Blog Managing People

What is 360-feedback and why is it super important?

360-feedback isn't new, by any means. In fact, it's become really popular with all sorts of employers over the years. But it's not a tool designed to increase productivity in the conventional sense. So, what is 360-feedback, and why is it so important?

360-feedback is when several people provide feedback for an employee. These colleagues should range from immediate co-workers to people above and below them. It can even be useful to include people from outside their department that they happen to have worked with. It's also very common. According to Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger/Folkman, over 85% of Fortune 500 companies use 360-feedback.

Managers need to get the most relevant insight from employees giving feedback. So it's worth creating question sets for each type of feedback-giver. You might want to know about another boss's experience managing that employee. So, the questions you'd ask them would be different to those you'd ask a junior staff member.

But, to reiterate, 360-feedback isn't a way of getting staff to put their noses to the grindstone. After all, it's not like these people have been reviewing your employee's progress updates each week. So, what is 360-feedback actually for?

Besides basic competency in the role, there are plenty of other skills employees need. This can include things like time management, or habits around procedure. It may also look at interpersonal skills like communication and emotional intelligence. This is where 360-feedback comes in handy.

What are the benefits of 360-feedback?

So, we've defined 360-feedback, and broken down what its focus should be. But the question remains, what does it specifically bring to the table?

So, to put that question to bed, here are four (but by no means the only) benefits of 360-feedback:

A wider range of sources for more reliable feedback

Even the best manager in the world can't be everywhere at once. And, with the advent of accessible remote work, that fact is truer now than ever. A big part of what employees do now goes on outside the view of their line manager.

This creates blind-spots. Employees might find X criticism unfair, because you're ignoring the fact that they did Y. But, if you weren't around when Y happened, then how can you take it into account?

This is where the range and depth of insight afforded by 360-feedback is really useful. Feedback from a variety of sources gives you a more comprehensive overview. You might not have been there to witness every single accomplishment. But their colleagues can back them up on it.

But employees being able to highlight each other's successes is only part of it. People are also less likely to write off negative feedback if they're getting it from multiple sources. Negative critique is usually the hardest part of any feedback process. That's true whether it's 360° or otherwise. You walk a fine line between causing offense and getting brushed off.

Nobody likes getting told they need to improve. You might tell an employee their people skills need work, only for them to reply, 'that's just your opinion!'

But it's harder for them to say that when you're backed up by several others agreeing with you.

Builds a culture of feedback in your business

We can't oversell how vital it is to build feedback into your work culture. There are numerous statistics to support this fact. For starters, 40% of employees who get little-to-no feedback are actively disengaged. That's compared to only 1% of employees who received positive feedback.

The great thing about 360-feedback is that it gets everyone involved. Typically, employees hate performance review season. The main reason for this is that they're waiting for the boot to drop. But in a real feedback culture, critique can come from every direction.

And the benefits go beyond 360-feedback itself. Once you have everyone in that mindset, it can benefit your regular two-way feedback as well. That's because it helps to break the idea that feedback can only flow in one direction.

Reduces the risk of discrimination bias

What is 360-feedback for, if not for cutting through bias?

Nobody wants to think they work for a discriminatory employer. And identifiers like religion, race and gender have protections under the law. But that doesn't nullify the issue.

In 2019, Glassdoor conducted a survey on workplace diversity and inclusion. Their research shows that workplace discrimination is still a common experience for employees. 3 in 5 US employees had either experienced or witnessed discrimination at work. The reasons for this included age, race, gender, or LGBTQ identity.

But, before our UK readers get too smug, let's acknowledge that the UK isn't far behind, at 55%. Stats like this are why we need 360-feedback. Combined with diverse hiring practices, it can make sure that people get treated in a fair and balanced way.

Identifies training needs and skills gaps

Managers often have to delegate tasks to their team. But, in a busy workplace, you don't get to work directly alongside everyone as much as you'd like.

Their colleagues on the ground get much more direct insight into what they can be trusted to handle. That's why it's so important to include them in your 360-feedback surveys. In longstanding teams, there's often a shared understanding of who's good at what.

But that cuts both ways. 360-feedback can also expose when someone's coasting on their colleague's skills. You know what they say. 'If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. If it's not worth doing, give it to that guy.'

But even identifying weaknesses is a good thing, because it's something to build on. Employees are an investment, so it's worth educating them to develop new skills.

Why you should run 360-feedback with your teams

So hopefully we've made a solid case. But, if you're still wondering what is 360-feedback actually good for, then let's summarise:

  • 360-feedback increases depth of insight by taking from multiple sources.
  • Taking feedback from different sources helps to mitigate the risk of workplace discrimination.
  • It's a great way to get feedback on important soft skills.
  • 360-feedback helps to identify skills gaps and training needs in your organisation.
  • It helps to enshrine multi-directional feedback into your workplace culture.

So, there you have it. 360-feedback is one of the tools we offer alongside our employee check-in. And it's an incredibly useful one that shouldn't be overlooked.