Top tips for employers running a successful 360 feedback exercise

Published: January 14, 2024

How to get the most out of your 360 feedback exercise

360 feedback is a great development tool, however if done poorly, the participants won’t enjoy all the benefits discussed in our last article Why do 360 feedback? As an employer putting in place 360 feedback for your staff, for the purposes of training, development, appraisal, performance management, you need to get it right. 

Done well, 360 feedback leads to more engaged, motivated staff and improved performance, as well as the training benefits to the individual.  Done badly, it can be demotivating and lead to disengaged employees.  As an employer, as well as happy, engaged staff, you want to make sure your investment in 360 feedback is worthwhile.

Helpful tips for employers planning and performing 360 feedback

Here are the top five things that you can do when planning your 360 exercise and during the feedback collection to make your 360 successful.

1. Tone from the top

The most senior people in the team, department or organisation must be seen to endorse the process.  They should be involved, taking part and completing their own 360 as well as providing feedback to staff when requested. They must encourage everyone to take part and lead by example. 

Management should respond to feedback requests quickly and make it clear that 100% participation is expected from their teams.  We provide regular updates on participation rates which can be communicated to staff to encourage them to contribute. 

It’s not always easy to fit in filling in feedback questionnaires, especially working around your busy day to day schedules, but management should make it clear that time should be set aside for this and help to enable their teams to take time out to complete feedback.

Over time, especially if you are repeating your 360 each year, the act of giving feedback will become part of your organisational culture. 

2. Timing

Allow sufficient time, but not too much time for the 360 feedback exercise. How much is sufficient?  Consider holidays, bank holidays, school holidays, etc, as well as your organisation’s normal working patterns.  Don’t run a Sales 360 in the run up to the end of the quarter when your sales staff are franticly trying to close deals, and don’t pile any more pressure on your finance team around year-end. 

Consider the timing of your 360 feedback

Years of experience have taught us that around 3 weeks is usually the right amount of time.  This should allow most people to find time to complete the feedback, even working around their annual leave.  If they have several feedback requests to respond to, these can be spread out over the whole period.

Our system sends automatic reminders to give those who have not yet responded a little nudge to complete the feedback. 

3. Guidance or instructions

When you tell your staff that they will be doing a 360 feedback exercise, it is important to let them know up front what is expected.  Not only should they know that participation is expected, but also receive guidance on how it all works.  We suggest an initial e-mail, from within the organisation, giving advice on who to ask for feedback, and how to provide feedback.

Each participant must choose who to ask for feedback.  They should always include their line manager, but after that the choices become more difficult. Participants should be allowed choice, as if choice is removed and respondents are prescribed, participants will not buy into the process.  They may feel trapped and disengage from the process if forced into including certain colleagues. 

Guidelines will help participants to choose.  For example: Nominate between 8 and 12 colleagues, including your line manager, 2 to 4 peers, 2 to 4 direct reports (people who report to you), and 2 to 4 others (people who you interact with regularly, but may be outside your department).   Customer Service or Sales feedback should include customer feedback. Those who do not manage staff will select more peers or others.

Guidance should also be provided on how to give feedback.  Feedback should be honest and open, using examples where possible to illustrate the points being made.  Text feedback is extremely valuable; offer suggested solutions to any problems you describe.  Don’t make things personal, keep the feedback factual and objective.  Models which suggest two or three positives for each development point can also be used. 

4. Spread the feedback requests

It’s good to give everyone free choice (with guidance) of who they ask for feedback.  That can lead to some people, especially line managers in big teams, having loads of requests for feedback; too many for them to realistically complete in the time allowed. 

We suggest each manager having a discussion with their team, deciding who should ask who for feedback.  Alternatively, everyone can submit lists of who they will nominate.  These lists can be collated to see if there are any managers with too many requests, so alternative colleagues can be asked in their place. 

5. Ask relevant questions

All of the above points relate to the preparation stage, but this deals with the 360 questionnaire itself.  Make sure the questions you ask are relevant to your organisation, clear and understandable for everyone.  Don’t cram them full of specific terminology or “management speak.  If the questions must resonate with and be applicable to the people answering them.  If not, you will lose them part way through the questionnaire. 

We have set up hundreds of bespoke 360 feedback questionnaires over the past 20+ years and are happy to advise on questions so you get a set that works for you and gives meaningful feedback to the participants. 

Make sure your 360 feedback questions are both clear and relevant.

If you follow these five tips, you will have a great set of 360 feedback reports for your participants.  The next step, however, is just as important, if not more so.  Come back for the next article in our Spotlight on 360 feedback to discover our top tips for employers after the 360.