Using a 360 feedback tool and offering feedback to others is often approached with more than a bit of trepidation. And not offering enough guidance to those giving the feedback is a common problem. This can lead to skewing of the results which compromises the overall validity and value of the whole 360 process. It’s therefore essential that you educate and support people being asked to provide 360 degree feedback. As a supplier of 360 degree review tools, we help clients with this by creating a short instructional video that offers clear guidance and practical tips for those giving feedback. Below are some key tips, guidelines and best practice advice for you to share with your feedback providers.

First and foremost, explain clearly what the 360 degree feedback programme is for... Giving this framing is useful to remind people what their feedback is to be used for and why it is important. You could say something like:

The feedback you and others provide enables personal development by giving the individual diverse and honest feedback on their capability and competency from the people who work with them. They can then use this to help build on key strengths and explore development areas.

Provide info on behaviours

Make sure feedback providers are familiar with the expected behaviours, are you giving them enough information about these? Have you provided examples of the behaviours?

Encourage feedback providers to consider more than one example of the individual's behaviour to base their feedback on, rather than focusing on one instance only such as the first time they met them or their most recent interaction.

Offer reassurances over anonymity

  • If your 360 feedback tool is managed by a third party, tell employees this
  • Explain that only an individual’s line manager is identifiable to the feedback receiver in the final report
  • Reiterate that feedback from direct reports or peers will only be reported in groups of three or more.

Encourage honesty and integrity

Emphasise the importance of providing honest responses. Encourage feedback providers to:

  • Use the whole rating scale
  • Trust their gut reaction and move swiftly through the questions as their immediate response is likely to be most reliable
  • Test their feedback against examples to make sure it is the right decision
  • Be open and honest.

Keep in mind too that the extent to which one is able to observe a colleague’s behaviours will vary depending on their business relationship with the person in question, so suggest that they base their feedback only on the behaviours directly observed.

Avoid common pitfalls

Make feedback providers aware of these common pitfalls before they complete a 360 questionnaire:

  • Leniency (over or under rating) occurs when a feedback provider gives answers that are much higher or lower than the actual level of what’s been observed. If someone is answering most questions at one end of the scale, it’s possible they could be being either too harsh or too lenient
  • ‘Halo effect’ is when the feedback provider allows an overall impression of the recipient’s behaviour to influence them, either positively or negatively, on all other aspects they rate them on
  • ‘Recency’ (last event) happens when responses are influenced by a recent instance or event that may have had a positive or negative impact. Feedback providers should instead consider what they’ve observed over a longer period (i.e. the last year).

All of these potential issues can be avoided by advising feedback providers to simply focus on one question at a time and try not to allow an overall opinion or relationship with the participant to influence responses.

Consider ‘open comments’

A typical 360 degree feedback questionnaire will often include one or more ‘open response’ or ‘free text’ questions. Feedback providers must keep in mind that what they write is recorded (and reported) word-for-word. With this in mind, make sure that any comments are:

  • Constructive: Your feedback will help the individual understand how to develop effectively
  • Specific: provide examples where possible (for development opportunities and strengths). Be mindful that examples may identify that you wrote the comment
  • Non-emotional: comment on the participant’s behaviour rather than their personality and write in the third person rather than the first person as this language is less personal. Remember that the 360 questions focus on the behaviours the individual should be displaying – you can use these to help structure your comments
  • Meaningful: Your comments should focus on what the individual can improve in relation to the competencies.

Following this guidance should ensure all of those asked to provide 360 feedback are clear on exactly what’s expected of them in the process. This, in turn, will mean those receiving the feedback gain even greater and more useful insights about their strengths and development needs.