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What does 360 Feedback assess?

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The concept of “360 feedback” was born in the 1950s, at a time when Human Resources and Organization Development started to emerge as a standard function in large corporations. Organizations quickly realized that the 360 feedbacks could dramatically improve communication across the company. At first, the feedback collection was mostly performed by the top management. It was then followed by more general surveys to truly become “360”, allowing other stakeholders to take part in the discussion.

Why is 360 feedback still a hot topic in the post-pandemic era?

In an agile and uncertain business environment, success relies heavily on the capacity of both the organization and the individual to learn fast. Implementing iterative feedback loops is therefore critical to continuously spot areas of improvement (like Skills Gaps, Performance issues) to trigger corrective actions. For skills, such actions are often referred to as “Development Plans” and can incorporate various learning opportunities.

In this ultimate guide, you will learn about 360 Feedback, what it is used for, and how to apply its outputs to develop the workforce.

What is a 360 feedback?

360-degree feedback  (sometimes simply referred to as “a 360”) is a process that consolidates anonymous feedback about an employee from the people who work around him/her. Feedback typically includes the employee’s manager, direct reports, peers, and in some cases, external stakeholders such as suppliers or customers.

The feedback questionnaire includes quantitative feedback (eg. a 1-5 rating scale) and qualitative feedback such as written comments to nurture the 360 feedback analysis. The person who is analyzed also fills out a “self-assessment questionnaire” that includes the same questions that the others have answered. 

The 360 feedback is popular among organizations that want to go beyond the status quo of “top-down reviews” and gather a wider spectrum of structured feedback to analyze an individual’s performance and potential.

What to assess with a 360 feedback?

Assessing Competencies, Skills, and Behaviors

When it comes to individual development, 360 degrees reviews often assess the “proficiency” or “expertise level” in a particular set of competencies.

The objective here is to have an accurate picture of the individual’s actual competency level vs. the expected competency level required to perform in a particular position (current or future).

The results are used to make career decisions and to help employees develop professionally with a dedicated Individual development plan (IDP). 

It can be noted that learning-oriented 360 Feedbacks have usually no impact on the employee bonus or salary increase. They are focusing on the potential and future capability of an employee, not the past.

Learn more about skills assessments

performance assessments

Assessing performance

360-degree feedback may be used as a supplement to the manager’s performance assessment. 


In this case, the ratings proposed should match the company’s performance management tool in place. Evaluating performance using 360 feedback helps to identify employees with high potential (HiPo programs) and recognize outstanding and underperforming employees. 


360 assessments for performance have an impact on salary increase and bonus.

Assessing the effectiveness of learning and development programs

360-degree feedback can be used to measure the effectiveness of training programs as reviews can be organized for specific groups and track the dynamics of changes over time. The usual practice is to form groups before and after training programs and compare the results of each group over time.

This practice supports the ROI of training programs and their impact on on-the-job performance.

learning programs

Real-world applications of 360 feedback

Career development and succession planning 

Large companies usually have a talent management process to retain high performers and high potentials to key positions. Before promoting employees to the position of manager, providing a 360 assessment about leadership and management is typically useful to understand their current skills levels. 

360 feedback can be used to assess the competency level of the individual VS the proficiency level required to fill the career path. 

In this case, high performers are usually in the priority lane to be assessed.  The 360 feedback is usually presented as part of a premium and differentiated treatment, for which the employee understands will better support his/her career path.

In doing so, employers may determine who in the company are the most suitable for the roles, who should be given priority to succession planning priorities, and how to plan L&D efforts to match employee development goals.

 Leadership Development

A common application for the 360 feedback is to assess the Leadership level of the workforce.  The assessment may apply to all Line managers or to a targeted group among the C-suite. 

As they advance in the hierarchy of the organization, fewer people are comfortable telling their leaders what they are doing well, and what they should improve. The 360-degree feedback is becoming increasingly popular to develop leadership awareness of key employees in the organization.

 Culture & Organizational development

Does the workforce live and breathe the company culture values? Companies choose to assess their unique core values and behaviors. Such assessments are usually tied to core values and core competencies.  In this case, all employees presenting core competencies might be eligible for assessment. It helps the company evaluate what could be the workforce engagement level, as well as define a baseline for which they will develop a specific program to strengthen the core competencies (and culture fit) of the workforce. 

For specific projects and specific assignments

Accelerated by the pandemic, companies are shifting their approach to a more project-based working culture. Evolving in the company does not necessarily mean progressing vertically anymore. Personnel presenting certain skills might be prioritized to contribute to certain projects. 

