What Is Multi-rater Feedback?

Multi-rater feedback, also known as 360-degree feedback, gathers insights from multiple levels of the organization to give an employee feedback on their performance at work. Team members, managers, and subordinates might be asked to give feedback for a single employee.

Multi-rater feedback can be used as a performance appraisal tool (e.g., it assesses an employee’s work-related goals) and impact bonuses or promotions. It can also be used only as a way to support an employee’s professional development.

If multi-rater feedback is used as a performance appraisal tool, it should have three goals:

  • Clarify job responsibilities. Job descriptions get old quickly and should be continually updated.
  • Provide information to set goals and ways to measure success. Goals should reflect how an employee can have the greatest impact in their role in a given time period. They should tie into organizational objectives. Employees should create the goal and the criteria to know if they exceeded, met, or did not meet their goal.
  • Create a plan of action. Employees should create a plan to achieve their goals. Measurements of success should be clear, relevant, and easy-to-use evaluation tools for themselves and other feedback providers.

If multi-rater feedback is used to promote employee development, the goals should be to:

  • Create greater awareness of strengths and weaknesses. The manager might know what their employees are working on, but they might not know how their employees work. Peers and others probably have more experience and insight into someone’s behavior and good suggestions for improvements.
  • Provide actionable feedback to improve. A simple rating or score may be helpful, but feedback needs to be detailed enough to lead to action. If not, the costly process of gathering feedback is pointless.

Should You Start a Multi-rater Feedback Program at Your Organization?

Ultimately, the success of a multi-rater feedback program depends on your organization and the quality of the implementation. Change is not easy! At an organizational level, it’s hard to implement a new performance management program. Such programs are tied into every aspect of work and work relationships. At a personal level, feedback triggers our fight or flight response, making it difficult to give and receive.  Considering the advantages and challenges of multi-rater feedback will help you assess its usefulness for your organization.

The Pros of Multi-rater Feedback

Multi-rater feedback has grown in popularity over the past few decades. Common praise includes:

  • Deeper insights. Employees can increase self-awareness and improve when they receive tailored actionable feedback. In some organizations, the manager is not able to provide such feedback. At all organizations, employees benefit from multiple sources of feedback about all aspects of their work.
  • Anonymity. Most people struggle to give and receive candid feedback, so keeping reviews anonymous helps the rater provide helpful insights and the receiver to implement them.
  • Mitigated bias. Insights from more people in different roles provide more perspectives, which can mitigate potential bias from the person’s manager and improve feedback quality. Importantly, this can help reduce bias in employment actions, such as promotions and bonus distributions.

The Cons of Multi-rater Feedback

Multi-rater feedback programs can be met with resistance by some employees and HR departments. Some common critiques include:

  • Poor training or lack of training. Giving feedback is a learned skill, yet many organizations do not invest in proper training. If everyone is responsible for giving formal feedback, you may just end up with more bad feedback.
  • Low ROI. Everyone must invest time and effort to reflect, write and read feedback. Especially if the feedback is of low quality, the cost might not yield sufficient benefits.
  • Anonymity. Both a strength and a weakness, anonymity can promote low-quality feedback with no repercussions. In the worst cases, employees can give harmful, biased, or uninformed feedback. In less extreme cases, employees might leave unhelpful insights with no opportunity to provide greater clarity.
  • Unactionable feedback. Even when feedback is anonymous, peers may fear giving feedback and provide overly positive feedback.

How To Collect Multi-rater Feedback

Like every successful HR initiative, the key is simplicity. If collecting multi-rater feedback is simple, you are more likely to have greater participation rates and higher levels of employee satisfaction.

Steps to collect feedback include communicating the program, training employees on feedback, determining who will provide ratings, sharing the feedback tool, providing the feedback, and following up on discussing feedback results. Let’s look at each step.

Step 1: Communicate the Program

Every initiative must be communicated well to be successful. Even if your organization collects multi-rater feedback each year, communications should be robust and clear. Employees need to know the program’s timeframe, purpose, and process. They also need to know their role and how important it is.

Step 2: Train Employees on Giving Feedback

Employees should be trained (or retrained) on how to give and receive feedback. This will improve the quality of the feedback and the likelihood that it will be implemented. Training creates a common language around feedback, which clarifies assumptions and increases understanding.

Step 3: Determine Raters

Decide who will provide ratings for each employee and the rationale behind it. Should brand new employees participate? Should managers above the employee’s manager managers provide feedback? The answers should depend on how ratings are used, how often they are collected, and your organization’s unique traits (i.e., team size, remote workforce, organization size, etc.).

Step 4: Share Feedback Tool

Providing quality feedback is a time investment. Whether it be digital or physical, pick a tool that will quickly deliver quality feedback and ensure anonymity (if that is what you want). Distribute the tool to your employees and remind them frequently where to access it.

Step 5: Provide Feedback

Once feedback has been collected, distribute the feedback to employees. If you pick a digital tool, this step might be automatically done for you. If you pick a paper tool, this could require work from HR or the manager to manually distribute.

Step 6: Follow Up

As part of your communications, you should remind managers and employees to review the feedback and discuss it in a one-on-one setting. Follow-up will maximize the effort of collecting feedback by promoting understanding and implementation.

How Often Should You Conduct a Multi-rater Assessment?

To be effective, feedback should always be timely and relevant. Feedback can also help employees work more productively through skill enhancement, learning, and coaching. These facts promote gathering and distributing feedback as frequently as possible.

However, multi-rater assessment programs are time intensive. They may also create a psychological cost from stress around giving or receiving feedback. Both cost the organization in lost productivity and invested time.

Some organizations find the right balance of timely feedback and organizational investment by mixing and matching feedback programs. For example, you could implement a formal multi-rater program annually, and encourage managers and team members to provide candid feedback at every team meeting or one-on-one.