360 Review

Chelsea Fredericks, SHRM-CP
Who knows an employee best? Arguably, the sum total of everyone they work with. 360-degree reviews enlist the help and feedback of all those who interact with an employee in different ways to get a holistic picture of their performance. However, they may also cause resentment and undermine transparent cultures. Let’s explore the pros and cons of the 360 review.

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What Is a 360 Review?

A 360 review is a performance evaluation approach that gathers data from numerous sources such as: a manager, coworkers, direct reports, vendors, clients, customers, and other stakeholders. Ideally, a correctly administered 360 review will gather feedback from 360 degrees of an employee’s job and work. The feedback remains anonymous. The goal of a 360 review is to measure the effectiveness of the employee in supporting all their key stakeholders in various capacities.

Should Your Organization Perform 360 Reviews?

In determining whether your organization should use 360 reviews, you’ll want to evaluate your workplace culture and values to understand if the approach is a good fit. Organizations must be cautious to avoid retaliation issues from peer evaluations. Further, 360 reviews can be very time-consuming because of the amount of data that is collected for each employee.

The Pros of a 360 Review

A 360 review should help evaluate employees holistically and gather information from multiple different viewpoints. These reviews may identify themes or patterns of an employee’s strengths or weaknesses. If used correctly, 360 reviews can also improve teamwork and overall feedback on an ongoing basis. Here are several advantages to this method of performance review.

  • Seeing all angles. The number one reason companies decide to perform 360 reviews is to analyze performance more objectively and find out how their employees perform across the board. A 360 review may reveal that an employee is exceptionally good at one particular area that outweighs weaker areas. Understanding the complete picture can help fill in gaps that a manager alone may not recognize.
  • Specificity. Another pro to 360 reviews is the potential for recurring themes in the feedback given from multiple people instead of hearing it once from a manager. 360 reviews can suggest specific areas for improvement that present a stronger case when it comes from a variety of sources.
  • Strengthened teamwork. As a whole team works together on performance evaluations, there is potential for strengthened relationships and ongoing feedback throughout the year as opposed to a yearly review. Knowing that your peers will evaluate your performance may cause you to solicit feedback more often and look for ways to continually improve.
  • Focus on skill set. A major benefit to 360 reviews is that they are typically free from discrimination. A manager may have biases toward or against an employee’s age, rage, gender, personality, etc. 360 review questions and feedback focus specifically on skills and abilities that support the business and their peers.

The Cons of a 360 Review

360 reviews also raise a couple major concerns. We’ve all been in a group project where we have to rate our teammates, and someone says “I’m going to give everyone a 100%,” creating pressure for everyone to do the same. Similar issues can arise with performance reviews where everyone is aware that they will be rating each other.

  • Lack of reliability and validity. 360 reviews were popular when they first came into use, but have become less popular over time because they lack reliability and validity. Because everyone chooses a different way to rate others, there is no set standard or baseline. Results can be skewed from personal biases, grudges, pressure from others, or even friendships. Because of this, 360 reviews are best used for feedback, not determining promotions or compensation.
  • Decreased morale. 360 reviews have the potential to decrease morale in the workplace because negative feedback is harmful. Hurt feelings are likely to result and should be taken into consideration. 360 reviews can cause hostility from negative or defaming comments made.
  • Lack of transparency. 360 reviews are meant to be anonymous. However, it’s quite likely that someone will form opinions about who wrote what about them, using their perspective of their colleagues, their writing style, or other methods. It could also cause your organization to be perceived as secretive when employee performance is based on anonymous reports. If your company prides itself on transparency and openness, this approach may not fit within your values.
  • Unclear scope of rating. Each person that participates in the 360 review will see a different side of the individual being evaluated. Because each person has strengths and weaknesses in different areas, there will never be a perfect evaluation from a peer who only sees them operating in one capacity. 360 reviews cannot paint a complete picture of a person’s abilities when there are too many or too few evaluators on a specific side.

How to Perform a 360 Review

Typically, HR personnel act as the administrators of 360 reviews. The reviews are carried out by sending surveys to each employee’s raters,” After the submission window is closed, the administrator meets with the employee to discuss the feedback and set goals.

1. Establish Criteria

First, HR or third-party administrators define the criteria being used. These may include your company values, or generic criteria such as leadership skills, teamwork, and communication. Ensure that the criteria you select are relevant to your company’s needs and culture.

2. Select Assessors

Next, determine who relevant stakeholders are. This most often includes the direct manager, peers, and direct reports. However, depending on the position’s support roles and other frequent interactions, this may also include peers from across the business, customers, or other clients.

3. Deliver the Assessments

Typically delivered virtually via links, the next step is to launch the survey. This should be sent to all selected assessors as well as the individual (to self-evaluate). Give assessors a minimum of one week to complete it. Give a hard deadline to ensure that the data is timely and the process is fluid.

4. Evaluate and Review Feedback

The administrator meets with the employee to discuss the results of the 360 review. Take time to understand the employee’s goals and personal understanding of their performance. Often, employees are aware of their own areas for improvement. Going in with specific objectives can help an employee feel validated and understood. It will also help the employee focus on actionable items instead of one-off comments. The employee should know that further coaching and help will be available after the performance review ends.

How to Best Use the Results From a 360 Review

After administering 360 reviews, it’s important to use the data correctly and ensure that morale is unaffected. Following up will also make sure that your lengthy performance evaluation isn’t dismissed as soon as it ends.

Follow Up

Obviously, one of the most important parts of evaluating an employee’s performance is taking the time to follow up. When there are specific skills or areas for improvement, a manager may work with an employee to help set reasonable, timely goals. This helps the employee feel supported and know what to do with the huge amount of feedback they just received.

Use Other Approaches

360 reviews are more effective when combined with other performance appraisal tools. An employee should receive direct feedback from their manager on a regular basis, not just anonymous annual feedback. Being upfront with employees about their performance will ensure that there are no surprises when it comes to potential termination or promotion. There are additional benefits to having continuous performance conversations that aren’t always formal.

Be Consistent

No matter how often you conduct 360 reviews for your organization, make sure it is consistent. This is important in allowing employees to follow up on the feedback they received and have ample time to make measurable change. If change is not made, you may consider adjusting the time frame or determining the scope of their needs.

How Often to Conduct 360 Reviews

Performance review time frames vary by industry and company. Further, the practicality of implementing feedback and making significant changes will vary by team and individual.

While using 360 reviews, you will want to consider how long it may take to implement the previous feedback given before planning a new review. 360 reviews may be spaced out further than most other performance tools because of the nature of how long it takes to gather the data. It takes longer than a conversation with a direct manager. You may consider using 360 reviews annually while utilizing other performance tools at shorter frequencies.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About 360 Reviews

What’s the difference between 360 review and 360 feedback?
360 feedback is not part of any formal performance management initiative. It can stand on its own and is a very effective way to gather information from all sides for an employee. 360 feedback is not linked to any employment action, including disciplinary action, compensation changes, and promotions.
How long does a 360 review take?
Depending on how you administer 360 reviews, they can take quite a while. Data is collected from multiple sources for every employee, which involves a high level of planning and execution. Fortunately, there are many tools and systems available for purchase to conduct 360 reviews more quickly.
Chelsea Fredericks, SHRM-CP

Chelsea is an HR consultant, specializing in internal investigations and employee relations. She recently graduated from the BYU Marriott School of Business with a degree in Human Resource Management. There, she was a four-year member of SHRM and served as the chapter president. Chelsea is passionate about human resources because of the ability to strengthen and encourage others through meaningful experiences and coaching that can improve their work life, satisfaction, and job performance.

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