360 feedback problems and how to solve them

What are some of the problems encountered with 360 feedback? And how do you solve them?

We have looked at the benefits of 360 and how to do a 360 feedback exercise well, maximising the benefit to both the participant and the organisation.  This article looks at what can go wrong during a 360 exercise and how to put these issues right. In over 20 years of providing 360 feedback, here are the top 360 problems we see and our tips on how to solve them.

Problem and solution

1) Low response rate

This includes both participants failing to nominate their colleagues to provide feedback, and those colleagues not filling in the feedback questionnaire.  This can result from a lack of buy in to the overall process or from 360 just not being a priority. 

The solution to this problem is to make it as easy as possible for people to participate.  Set the tone from the top by making it clear that participation is expected. Over time this can be built into the company culture.  Think in advance about the timing of the 360 feedback so it doesn’t coincide with a busy period or important deadline.   

We set reminders to encourage participation from both participants and colleagues.  These are scheduled to give people a nudge without being annoying.  We will also provide updates, showing current participation rates so that companies can send internal reminders to the 360 feedback group.  Additional reminders can be scheduled if necessary. Timings can be flexible; if some participants need a little more time, that can be accommodated and deadlines extended.  We are happy to work with you to support your participants through the 360 process.

2) E-mails going into junk / spam or bouncing back

We had one instance where the initial e-mails inviting participants to set up their 360 feedback failed to get through.  They were stopped by the company’s IT system. If we are sending out a big group of 360 feedback invitations all at once, an organisation’s spam filter may mistake this for an attach and block the e-mails.  To avoid this, we ask all new customers to get their IT department to whitelist our e-mail address admin@i-comment360.com.   All the system e-mails come from this address, so once it is added to the safe senders list, the e-mails should get through without a problem.

E-mails going in to junk mail or getting lost amongst other e-mails

If our e-mail address is whitelisted, hopefully the 360 e-mails won’t end up in junk, but we always advise sending an e-mail from within the organisation letting participants know to expect the feedback set up invitation. 

When participants nominate their colleagues to provide feedback, they enter the colleagues’ names and e-mail addresses into the 360 system.  Lots of people make typos or get e-mail addresses wrong – it is so easy to do!  The good news is that we will sort this problem.  We monitor e-mail bounce backs and correct any obvious typos then resend the feedback invitation.  If there are any e-mails we can’t figure out, we will contact the participant and ask them to check. 

3) Managers have too many sets of feedback to complete

In an organisation wide or department wide 360 feedback exercise, some people are likely to be inundated with requests for feedback.  There are a few options to avoid overloading managers with feedback requests:

Overloaded manager with too many demands on her time and too much feedback to provide for others.

4) No time to fill in the questionnaire

Many people have busy work schedules and fitting in 360 feedback can be a challenge.  Some people like to take their time and not rush, carefully considering how to word their feedback.  Others may be neck deep in urgent operational issues so the 360 moves down the priority list. 

Make it clear that time should be set aside for the 360 feedback.  Clear an hour in a manager’s diary for them to focus on feedback, while remove some of the other pressures on their time. 

Leave plenty of time for the feedback, to ensure that participants and their colleagues can work around deadlines, holidays and other matters that require urgent attention.  We suggest around three weeks for a complete 360 feedback; up to one week for participants to nominate colleagues and a further two weeks for those colleagues to provide feedback.  Feedback timescales are flexible; we will work with you to fit around the unique needs of your organising. 

Make sure the feedback questionnaire is not too long and can be completed in one sitting.  If there are too many questions, people will get bored and give up part way through the questionnaire.  Our system saves progress each time “Next” is clicked to move onto a new category.  People can return to the feedback questionnaire at any time before they click “Submit” at the end.   

5) Not feeding back the feedback

Just giving the participant his or her report without a feedback session can be dangerous.  Feedback can be misinterpreted or, if there is a history, taken personally instead of constructively.  These can lead to feedback having a negative impact, rather than a positive one.

We always suggest feeding back the feedback; a coach, line manager or HR representative to go through the 360 feedback report with the participant.  Talk it through, picking out the key points to build into an action plan.  A coach or manager can guide the participant through the report, so they don’t focus on the negatives, framing any criticism as development opportunities. We can provide coaching to feedback the reports to your participants if required.

6) Lack of follow up

Once you have completed the 360 feedback, don’t leave it to gather dust.  Make sure the participant understands how to use their strengths to the best effect and actions the development points raised.  Create an action plan and review progress against that plan on a regular basis. 

