation tool. The added insight and increased self-awareness brought about by the 360 helps the participant focus on development in his/her current role or prepare for future roles.

Feedback is solicited from an individual’s supervisor, direct reports, peers, and others and then is compared to a self-assessment. As mentioned, this can be extremely valuable in highlighting strengths and development needs. It is only a valuable tool, though, if used correctly. Based on our experience developing and implementing thousands of 360-degree feedback processes over the past 25 years, we have put together a list of “best practices” that we’ve found to be essential to success.


  1. Have a clear purpose for the process that aligns with specific business or strategic needs. For example:
  • Providing feedback on core organizational competencies
  • Building a talent pipeline
  • Improving leadership depth
  • Enhancing sales skills

The key is being clear about the strategic purpose and clearly communicate that to participants and raters.

  1. Focus on development versus performance. A key to a successful process is to use the tool as a development opportunity. While there is an “evaluative” component to the process, the outcome is about overall employee growth. If the process is seen as a performance tool, problems can emerge (e.g., employee resistance, rater’s “padding” responses, and fear of retaliation that may prevent candid feedback).
  1. Build in accountability for results and change. Require that participants complete an action plan and that they share the action plan with their manager/supervisor. Require supervisors to conduct a coaching (development) meeting with their respective 360 participants to review the action plan and discuss the next steps. Regular (informal) coaching should occur over time; formal “check-in” meetings (e.g., every six months) should take place to review progress against the development plan.
  1. Support managers in their role in the process. In many organizations, the managers/supervisors are not necessarily seasoned at conducting coaching/development discussions. If this is the case, support them in their role by facilitating train-the-coach sessions. If necessary, provide additional coaching or training for the managers/supervisors (e.g., coaching, giving feedback, listening, handling defensiveness) to build skills.
  1. Use a dual-scale feature available in some (but not all) instruments. Dual rating scales enable gap analyses tailored to the position of the person being rated. These scales give raters an opportunity to give feedback on current behavior as well as needed behaviors. The result is a look at both strengths (small gaps) and development needs (larger gaps) represented by the gray shaded area in the report graphic below.
  1. Repeat the process. Use the first round of results as a benchmark and measure improvement efforts in 12 to 24 months. While nothing is static (e.g., direct reports may turn over, roles and responsibilities may change), repeating the process helps to provide participants with a metric over time.
  1. Use aggregate results to assess department, work group, or overall organizational needs.

Competency model development

  1. Competency models should be customized to meet the unique needs of the organization (versus a one-size-fits-all approach). Build a competency model that focuses on the specific behaviors your leaders must demonstrate to help your organization succeed in the future.
  1. Models can vary in length but are typically made up of eight to 10 competencies with four to eight behaviors representing each.
  1. Depending on your organization’s size, consider creating unique competency models for various leadership “levels” in the organization (e.g., executive, mid-level manager). In addition, specific models for functional areas can be helpful (e.g., sales, project management).
  1. Involve key stakeholders in the competency model development process to create buy-in.

Administration and reporting

  1. Maintain confidentiality throughout the process. This is one key reason most organizations use an external partner to administer the process. Make sure that those who complete feedback instruments will not be individually identified. Create a process where they are comfortable giving honest and complete feedback. When setting minimum response rates consider the culture of your organization (for example, it is customary for minimum response rates for direct report and peer groups to be set at three; however, some organizations set them at four given the culture and climate of their organization).
  1. Share feedback directly with participants immediately following the administration process. Do not delay.
  1. Give 360 participants ownership of the process. Allow them to select their raters. If they have their raters assigned to them it is easier to disown the data since they weren’t involved in the selection of the raters. We find it helpful to have the manager/supervisor participate in the rater selection process. That way he or she is involved at the “front end” of the process as well as the back end while coaching and providing support.
  1. The 360 participant should be the direct recipient of the report. The supervisor can then use the action plan as a framework for developmental discussions and goal setting.
  1. In some organizations, both the 360 participant and his or her manager/supervisor receive a copy of the report. While this is not typical, it can be facilitated successfully if communicated properly throughout the process. We find many things need to be in place for this to happen:
  • The culture of the organization needs to be characterized by trust. If there is a lot of fear in the workplace, participants and raters may not trust the process or intentions.
  • The purpose and intent needs to be communicated at the beginning of the process. Trust will be destroyed if a decision is made to give managers the report “after the fact.” For example, if the intention is to create an environment of transparency and you want to share reports with the manager and employee, then that needs to be clearly communicated to participants and raters at the beginning of the process.
  • More than one round often needs to be facilitated to really start to uncover good development results. Even if the environment is characterized by trust, we often see that in round one people are cautious until they see how managers “handle” the results.
  • Train-the-coach sessions are extremely useful (unless the managers/supervisors are seasoned at facilitating coaching/development discussions).

Coaching and development

  1. Ideally, a process is in place where someone facilitates a coaching/feedback session with the 360 participant (outside coach, HR/OD business partner). The purpose of this meeting is to help the participant read and interpret results, identify strengths and development needs, work through any defensiveness, answer questions, provide focus for development planning, etc.).
  1. Require managers to conduct a coaching/development session with each of their 360 participants. Create a timeline at the beginning of the process to set expectations regarding when this meeting will take place, who will initiate the meeting, etc.
  1. Provide resources and support tools (e.g., action steps and resource library, training, etc.).
  1. Provide ongoing training and support (e.g., leadership training, manager coaching, books/materials, etc.). Make sure the 360 is not an “event.”

Diane Hamilton, PCC, SPHR, is a member of Wisconsin SHRM, which is dedicated to being the state leader in HR management and premier source for HR expertise and resources. More information can be found at: . Follow the WI SHRM blog at .

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