I have been in the training, learning and talent development field since my junior year in college, and over this time, I have worked on 25,000 360-degree reviews. The first survey that I experienced provided feedback about my performance before the web and before the term “360 feedback” came into use. The feedback I received was powerful and directly helped me to improve. In fact, I was so impressed with the usefulness of the feedback that I hired programmers and started developing surveys.

Today, it’s common to hear “360 feedback” when receiving feedback from anyone using anything other than a self-assessment, but it’s important that the term include the immediate manager, direct reports, and possibly peers and oneself.

360 Surveys Today

Today, the performance management process is shifting to ongoing feedback, and overall ratings are being eliminated. Organizations can use feedback for individual development planning, program evaluation, coaching, and talent development planning and analytics.

What is the impact of these changes on 360 surveys? The process moves along much more quickly. These assessments will continue to stand the test of time due to their applicability; specific leadership behaviors, organizational values and competencies are rooted in the feedback surveys. They are also beneficial when they are linked to specific workshop topics (e.g., influence).

However, the digital feedback process today may look different from the traditional web-based 360 survey and reports:

  • Going forward, we will see more respondents taking 360 surveys on their smartphones and using speech recognition to respond to comments.
  • Participants will receive results with a customized draft of their development plan.
  • Artificial intelligence will generate behavioral actions by providing readings, videos and suggested experiences for development.

Organizations should continue to use data analytics for group results as a needs analysis to inform L&D programs, including identifying further topics and the frequency of delivery for both technical and behavioral learning.

An underused best practice is a 360 “re-survey.” This pre- and post-survey can feed into Level 3 evaluation results and help in making key decisions. Also, if participants know up front that they will be looking at their “re-survey scores” in a certain number of months, their focus and motivation for improvement often increases.

On-Demand 360s: “Feedback please!”

Individuals can request 360 feedback on their own; there’s no need to attend a workshop or receive coaching. Within this process, the manager’s commitment, guidance and coaching are essential for success. The learner’s manager should be involved and aligned with ideas, insights and learning opportunities.

Project and Executive Team 360

In team 360s, the team members complete surveys for each other. Team 360s are an underused process; so much work is accomplished through projects and teams. The group report can help the team be more successful, and team members can also use it as a 180-degree survey of themselves and others. A unique way to approach the team 360 survey is to use only qualitative feedback (comments) without qualitative ratings. The use of open questions is powerful and often allows for more specific recommendations for behavioral change than simply receiving a 3.7 out of 5. You could even use this method for an executive team multiple times and then provide a summary of trends.

Depending on the length of the project, teams should complete the surveys midway through the project and upon completion, and individual results should not be shared with management. At the midpoint review, each team member should share at least two things they will do differently for the success of the team and themselves. Organizational values and competencies are often included in this survey.

Manager: Coach or Evaluator?

Should a manager play the role of an evaluator (in completing the survey), a coach or both? After years of providing participants with their 360 reports in workshops, I have become accustomed to the inevitable transformation in the room as some participants looked at the ratings of their managers with disappointment: “How come I’m learning about this for the first time?”

This can be especially true if the person is working remotely, and the manager cannot observe behavior. Organizations need to be clear about the role they want their managers to play within the 360 feedback process and provide guidance and training about the process, including the discussion they should have with their direct reports.

Organizations that use 360 feedback with the manager serving as a coach often see their staff embrace the process, improving relationships between managers and their direct reports, which is often reflected in their engagement surveys course. The manager should always receive the development/action plan based on the feedback survey. Often, it is up to the participant to share the report and data. The important part is what the person chooses to work on proactively – not the actual scores.

Over the next three to five years, technology will continue to change the workplace and greatly influence how we develop and evaluate talent. It’s exciting to think about what the next significant change will be in talent management and development, especially when it comes to AI. In the meantime, let’s be purposeful about how and why we use 360 feedback.