Top tips on 360-degree surveys

Gary Cattermole explores the value of 360-degree feedback and provides guidelines on correct administration

If administered correctly 360-degree feedback surveys can provide valuable, constructive insight into how an employee’s immediate work circle perceives an individual’s performance and behaviour. This data can then be used to devise individually tailored development plans that directly address identified strengths and weaknesses.   

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They can also provide an opportunity to embed an organisation’s values and can be used to communicate the personal competencies that those at management level desire in those who work for them. When managed in the right way, they can achieve all of this under the umbrella of a caring and considered employer, who cares not only about output but about the personalities and behaviour of those they employ. After all, a happy workforce is generally a more productive workforce.

However 360 degree surveys are only beneficial to an organisation when they are administered correctly. Here are some top tips to help ensure a successful and workable outcome.

  1. Get buy-in across the entire organisation – it is vital that everyone in the business understands and supports the process. This will require careful prior explanation of the process – what it involves, how the data will be used, how the process itself will be evaluated and the potential benefits it can offer. Without this understanding, you will not receive the support required to conduct the survey appropriately.
  2. Be prepared to provide mentoring or coaching to help staff fully understand and appreciate the 360 degree survey process, its purpose and its value – it can be very difficult for people to hear how others perceive their behaviour without taking it personally so offer additional one-to-one or small group training about the process. Most people are used to hearing how they perform tasks in relation to the outcomes they achieve but their actual behaviour while performing their role is often not considered, unless it is highly undesirable.
  3. Ensure confidentiality – this is absolutely fundamental to the process. Providing direct feedback about a co-worker can be a daunting prospect, particularly if you are worried it could come back to haunt you. In order for the process to work, you need honest responses, not guarded comments.
  4. Ask the right questions – don’t be vague and make sure your surveys are intuitive, relevant and easy to complete – they should also always reflect your brand personality.
  5. Don’t allow it to become personal – the process needs to be constructive not personal. Inform all those taking part that you are only looking for constructive feedback. Should they have personal grievances, they should be discussed separately, preferably prior to that person’s participation in the survey.
  6. Make it easy – the easier you make the process, the more likely it is that people will respond in a timely and appropriate manner – allow people to complete the survey online (which not only speeds up the process, but also supports their anonymity). Also consider using automated email reminders for survey respondents to ensure adherence to your schedule. 
  7. Make sure feedback reports are workable and that data is used in an appropriate manner – the process is only useful if you do something with the data. Feedback should be targeted and qualitative, easily decipherable and should be used to put individual plans in place for every individual surveyed.
  8. Share the feedback with the person being surveyed – this is where the real value of the process lies. Feedback should be open and frank and there should be an emphasis placed on creating a forum for two way communication. Employees should be given the opportunity to discuss the feedback and to think about and discuss their own strengths and behaviours, in relation to the challenges they face in the role they are employed to perform. If the information the 360 survey uncovers is not linked to these challenges it will be meaningless for many who undertake them.
  9. Ensure that the 360 survey doesn’t sit alone – the outcomes should be incorporated into an individual’s personal development programme to help improve future performance, with training tailored to improve the areas that were highlighted as requiring improvement. It may also be necessary and helpful to coach the individual to be more open minded and reflective about feedback they receive. After all, if an individual isn’t open to constructive feedback, they won’t value it and you’ll struggle to bring about any kind of improvement in an individual with a negative frame of mind.  
  10. Don’t focus on weaknesses – it is important that when you are evaluating feedback, you recognise strengths that arise so that you can put a plan in place that helps to overcome weaknesses as well as develop existing strengths. All feedback is valuable in this process – positive and negative.
  11. Revisit the process regularly – a one-off plan won’t achieve the outcomes you seek. Behaviour will not change immediately so it is important that you put a plan in place to revisit development plans to monitor change – we usually advise quarterly for the two years following the initial survey.
  12. Revisit the original 360-degree survey – in order to assess whether development plans (and the 360-degree process) are working, re-circulate the initial 360 survey to gauge whether perceptions about people’s performance has changed.

It is also worth considering using an external consultant to conduct the survey and deliver the results. Survey respondents are more likely to provide honest feedback to someone they don’t know and are also more likely to express their concerns about the process.

About the author 

Gary Cattermole is director at The Survey Initiative. For further information on this or any other aspect of employee research or engagement.

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