360 feedback helps to go beyond the line manager feedback and identify critical skills among the workforce to match assignments with the internal skills supply. 

Performing this approach at scale can result in significant cost-savings by prioritizing internal hiring instead outsourcing and external recruitment.

Benefits of 360 feedback

Below are the top 6 benefits of using 360 feedback assessments in the organization: 

1.   Detect skills gaps 

360 feedbacks focused on skills are extremely powerful to identify gaps in areas where the employee needs the most to perform his/ her job function. While there is different skillsets necessary to perform the job, not all skills require the same level of attention or prioritization.

360 feedbacks help to pinpoint the following:

  • What are the skills and competencies with the most gaps
  • Who are the people with the most concerning skills gaps
  • Which department/country / business unit with the most skills gaps

Learn more about skills gaps and skills analytics

2. Focus L&D efforts 

 Once assessments have been performed, L&D actions can be tailored to the unique needs of the individual. Individual development plans (IDPs) can be drafted accordingly.

To maximize L&D resources, organizations may use Blended Learning plans to improve the workforce skills levels.

 Learn more about Blended Learning

reduce bias with 360 assessments

3. Reduce Bias 

Most managers think they’re really good managers. However, confidence and competence are not correlated. By offering a structured way to collect feedback across different employee groups, 360 feedback can go beyond the participant’s bias to offer a fairer view of the employee’s current contribution at work.

4. Measure progress and maximize ROI

 Regular 360 feedback assessments confirm employees’ progress and development. Monitoring the individual’s development plan allows maximizing performance outputs by laying out relevant learning activities, work assignments, and mentoring activities until the achievement of significant milestones upon the progress made. 

 Whenever employers commit to supporting their employees in skills development, they will be more likely to stay and deliver in return. Employers must understand this simple equation to reap the benefits of their upskilling programs.

ROI from learning and development

5. Improve Employee engagement & Retention  

 Learning new skills is one of the top 3 reasons that employees hope to achieve when looking for a new job. Cultivating employee growth by putting their skills in check contributes to performance and retention.

If employers are looking to retain their workforce; they should learn to engage with their employees more. This new generation knows a job for life is not a given, and that upskilling and lifelong learning are valuable perks to get from an employer in order to maintain personal job market competitiveness.

The growing expectations from Gen Z and Millennials are likely to stay. This table highlights new millennials expectations shaping the workplace. 

Learn more about the Millenials retention challenge at the workplace. 

6. Use 360 feedback results as a benchmarking tool

By performing 360 feedback asessments, companies are able to take advantage of a new level of talent insights. Skills benchmarking tools help companies to understand their competitive talent positioning and identifying employees with critical skills.

Organizations are able to understand where their strengths and areas of growth are. For example: while strong in the common competencies like Cloud Computing, the company is weaker than its peers in Artificial Intelligence.

360 as a benchmarking tool

What you need to know before launching your 360 feedback assessment

You are planning to perform a 360 feedback assessment and the questionnaire has not been sent out yet. Below are some best practices to follow to make your 360 feedback assessment project a success.

1.  Communicate clearly the intent to the employees

Participating in a review process can be a source of anxiety for the employees being enrolled. It is important that talents being assessed clearly understand the purpose of the exercise.

If you are performing a “learning-oriented” 360, do reassert that the review is made to identify development opportunities and strengthen the skill set of the employee, not to assess past performance.

In many organizations, not everyone is enrolled in development 360 initiatives: make it clear to the employees involved that they are being rewarded with a special process as the company recognizes their future development potential.

2.  Offer reassurances over anonymity

  • Before performing the questionnaire, the assessee must be 100% confident over anonymity. Explain that only an individual’s line manager is identifiable to the feedback receiver in the final report together with HR, who will oversee rolling out development programs to support career development and awareness.
  • Reiterate that names are not disclosed in the reports. Feedback are consolidated per assessor group (management, peers, direct subordinates, clients etc. )

3.   Invite the right people to the assessment

The assessee must contribute to the process by giving names of assessors that he/she would be comfortable receiving feedback from. 

The participant list is usually facilitated by the Line manager and Human resources but either way, the assessee must know who will be chosen to provide feedback. 

The most useful feedback will come from whoever you work with the most closely. They don’t have to be dear friends or even people you like. Just look for colleagues who are in the best possible position to observe your behavior on a frequent basis.

4.  List assessors into groups

The name 360 comes from the fact that participants receive feedback from many “views”. Feedback is coming from:

–      Above (the boss or line manager) – Choose at least 1. More people from above may be offered to join the assessment.
–      Below (direct reports) – Choose at least 2 or 3.  
–      To the side (peers) – Choose at least 2 or 3
–      Others – Customers, suppliers or any other external stakeholder to the organization that the assessed person is comfortable receiving feedback.  

