7 ways to refresh 360

360 feedback is it out of fashion or is it just time for a rebrand? Asks Elva Ainsworth

360 feedback has been around in Europe for over 20 years now so it is definitely not the fresh new thing it once was but has it timed out? In some respects, yes, but, regardless of whether you have gone through 360 before, 360 implemented with care and full cultural alignment to your strategic goals can really do a great job of reinforcing key behaviours and of providing growth opportunities for those hungry for feedback.

360 had a bumpy start in the early days in the UK with unexpected emotional responses and upsets alongside unreasonably high expectations of transformation but, over the intervening 30 years or so, we have worked things out. Surveys have got shorter and easier, reviewers have become more accustomed to the process and are better briefed and coaches have developed skills to support the process and help managers better understand their role. But is it really worth it? It is, after all, only a set of highly subjective opinions – it does not provide objective, accurate data on the performance or potential of your leaders.

Zoom webinar briefings and 1-1 virtual debriefs can easily provide skilled support for everyone to ensure the potential value is realised

360 data may indeed simply be a glimpse of others’ views and opinions about you but it does offer a mirror. It shows you how you are seen by those who are important to you in your role. You are only as good a leader as these others will allow you to be, so this mirror has the potential to be extremely powerful. You may not be in the position of offering a Snow White “mirror, mirror on the wall…” moment to all your managers but 360 these days can indeed provide a growth opportunity for the participants, a chance to manage reputation and performance for the managers and an opportunity to be heard for the reviewers.  It can facilitate shifts in consciousness and in development at all levels – but it can also simply irritate, cause conflict and waste time and money. The trick is working out how to get the real value for your situation.

360 surveys may not be the shiny new thing that will solve all of the behaviour problems of your leaders but it will, if implemented carefully and supported properly, encourage positive growth and development at an individual, team and at an organisational level. 360 has advanced in recent years and current technology, survey and debriefing expertise and working practices mean it can be more effective, more efficient and less painful for all concerned at the same time. 

These are some of the ways 360 has changed and that can help ensure you get real and positive value:

1. 360 as a cultural change tool
Seeing behaviour as a phenomenon of the cultural dynamics – not simply an issue of individual skill and development – means transformation at all levels is more likely. To be effective in causing cultural shifts a 360 needs to be integrated fully within the business and talent strategy and backed up by leadership commitment and action as well as policy/structural change.

2. Supporting the 360 experience
A 360 programme needs to be fully communicated to participants, their managers and to all reviewers involved. Participants need support interpreting their data and facilitation to ensure pertinent insights are realised and turned into actions. The best intentioned ‘short’ 360s can miss true value by leaving participants to their own devices – it is too easy to take a look, feel reassured and shelve it without deeper reflection. Today’s Zoom webinar briefings and 1-1 virtual debriefs can easily provide skilled support for everyone to ensure the potential value is realised.

3. Dynamic and interactive data displays
Current technology means 360 data and commentary can be displayed at an overview, domain, competency and question levels with ease and with the functionality to allow participants and coaches to drill down for detail when required. Dashboard outputs can provide summaries and areas of interest can be fully investigated using easy and attractive visual displays and sophisticated statistical techniques.

4. Personalisation of surveys
To ensure full engagement and ownership, participants can be invited to add their own personal questions to a survey – questions they have chosen from a list or written specifically by them so that they gather exactly the feedback they want. This helps ensure the process is highly relevant to everyone personally and is not just covering the common and corporate ground.

5. Benchmark comparisons
Up to date norm data can be built into 360 reporting to ensure your participants know how they compare and to ensure they do not over-interpret their own data. Given the fact that most 360 data is positively skewed, seeing exactly how positive your data is compared to others’ gives a more accurate perspective and interpretation. External or internal benchmarks can easily be included if appropriate.

6. Aggregate organisational data
360 data across a team or a whole organisation can inform your talent strategy and provide a clear steer regarding current perceived training needs across your target group. This allows you to track cultural differences between firms, departments, functions, genders or countries and progress over time. Getting clear on your current leadership reputation or ‘brand’ allows you to raise leadership behaviour as a strategic priority and as a direct influence or organisational culture.

7. Virtual webinars and debriefs
The world of virtual work has opened up the possibility of supporting 360 programmes with webinars and virtual ‘debrief’ sessions. Your HR team and your participants can access global 360 experts and coaches via today’s technology. An hours debrief with an expert can make a big difference to the outcome of your 360s.

There are definitely challenges in running a smooth and consistently valuable 360 programme. There are many moving parts to the process that need to be designed and executed as well as integrated with other HR processes, championed by your senior leaders and aligned to the key purpose of the exercise. It is not for the faint hearted! If you are wanting an accurate assessment of peoples’ performance and/or potential, then other methods can do a better job. If, however, you want to elicit opinions and input, to encourage constructive feedback and a growth mindset, to expose unresolved conflicts and to provide transformational opportunities for those with a hunger for them, then it can really do a fantastic job.

Elva Ainsworth is CEO at Talent Innovations


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