360 feedback, or 360-degree feedback, is an increasingly popular performance management tool leveraged by HR to create a fuller picture of employee performance.

This method of gathering feedback utilizes multiple sources, including management, team leads, peers, and the individual in question.

This performance management model provides more insight into what people are actually doing, what they’re doing well, and where they need to improve. Most importantly, tapping into multiple review sources reveals different aspects of team collaboration, communication, and attitude that wouldn’t be visible in a top-down report.

This article will delve deeper into the pros and cons of 360 feedback and how to implement it to gather actionable insights.


What is 360-degree feedback? 

360 feedback essentially is a form of holistic feedback that gathers perspectives from above, below, and in a horizontal fashion. Employees are evaluated by the people they lead, their superiors, their peers, and themselves. That’s a lot of data, but it can help you create a complete picture of how this person works.

Gathering 360-degree feedback normally involves multiple surveys and points of contact. Then, a tool like the People Dynamics 360 Feedback System would then build profiles based on feedback, so HR only has to manage who should be doing the surveys.

However, 360-degree feedback isn’t suitable for every situation. Inherent bias exists when people give their colleagues feedback, which can skew results. And there’s no sense collecting that much data if you don’t actually use it.

360 feedback can also be time-consuming, especially if you ask everyone to fill out surveys about their whole team. If you decide to invest in some form of holistic feedback, you should have reasons mapped that contribute to business goals.

Let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons so you can decide whether this form of feedback is right for your company.


Pros of 360 feedback

The most obvious advantage of 360-degree feedback is the well-rounded picture of actual performance it provides. However, it has other benefits that make it an attractive option for outside evaluation.


Highlights developmental needs

360 feedback can highlight personal weaknesses, whether in terms of skills, communication, or project management. That can directly play into personal improvement, guiding HR in delivering professional development and training so each person can improve their weak spots. 


Provides rare upward feedback

360 feedback delivers anonymous upper-level feedback to reveal insights into how managers are performing. It also shows leaders the impact of their leadership, allowing for development and improvement. 


Builds and promotes trust

Performance reviews have a long history of negative connotations and misuse, to the point where some organizations are dropping them altogether.

Involving employees in their colleagues’ performance reviews as well as their own, and shifting the focus away from repercussions for poor performance towards professional development can put people at ease and make them more willing to accept feedback.


Cons of 360 feedback

However, 360-degree feedback is not without its drawbacks.


Large time investment

It’s time-consuming to set up 360-degree feedback, organize stakeholders, and build and deliver questionnaires. You’ll also have to budget time to fill out those surveys, multiplied by the number of people taking it and how many surveys they’re completing for other people.

In small teams, you can reasonably estimate 30-60 minutes for each person to give feedback. If you have a larger team structure, that could take even longer.


Common peer biases

Bias is a well-known and well-documented issue in 360 feedback. People often feel obligated to rate their peers well, even when they have a lower opinion of their work or behavior.

The longer people know their peers, the more aggravated that problem becomes. So, organizations either need to implement bias prevention strategies, or factor bias into peer feedback results.


Carefully curated reviewers

360-degree feedback requires significant involvement from everyone. Asking the opinions of a random selection of people across the organization is not enough; you need the full team, direct upper management, and adjacent subordinates to participate.

Without these areas of input, your 360 feedback isn’t truly “360 degrees.”


Implementing 360 feedback  

It takes time to incorporate 360 feedback into an organization. If your people are accustomed to a top-down method, you’re likely to receive heavily biased results where people give everyone top marks.

Instead, 360-degree feedback has to be delivered as part of an overall cultural change, with clearly defined goals and outcomes. Employees have to know what these surveys are for and how you’ll use their findings. That means establishing goals and leveraging them as part of the rollout, both for employee buy-in and to ensure the program has a strong return on investment.


Build stronger teams

For example, a good goal to have with 360 feedback is to build stronger teams. If you know how people work together, you’ll know when specific individuals are not working together.

Combining that data with DISC assessments and personality profiles can give you more insight into whether conflict is an issue of personality.

Introducing development, stress, and emotional intelligence training to help teams smooth out interpersonal relationships is usually more effective than immediately restructuring teams.


Grow internal talent 

Linking 360 feedback to gap analysis and introducing development is one of the best strategies you can adopt. It reveals key areas of improvement for even your top performers to promote continuous upward motion for everyone in the company.

It also allows you to spotlight good candidates for leadership positions based on feedback from their peers. You’ll learn which of your employees have all the traits you want to fill different leadership roles. Who communicates well across teams, can keep everyone aligned, and works well with other managers?


Recognize good performance

Above all, 360-degree feedback should be about performance. That doesn’t mean tracking it to demotions or offering rewards to the top percent. Instead, you should craft better profiles of how people work and contribute, and what they offer to the team.

This allows you to identify good performance even when people work primarily in support or strategic roles, which are historically difficult to track in normal performance reviews.


Prevent bias in hiring and development

Lastly, tracking 360 feedback directly to goals and outcomes can help you avoid bias. If people understand their feedback will help drive development or improve hiring programs, they’ll be more likely to give genuine opinions.


Wrapping up: Use 360-degree feedback to promote, manage, and grow your teams

Once implemented, 360-degree feedback tools can deliver informative data about management, team building, and personal and leadership development, adding value in more ways than traditional performance reviews.