As a 360 feedback provider, we're well aware that different 360 degree feedback rating scales will fit different business needs and cultures. This article should help you to decide which one will best fit your organisation.

Grand designs

With the exception of the questions themselves, choosing the right rating scale is possibly the most crucial design decision you’ll have to make.Our clients will ask us "what's the best rating scale to use for our 360 feedback programme?" And the truth is, there is no 'best' option; it is about finding the rating scale that will be most suitable for the organisational context. This means considering what the feedback culture is like, whether the 360 is being used for development or assessment and what the wider programme objectives are.Here are some examples of rating scales typically used by organisations we work with, along with an explanation as to what each rating scale offers you.

1. Effectiveness scale

This scale is widely used in 360 degree feedback. When using it, feedback tends to be more positive as people find it harder to be more negative when using the label ‘effective or ineffective.’ To counter this skew of ratings, when using a 5 point scale, design it to have three positive response options and two negative.What our experts say:“An effectiveness scale is very simple to understand and to fill out so might be suited well to organisations where 360 feedback is being introduced for the first time or for performance management where many people are providing feedback. We always recommend weighting this with more positive than negative response options to better spread scores.”

360 feedback effectiveness scale

2. Observed frequency scale (4-point)

This scale asks feedback providers about the frequency with which an individual displays certain behaviours. It also has an ‘unable to comment’ response, which accounts for the fact that some of those providing feedback may not feel they’ve had the opportunity to observe a particular behaviour.What our experts say:“A frequency scale is also simple to understand and encourages a greater spread of ratings, as the feedback provider is rating how frequently they see a particular behaviour rather than commenting on how ‘effective’ a person is. This type of scale is more suitable when using 360 degree feedback for development.”

360 feedback frequency scale

3. Anchored observed frequency scale

This scale uses percentage bandings to guide feedback providers and ensure greater consistency in ratings. This method can reduce the likely discrepancies in ratings based on peoples’ different interpretation of frequencies. One of our retail clients has recently moved to this scale from a 4-point frequency scale to provide more detail and granularity in the reports.What our experts say:“This scale is one we often recommend as being the most effective. It can help bring more objectivity to the process by providing guidance on how often is ‘often’ to enable more distinction between ratings. In particular, we've seen a 6 point anchored observed frequency scale (with no ‘middle ground’) become quite popular of late. Another good thing about this is that it allows you to play around with the wording of the scale points to encourage greater use of the scale and reduce skew, e.g. by having more ‘positively worded’ scale points.”

360 feedback anchored-frequency scale

4. Developmental rating scale

This scale is focused on rating a person’s capabilities on a particular behaviour. Again, this scale has a greater number of positive descriptors to enable a more spread of ratings and reduce a positive skew. Naturally, it is often chosen where 360 degree feedback is being used to directly inform personal development plans or some other training needs.What our experts say:“As the name suggests, a developmental or 'strengths-based' scale, as it is sometimes referred to as, is focused on helping 360 participants to reinforce their strengths and take action to improve their development needs. It should only be used for developmental purposes and is not suitable for performance management. The ‘no opportunity to observe’ option can be helpful for feedback providers if they are newer to the organisation or do not work closely with the individual, so have not have seen a particular behaviour being demonstrated. This scale tends to have good face validity and sets an expectation of continuous learning and development, which can encourage greater differentiation in ratings.”

360 feedback developmental scale

Case study example: Switching rating scales

It's worthwhile pointing out that, with 360 degree feedback rating scales, you're not bound to forever using the same one. You might find it isn't working or, more commonly, that the feedback process evolves and matures necessitating a change.One global management consultancy client we work with is a great case study example showing how such a transition has really helped improve the 360 programme. They started out with a 4-point anchored observed frequency scale in year one to a 5-point scale in year two.This switch was driven by the fact that they initially found people were more reluctant to use the full scale resulting in little distinction in the scores. Since using the 5-point scale there's been much greater granularity of scores.Looking for more guidance on creating or running effective 360 feedback programmes? Please get in touch.