5.  Provide guidelines to the participants before they fill the 360 feedback questionnaires 

Best practices to follow :

  • Any comments provided in the open questions are intended to help the individual improve his / her behavior.
  • Feedback provided must be relevant to work and be actionable.
  • The comments provided are constructive and supportive.
  • Feedback given must be concise and explained clearly.

Following these guidelines shall guarantee that the feedback provided is fact-based. The objective is, for the one that receives the feedback, to get useful insights about their strengths and development needs.

Important: It is key to make sure the participants chosen can provide constructive feedback, fact-based. Keep in mind too that the extent to which one is able to observe a colleague’s behaviors will vary depending on their business relationship with the person in question, so suggest that they base their feedback only on the behaviors directly observed.

Encourage them to be direct and honest in their responses when the survey arrives. This personal outreach will increase your response rate and invite the kind of helpful, actionable feedback you need.

Common pitfalls to avoid

There are some common traps to avoid falling into when filling a 360 degree assessment questionnaire. We have summarized them below:

  1. Assessment based on the last event only: This means the assessor only takes into account the last event to provide feedback. Assessors should take into account the events that took place over a longer period (such as the last year).
  2. Over rating or underrating: Occurs when the assessor provides an answer that is much under or higher than the actual level observed on the job. If an assessor answer by choosing ratings at one end of the scale without a specific explanation, it is possible they are either too harsh or else too lenient.
  3. The Halo effect: Refers to the “what is beautiful is also good” principle. For example, people who are highly sociable can be seen as more intelligent. As a result, the perception of one quality may lead to biased judgments of other qualities and may influence the judgment either positively or negatively.

What to do with 360 feedback results?

Now you launched the 360 feedback assessment, it is time to debrief the results and perform an action plan.

1.   Identify who will debrief the report

The most common practice is to set up a first meeting with HR and the line manager to debrief the report, before it is shared to the employee assessed. Then, the line manager may share report to the employee during a dedicated one-on-one meeting. In some companies, the HR may also be present during the debriefing meeting with the employee.

In case companies are using an external provider to perform 360s, the vendor may take part in the analysis & debriefing with HR Line manager or employee.

2.   Prioritize development efforts to fill the gaps 

For the organization and the individual to maximize the effectiveness of the 360 assessment, there must be a clear next step with an Individual Development Plan (IDP).  For the development plan to be a success, it is key that the employee understands what his/her 360 assessment results is and what are the strengths, and the gaps to be filled.

Keep in mind: Employee development plans aim at developing skills and behavior of the employee. Progress must be monitored regularly to produce real results.

3.   Roll out individual development plan (IDPs) to bridge the gaps 

Huneety splits its learning activities into 3 families named : Active Learning,  Social Learning and  Stretch Assignments.

 Stretch Assignments / on-the-job assignments: onboard managers to transform theory into practice.

  • Link assignments with relevant competencies and business objectives. Projects are often a good way to push an employee outside their comfort zone, have him/her connect to other departments, or prepare a presentation that will help him/her gain visibility across the organization. 
  • Produce a SMART action plan. 
  • Let employees know they are being given a chance to develop and that the stretch assignment is part of their learning journey. Many companies fail to have employees acknowledge when they take part in a stretch assignment. 
  • This is a learning exercise. Have managers provide constructive feedback and monitor progress on the job. 

 Social learning: Learn through others. There is so much more to it than just feedback to subordinates. 

Social learning can be about receiving feedback. You can think outside of the box and go out of the classic Employee/Subordinate relationship. Constructive feedback can be equally offered by peers, customers, internal clients, or company’s experts. Multiply opportunities to give feedback!  

  • Social learning can also include some type of networking component that will allow getting more exposure to a topic. How about being part of a discussion group, participating in conferences, or connecting to people with similar challenges in other industries? 

 Active learning (formal learning) Have you considered all options? 

  • Always link training received with stretch assignments. 
  • Again, think outside the box: good training does not always mean spending big bucks on fancy training programs. Think about all the other ways to pass valuable information to an employee to multiple Active Learning opportunities. Reading a book, listening to a podcast, or engaging with an eLearning can sometimes be as valuable to an individual as formal classroom training. 
  • Post-learning assessments are often needed on Active Learning so that the individual deploys the needed focus on the task. Make sure those are embedded in Active Learning. It can be as simple as a test embedded in eLearning, a debrief session or writing a summary note.