After investing in 360 feedback for the organisation, maximise the return on that investment by acting on the feedback. Consider repeating the 360 feedback six or nine months down the line to help measure progress.  We can add previous scores to a repeat 360 feedback to show improvements.

Don't forget to follow up after your 360 feedback

We hope that you manage to avoid these pitfalls in your 360 feedback exercise.  If you do experience any of the issues noted above, we are here to help.  Our aim is to make the feedback process as easy as possible to navigate and of as much value as possible to everyone involved.

Top tips for individuals going through the 360 feedback process

Helpful hints for individuals to follow to get the most out of your 360 feedback exercise.

We have dealt with top tips for Employers carrying out a 360 feedback exercise, both at the planning and feedback collection stages and after the feedback.  Now we are going to look at how you, as an individual undertaking 360 feedback, can maximise the benefit of your 360.

Here are our top tips for individuals going through the 360 feedback process:

1) Believe in the process!

Approach the 360 feedback exercise with a positive attitude.  Treat it as a learning experience to help you improve and grow.  If you have taken on the 360 feedback yourself, you have made a good start and clearly want to gain something from the process.  If your employer has put you forward for this, take it as a compliment.  Your company is investing in your learning and development. 

If you don’t want to take part, you won’t put your all into it, and if you don’t believe in the process, how can you expect your colleagues to buy into it and give you good, meaningful feedback?  It might be that you are afraid of the negative feedback.  Change your mindset; its not criticism, it’s a learning opportunity. 

This is not easy to do. If your employer has followed our tips, they will have provided guidance on how to give feedback (don’t make it personal, include examples, balance positive and negative feedback, phrase feedback as suggestions for how things could be done better rather than criticism). 

It’s all about improving yourself, both for you and for the benefit of your employer.  The key is to believe that the process can help you.

Believe in the 360 feedback process

2) Consider who to ask for feedback

Select your respondents carefully; don’t just pick your friends.  Choose those you work with most and those who can give you the best feedback on your role, even if you don’t get on with them.  It takes guts to ask someone for feedback if you don’t like them, but if you work closely with them, they may raise some good points.  They are unlikely to sugar coat their opinions, and may surprise you.

Select a wide range of people from all different levels of the organisation, but make sure you have contact with them in your job role.  If you don’t have fairly regular contact with a person, there is no sense in asking them for feedback as they won’t have anything meaningful to contribute.  You are looking for real comments that can add value, not just meaningless platitudes.   

3) Make a personal request

When you enter your colleagues’ details into the 360 system, they get an e-mail asking them to provide feedback.  As well as this automated e-mail, send a personal request to your colleagues.  This could be a personal e-mail, or an in-person (or over the phone) request.  Taking the time to ask each colleague personally makes them much more likely to respond.  They know you are taking the process seriously and really do want their feedback. 

4) Complete your self-assessment

The self-assessment is an important part of the 360 feedback process. You are asking colleagues to consider your performance, so you should also consider how you have performed against the same criteria.  Only you know why you do what you do; your comments add context to the comments of your colleagues. 

The comparison of your views to those of your colleagues can be enlightening.  Your confidence will receive a boost if your colleagues thing you are doing something well, when you are not sure.  Likewise, if you think you have nothing to learn in an area, your colleagues can show that there are still improvements to be made.

5) Follow up with colleagues

Colleagues chatting - follow up with your colleagues; make a personal request for them to complete your feedback.

Your 360 set-up page allows you to check the progress of your 360 feedback, who has provided feedback and who has not.  During the feedback collection period, check which colleagues have responded to the feedback request.  Follow up with those who have not yet provided feedback.  “I’d really appreciate it if you could fill in my feedback questionnaire” takes a few seconds to say or type and might gain you some more great feedback. Your colleagues will receive automated reminders from the 360 feedback system, but the personal touch is always more effective.

6) Read the report with an open mind

When you receive your 360 feedback report, don’t rush to read it.  Make sure you have time to go through the report and that you tackle it with a positive, constructive mindset.  Take pride in every compliment and highlighted strength.  Don’t take things personally, even if your colleagues have been less than tactful wording their feedback.  See every criticism as an opportunity to improve. 

This may be easy to say but is not easy to do.  We suggest talking through your report with your line manager or a coach.  They can help you to pick out the key points, focussing on a few key elements to help you learn and grow.

