Feedback is a powerful tool to help you improve. But it can also feel like “just one person’s opinion” – and that makes it tough to trust or attach too much credibility to.
“Feedback from others should not be treated as an objective data point,” says Marta Michaliszyn, an organizational psychologist designing the strategy for continuous feedback practices at Atlassian. “But the value of collecting perspectives from a variety of coworkers lies in the reality check it gives us: how others perceive me and my work matters, regardless of whether I agree with their feedback or not. The perceptions of others impact their behavior towards us, and this behavior can have very real consequences.”
360-degree feedback is designed to give that well-rounded perspective, digging deeper than constructive criticism from a single source. Done well, it will give you a better understanding of your perceived strengths and weaknesses, so you can not only build self-awareness, but also better relationships with your entire team.
What is 360-degree feedback?
360-degree feedback means receiving feedback from a variety of sources. Think of it like being at the center of a circle and collecting insights from all around you.
While a traditional feedback approach focuses on observations from your direct manager, 360-degree feedback taps other people you work with regularly – usually anywhere from three to eight individuals – to offer input on your capabilities and performance.
What makes the 360-degree approach so thorough and helpful is that it encompasses each type of feedback:
- Supervisor feedback from your direct manager
- Peer feedback from close colleagues on the same level as you
- Upward feedback from people who report to you
- Customer feedback from customers you directly serve
360-degree feedback collects perspectives from all of those sources (and sometimes more) at once to get a more holistic view of your strengths, weaknesses, and performance.
And though “feedback” often feels synonymous with a performance review, it’s important to differentiate between the two. 360-degree feedback is simply about gathering insights in order to learn and improve, while a 360 review attaches those insights to decisions about promotions, compensation, and other employment factors.
And, according to Marta, “it simply makes sense to ask for feedback in a continuous way, throughout the year. There’s a growing body of research that shows that the mere fact that feedback is being given in the context of assessment dramatically decreases its effectiveness.” Even more reason to decouple feedback from performance review, psychologically speaking.
How 360-degree feedback works
There isn’t one “right” way to manage the 360-degree feedback process.
Some companies offer consistent, self-serve opportunities to provide feedback to people they work with, like through an employee recognition platform or readily accessible form. Other companies roll out 360-degree feedback as a more formalized and scheduled initiative that happens once or twice per year.
Feedback at Atlassian
Marta says, “one of Atlassian’s key values is Be the Change You Seek. In this spirit, every Atlassian has an individual responsibility to determine the right time for them to ask for feedback, and are encouraged to do so, at minimum, at key milestones in their work. That way, when they prepare for their Quarterly Check-In, they can include the perspectives of their key collaborators – stakeholders, peers, customers – and get feedback from their managers as well.”
Managers at Atlassian also have the tools to get the pulse check-in from their teams on a regular basis, and are encouraged to model good feedback behaviors on their teams, including asking for feedback for themselves.
“At the end of day, the primary goal of feedback is to help folks adjust and develop quickly – not to inform anyone about how they did months ago when they can’t change anything about that situation anymore.”
The cadence and methods can vary. But generally speaking, 360-degree feedback typically works like this:
1. Choose the right people
This isn’t about collecting feedback from absolutely everybody. It’s about getting it from people who have firsthand knowledge of what a person is like to work with.
Usually, the feedback recipient, their direct manager, and the human resources department can collaborate to identify the appropriate people – whether they’re fellow team members, customers, or other leaders – who have the most hands-on experience and can provide the most helpful perspectives.
2. Ask for feedback
Those chosen people are contacted with a request, deadline, and instructions for providing feedback. This usually involves a survey or questionnaire with a combination of quantitative and open-ended questions.
For example, respondents could be prompted to rate their agreement with statements like:
- This person effectively carries out their job responsibilities.
- This person manages their time effectively.
- This person is trustworthy and reliable.
- This person is a clear and effective communicator.
- This person lives and breathes our company values.
But they might also be asked to write out answers to questions like:
- What are this person’s greatest strengths?
- In what ways does this person demonstrate leadership?
- What challenges have you encountered when working with this person?
Along with your request for feedback, remember to clarify upfront whether responses will be anonymous or if names will be attached to the comments.
3. Get feedback in the right hands
Companies have different processes for relaying feedback to the recipient. Some have feedback sent directly from the respondent to the intended person so they can review all of the comments and draw conclusions themselves.
Others send the feedback to the person’s direct manager who can parse through the responses, identify common themes, and relay the most helpful insights – without the person feeling buried under an avalanche of criticisms (particularly ones that could potentially be contradictory).
4. Talk it through
Feedback can be hard to hear, and getting it from all angles can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s helpful to set up a conversation when the person can review the comments with their manager, ask clarifying questions, and develop a plan to move forward. After all, feedback is really only helpful if you act on it.
Is it worth it? The benefits of 360-degree feedback
One of the biggest hangups about 360-degree feedback is that it can be a fairly tedious and time-consuming process for everyone involved.
Employees might have to complete surveys for several different team members. Leaders need to field a lot of feedback, aimed at both them and their direct reports. HR may need to nudge people to complete the questionnaires on time.
While this more thorough approach to feedback does require a little more time and elbow grease, the benefits make it more than worth it.
Gain a more thorough understanding of performance
One person’s opinion can feel biased and subjective. But pulling out common threads from a variety of different perspectives is far more credible and meaningful.
That’s one of the biggest advantages of 360-degree feedback: It provides a more comprehensive understanding of the work you do – and how it’s perceived by the people you work with.
Similarly, managers get a more exhaustive view of the performance and behaviors of their direct reports, which is valuable information to have as they support their growth and improvement.
Minimize the impacts of office politics
Work relationships aren’t always smooth sailing. Anything from a small misunderstanding to clashing personalities can intensely color people’s perceptions of each other.
And those emotions inevitably find their way into feedback, which can sometimes make a singular point of view feel unfair, accusatory, or even like revenge.
360-degree feedback relies on a variety of perspectives. In addition to a more complete understanding, it also helps to minimize the role that hard feelings, tensions, and office politics can play in the quality of feedback.
Fuel productive conversations
This type of feedback is about supporting growth and development – it’s not about dishing out reprimands or rigid performance improvement plans.
Managers and direct reports should use the points highlighted in 360-degree feedback as a launching point for candid, productive discussions. People should also be encouraged to ask clarifying questions to better understand the insights.
360-degree feedback equips employees with honest observations, but this well-rounded approach is helpful for leaders too. By collecting comments from a variety of sources, they might uncover cultural problems, process issues, or other snags that need to be addressed at a higher level.
Traditional feedback doesn’t necessarily boost self-awareness – it simply loops you in on one person’s viewpoint. That’s not always so enlightening, especially when different people can have vastly different experiences working with you.
360-degree feedback relies on broader sources and challenges you to evaluate remarks, identify themes, make connections, and draw your own conclusions. As a result, it can illuminate aspects of your behavior, interactions, and performance that might not have bubbled to the surface if you had asked for one person’s opinion.
This more profound feedback gives you a much deeper understanding of yourself, but that more solid grip also means you’ll have increased awareness and sensitivity as you move forward.
Cast a wide (feedback) net
Feedback is powerful, particularly when it feels authentic, relevant, well-intended, and trustworthy. But that breadth of feedback can be surprisingly tough to collect from a single source.
360-degree feedback curates perspectives from different people so that you can get a deeper understanding of what you’re really like to work with — and how you can become even better.