Overhead of employees on round table with different devices

360 degree feedback issues: 7 of the biggest pitfalls and how to solve them

Naturally, as a 360 degree review provider, we strongly advocate and firmly believe that it offers tremendous value as a business tool. But, like anything, if it is poorly designed or implemented, it won’t produce the desired results and could even damage your business.

There’s a great article on Forbes.com outlining the reasons why 360 degree feedback fails. What’s lacking though, and what we thought we could help with, is advice on how to avoid these seven pitfalls.

1.       How do you get your most senior stakeholders on-board?

360 degree feedback programmes that are solely HR-led often struggle to get any traction and ultimately fail.

Getting the public backing of your CEO, MD or other senior stakeholders can make all the difference. If they’re championing the process and, ideally, taking part themselves (as is the case for many of our clients such as BT and RBS) then others are far more like to follow suit.

2.       How can you design a meaningful and measurable questionnaire?

To deliver genuine value, and for the 360 degree review process to lead to action being taken, asking the right questions is essential.

This means setting out clear objectives for the programme and working back from here to the questionnaire. What do you need to measure and are questions worded to provide actionable feedback?

3.       What guidance should you provide for feedback-givers?

Receiving feedback from peers, customers and managers can be a daunting process. If feedback providers are anything less than constructive with comments, this can be really damaging.

You should therefore offer guidance to those who’ll be asked to provide feedback. Educate them on what the process is for, and how results are to be used, giving examples of feedback that’d be helpful AND what to avoid (e.g. things that are too personal in nature). Most commonly, this is done on a page in the 360 feedback tool itself.

4.       How can you get more out of 360 feedback results?

360 degree feedback will only have a business impact if the data is acted upon, whether that’s at an individual or organisational level. So, whatever the objectives are for your programme, make sure you consider, up-front, what’ll happen with the results.

For example, if the feedback is to be used by individuals to inform their development, help them to identify priority areas and guide them to tangible, easy-to-implement actions. You could also offer 1:1 coaching or development toolkits.

5.       How should you support the ‘follow-up’ process after 360?

To affect real behaviour change and to assess the effectiveness of your 360 degree feedback process, it must be followed up. And that doesn’t just mean once.

You should aim to embed 360 follow-up as an on-going cycle. Usually this takes place between six and 12 months after the initial programme. It could either involve a full re-run of the original questionnaire or a different questionnaire with a sub-set of the original one, which focuses only on agreed development actions.

6.       Should 360 feedback be strictly confidential?

Naturally, people worry about who’ll have access to results and what they’ll be used for. Open and honest communication is certainly the best policy; be clear on what the 360 review process is for and what it isn’t. For example, if 360 is presented as a development initiative, using the results later to assess performance can damage trust irreparably.

You’ll encourage greater buy-in by reassuring people over the confidentiality of the process. It can, for example, help to have external rather than internal coaches to support participants with analysing their feedback. And make sure your chosen 360 degree feedback partner has systems or software with robust security.

7.       How can you ensure 360 feedback reports focus on strengths, not just weaknesses?

When picking out action areas for development, you might dive straight into the lowest-scoring questions and perceived areas of weakness. While you’ll of course want to look at lower scores to see what you should prioritise for action, you mustn’t ignore strengths but perhaps build on these too.

This is another part of the 360 feedback process that’s aided by having clear and intuitive reports. Don’t overwhelm people with data; pick out top and bottom scoring questions as well as things like perception gaps and hidden strengths.

Find out more about running successful 360 feedback programmes in our guide .

Our other products & services

Related resources

360 degree feedback: A complete guide to designing and running programmes

This complete guide to 360 degree feedback offers detailed advice on why and when to use 360, how to design and implement, and what support to offer participants.

360 degree feedback rating scales: What’s best practice?

This article explores different types of 360 degree feedback rating scales commonly used and considers the scenarios when each of them is most suitable.

360 appraisal questions and best practice examples

This blog explores possible 360 appraisal questions to include in your programme based on best practice examples used by some of our clients.

Stay ahead of the curve. Get our HR and L&D monthly digest and news about our services delivered straight to your inbox.