What Is a 360 Review in the Workplace?

You Can Obtain Feedback for Performance Improvement Using 360 Reviews

Woman manager providing 360 review results to male colleague
••• Jon Feingersh/Blend Images/Getty Images

The 360 review is a professional feedback opportunity that enables a group of coworkers to provide feedback about a fellow employee’s performance. The feedback was traditionally asked for by the manager to whom the employee reported.

Increasingly common in today's organizations, however, the 360 feedback comes directly from fellow employees to the employee whose work is under review. Commonly, an online instrument is selected for employees to interact with in providing the performance feedback. This instrument provides the advantage of collating the feedback for dissemination and employee understanding.

Coworkers who participate in the 360 reviews usually include the employee's manager, several peer staff members, reporting staff members, and functional managers from the organization with whom the employee works regularly.

Hence, the name of the feedback opportunity comes from the fact that performance feedback is solicited from all directions in the organization. The objective of the feedback is to give the employee the opportunity to understand how their work is viewed in the total organization.

The 360 review differs from an employee appraisal which traditionally provides the employee with the opinion of his or her performance as viewed by their manager. These employee appraisals tend to focus on the progress the employee achieved on job goals. The 360 review tends to focus more on how the employee affected the work of other employees then on whether the work was accomplished.

The manager may seek additional informal, often verbal, feedback from other employees, especially managers, about the employee's performance, but it's not part of the formal 360 review system.

In contrast, the 360 review focuses more directly on the skills and contributions that an employee makes. The goal of the feedback is to provide a balanced view to an employee of how others view his or her work contribution and performance, in areas such as leadership, teamwork, interpersonal communication and interaction, management, contribution, work habits, accountability, vision, and more, depending on the employee's job.

The review allows coworkers to assess the employee’s impact on furthering their goal and objective accomplishment and positive customer results as observed by team members.

How Does 360 Review Feedback Work?

Organizations use a variety of methods to seek 360 feedback about employees. Some are more common than others and all methods selected depend on the culture and climate of the organization.

In most organizations that ask for 360 feedback, the manager asks for and receives the feedback. The manager then analyzes the feedback looking for patterns of behavior to note. The manager searches for both positive and constructive feedback.

The goal is to provide the employee with the key and important points without overwhelming him or her with too much feedback data. Often the manager has sought feedback in response to specific questions so the feedback is easier to organize and share.

Today, some organizations use instruments that are tallied electronically and that give employees a score in each area assessed. Some processes are completely online. Others still rely on open-ended questions. Online processes are recommended because they make the feedback so easy to tally and share.

Organizations also hire external consultants to administer the surveys, usually when managers are receiving a 360 review. The consultants then analyze and share the data with the manager and with the manager and staff in some cases. In the best of these circumstances, the manager and staff join together to plan improvements for both the manager and for the department.

This process is strongly recommended for the best chance of improving the overall organization as well as the performance of the individual employee. In one company, the manufacturing manager shared the 360 feedback he received as well as his goals for performance improvement with his team of supervisors, engineers, and techies. They united in their efforts to help him achieve his performance improvement plan.

Progressive Organizations and 360 Feedback

In more progressive organizations that have built a climate of trust, employees provide 360 feedback directly to each other. The manager does not function as a filter or go-between to prevent employees from sharing their feedback directly with each other.

No matter how you collect and share the 360 feedback, you must always take care that the feedback is as descriptive as possible so that the employee has something tangible to improve. When sharing is open, make sure also that you solicit frequent employee feedback about how the process is working and affecting employees.

In any case, how you introduce, monitor, and evaluate the effectiveness of the 360 review process is critical to its success or failure. You will also want to take a look at these sample questions for 360 reviews. They provide ideas about what questions will solicit solid, actionable information using a 360 review process.