Ensuring your 360 appraisals doesn't suck!

Over the last few months, I have been drawn into conversations with colleagues and clients about leadership assessment, performance management, survey design, linkage analytics, and 360 feedback. During these conversations, the recent trend to change performance management or even eliminate performance appraisals in their most typical form often comes up. Despite this trend, I believe the process is still useful as part of the larger overall assessment of individual's strengths and developmental opportunities. When implemented correctly, it can drive employee development and key business outcomes. Below, I provide tips on how to optimize 360 degree feedback based on experience and evidence accumulated in the literature.

In my experience over the last decade or so, I have seen 360 appraisals range from very successful to almost completely ineffective. Most of the time, it was not the actual survey or items that were ill conceived (though that idea could be its own blog post), but rather a lack of clear direction and understanding of the 360 appraisal process that may have doomed the intervention before it began.

I put forth these 10 statements and questions as a practical “birds eye view” guide to implementing 360 appraisal processes that can be applied across companies and industries.

 1.      Identify the purpose of the appraisal.

            Why is it being conducted? Is it part of a larger performance management process? Is it to identify areas of coaching/training/development? Identifying the purpose of the appraisal will aid in the development of an effective 360 tool.

2.      Evaluate and increase stakeholder/leader support.

            Are all leaders informed about the process and its importance? Are they supportive? If not, try to gain buy-in through an informational session about 360 appraisal and its benefits (financial, workload, etc). A 360 appraisal process cannot succeed without managerial and stakeholder support.

3. What behaviors/competencies/values need to be covered?

            Focus on the competencies that align with the key business drivers and current strategy/direction of the organization. If necessary, develop questions related to the competencies and a scoring scale.  Review the appraisal form with managers and subject matter experts to determine if the listed competencies are representative of the job.

4. Who will receive feedback and who will provide it?

In a 360 appraisal process, supervisors, the employees themselves, co-workers, subordinates, and possibly customers will provide feedback. In order to get the most out of the appraisal process it is important to determine which co-workers, which supervisors, and which customers or subordinates will provide feedback. In addition to the question of who will evaluate, an organization may give different weights or values to the feedback received. This should be determined prior to collecting the 360 appraisal data.

5. Do the raters know what they are rating?

Quite often, organizations will purchase 360 appraisal tools and let raters merely rate employees in whatever manner the employees choose. In order for the ratings to be effective, these raters must be able to observe performance the same way. This can be achieved through frame of reference training where trainers are taught what high, moderate, and low quality performance actually mean.

  6.  How will you communicate with the employees and managers about the appraisal process?

            Let employees know about the process, why is it being used, how it works, how it will benefit them, and what is expected from them. Communicating to the employees and managers about the appraisal process is very important. Employees and managers must be told when the 360 appraisal process will begin, what the goals are for the appraisal process, and how the process should be conducted. The results of the appraisal process must be communicated…it is very important that employees know when and how these results will be used.

7. Will there be reports and what will they look like?

            Each person receiving feedback should receive a report with aggregated information/unidentifiable open responses (except for direct feedback from their leader). The aggregated information helps keep individual responses anonymous. Having this report helps the recipient understand the feedback provided by everyone involved.

8.      Will there be a follow-up meeting?

            While receiving feedback is wonderful, reports need to be reviewed with all associates and leaders. Employees and managers should create development plans that specifically target areas of need. Provide training to leaders about how to create a developmental plan or, if this is too cumbersome, hire an external consultant to work with your organization's employees to create useful developmental plans.

9.      When will the organization provide coaching?

        The feedback report by itself will not result in sustainable behavior change unless the organization provides coaching. This coaching must be provided by either a skilled coach, a manager, or someone from human resources.

            The report should help recipients understand their strengths and highlight areas where there are opportunities to grow or improve. Many organizations see the report as the final product that will result in improved performance but sustained reminders about performance are necessary.

10.  What did you learn?

            After the 360 process is completed, there should be a process review. Not only should  feedback produce the desired changes in employee performance, but an analysis of the process of administering the 360 appraisal should be conducted. Along with this, reviewers should provide feedback about the process possibly through a short post survey.


A word of advice:  As a manual process, 360 degree feedback and the associated reporting and follow-up analytics are exceptionally time consuming. Using technology (such as HRIS systems like ADP Workforce Now or Oracle HRMS) can help automate the process, allowing companies to focus on gaining insight and driving results. If your human resources department does not have the necessary expertise, consider hiring external consultants who know how to leverage 360 performance appraisals for maximum results.