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What is a 360?


I was talking with a manager the other day about their employee performance review processes. This company had been doing them for some time and wanted to take their reviews to the next level.

What about a 360? I was met with a very stunned look.

"I didn't think you thought of me that way" came the reply. It was my turn to look stunned.

"No – a 360 degree performance review process" was my reply.

A 360 is where a person gets feedback on their performance from their peers, their subordinates, their boss and in some cases even suppliers and clients. That's why it is called 360 – you get feedback from all around you.

A 360 is a very intense tool and not to be messed with. I have seen it create miraculous shifts in previously stuck managers and I have seen it plunge people into a major stress crisis. I have even seen people totally ignore what all the facts are telling them and stay on their track. It is only a tool for a mature organisation willing to take it seriously and implement it correctly.

Why? Imagine you are in a room, having a quiet coffee by yourself. All of a sudden in walk 20 of your employees, peers and your boss. They each proceed to tell you exactly what is right and wrong with your leadership, your knowledge, your teamwork, your technical skills and a host of other things. All you are allowed to do is listen. Now you can see why it is intense!

There are lots of tools on the market to help create a 360 – many just focus on the forms and not the process (or the process to debrief and ensure the person remains stable!).

If you are looking at doing a 360 here are my best tips to help you create one that works for your business (no matter the tool you use).

  • 360 should NEVER be mandatory. It should always be voluntary. If mandatory you will force people who may be having a lot of stress in their personal life to deal with an additional stress load which could push them over the edge.

  • 360 should never be used as a promotion tool. It is designed to help people learn and grow and not punish and reward. If you take it in the positive development approach you are more likely to get honest feedback from participants and more willingness to deal with the results by the person. If it is for reward and punishment, the dynamics change and it is less effective.

  • 360 questions need to be directly related to what matters in your organisation. There is no point doing a 360 if none of the questions relate to areas of importance to your company. Do you want managers to work across information silos – then measure it. Do you want managers to be inspirational leaders – then measure it.

  • The boss goes first and shares their results with the management team. If you are serious about a 360, the boss should be the first person who has one and they should share the results with the management team. If they are not willing to be open and do the process, the company is not ready for a 360 generally.

  • Confidentiality is crucial. Every subordinate, peer, client and supplier who responds should have their results pooled and not be identifiable. This assists in ensuring they will give honest feedback.

  • Feedback is perception not proof. The results of a 360 are just people's perceptions of a person at that point in time. Something about their behaviour is triggering this result. Perceptions are not proof that a person is "bad" – they are just showing something in the behaviour needs to be modified.

  • The process is more important than the forms. You need to ensure everyone is briefed beforehand (participant and raters) as well as ensure that you allow a good 2 hours with each person to debrief their results. The results can't be just mailed or handed to someone, they must be debriefed – taking into account emotional reactions as well as action setting for the future.

  • No witch-hunts. There should be no witch-hunts over negative results. If a person decides to blame the raters and punish them – then you quickly need to deal with it as a case of workplace bullying.

Follow these processes and you will have a powerful tool to make significant change in your company. Miss any of them and you will get a paper exercise or conversely one that damages people for life. It's your choice.

Remember - for a basic employee performance review for small business, check out my Employee Performance Review -tips, templates and tactics pack.

Until next time

Ingrid Cliff

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