7) Action

After the 360 process, you must take action.  Create a set of SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) objectives from the main learning points identified from the feedback.  Decide what you are going to do to address them and the timescale you need to implement these improvements.  Review your progress and keep adapting your action plan to keep enhancing your performance.

Wake up, Set goals, Take action!

Follow these tips to get the most out of your 360 feedback.  Use it to help you learn and grow.  Approach it with a positive mindset and believe that the feedback, and those who have provide it, are there to help you get the best that you can be.  Reading difficult feedback can be an uncomfortable process, but you can choose to react in a positive way. Reframe any criticisms as opportunities for development. 

Good luck on your 360 feedback journey.  If you would like our help to guide you through the process, please contact us or take a look at our Business Coaching package which includes both a 360 feedback, Persona Profile and supporting coaching sessions.

After the 360 feedback

Top tips for empoloyers to get the most from your 360 feedback reports

Once you have done completed the feedback collection phase, following all the tips in our previous article (Top tips for employers running a successful 360 feedback exercise), and received the completed 360 feedback reports for your participants, what next?  The next stage is just as important, if not more so, than the feedback planning and collection.  It’s what you do with it that counts!

Here are our top tips on what to do with your 360 feedback reports to get the most out of the exercise.  The most crucial thing to do is NOT stop after feedback collection.  Don’t just give the reports to the participants and leave it at that.  If you do, all the good work collecting feedback will be lost. 


1) Feedback the Feedback

Arrange sessions with each participant to go through their 360 feedback reports on a one to one basis.  These should be conducted by their manager, coach or a training and development manager.  The manager should read the report in advance and look for themes, picking out the key points to discuss with the participant.   

The participant should also receive the report in advance of the session, so they have time to read it and prepare.  Make sure the feedback session is booked in the diary before giving the report to the participant.  There should not be too much time between the participant getting their report and the feedback session; a couple of days at most.   The feedback session should pull out the good points and development points.  Don’t let the participant have too long to brood over any negative feedback and help to balance the good with the bad, while identifying the key development points.

2) Create an Action Plan

In order to make all you have done worthwhile, make sure you action the feedback given.  This should be an output from the feedback session.  Each participant, with the support of their manager, should create a development plan with SMART objectives.  This will draw on the participant’s strengths and address their development points.  Discussion with their line manager will help to focus the objectives and solutions on what is important to both the individual and the organisation.

Creating an action plan is still not the end of the story.  Reviewing the action plan on a regular basis is vital.  This review will check on the participants progress and address any challenges that have arisen while trying to achieve their objectives. 

SMART objectives - Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic and Timely

3) Share the results

Each individual participant receives their individual feedback report, but anonymised overall results can be shared with the whole feedback group or organisation.  The highest overall scores will highlight areas where skills and strengths lie within a team, department or company, whereas lower overall scores will show where participants can support each other in trying to improve as a team. 

This sharing of the results demonstrates that the organisation buys into the feedback process and is hearing the feedback given. It spreads the message that the company cares about its staff and their opinions, which will increase employee engagement.

4) Action the feedback on a Company Level

The company should actively look for overall themes across the 360 feedback exercise.  It may highlight problems, for example, if several participants or their colleagues mention poorly performing systems, outdated equipment or onerous processes in the feedback, a company or department-wide review of these may be required.  If the reports suggest that there could be improvements in customer service, or supplier processes, it may indicate the need to gather feedback from customers or suppliers and gather their views.   

Action on a company level shows that the company is listening to employees and values them, and that the 360 feedback is not just a tick box exercise.   

5) Repeat the 360

A repeat 360 feedback is a great way to measure outcomes, demonstrate progress, and pave the way for further improvements.  Set the interval after which you will repeat the 360 feedback.  This can be built into each participant’s SMART objectives.  This demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to continuous improvement, and ongoing investment in their staff. 

360 feedback - repeat your 360 feedback for continuous improvement

Make sure your 360 feedback reports don’t just gather dust on a shelf, or in a forgotten folder on your computer.  Follow up is crucial to get the maximum benefit from your 360 feedback.  A well thought out, followed up 360 development plan brings benefits, not just to the individual in terms of their development, but to the organisation as a whole. 

As well as our range of standards and bespoke 360 feedback, i-comment360 offer coaching to facilitate feeding back the feedback, and helping the participants to create and carry out their action plans. Take a look at our coaching package or contact us to talk about your specific requirements.

Top tips for employers running a successful 360 feedback exercise

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.