What Is a 360 Performance Review?
Updated 26 February 2021
In a typical performance review or employee evaluation, you receive just one person’s response – usually your supervisor or direct manager.
This type of review focuses on the employee’s level of success (or failure) in performing their role and in reaching specific job-related goals.
A 360 review is not a performance review. It is a holistic process that helps the employee to understand their strengths and weaknesses as viewed by their peers, coworkers and even customers.
The opinions and evidence given about efficiency, productivity, contributions and behavior at work is a personal and powerful way for an employee to develop their skills and abilities.
The 360 review is a wide-spectrum glimpse of the way you interact with people around you in a work environment. By soliciting feedback from all directions in the organization, a fully rounded picture can be received – and used as a tool for development.
The 360-review process is not meant to replace the normal annual or semi-annual performance evaluation. For best results, they should be used in conjunction.
This means that the actual performance of an employee in relation to achieving work-related targets and performing well in their job function is under review as well as their behavior, skills and attributes.
How Can a 360 Review Be Delivered?
There are several ways a 360 review can be delivered. Each method has specific benefits, and the type that happens in your workplace will depend on several factors including the number of staff, type of business and, in some cases, budget.
- Face-to-face interviews with a manager can be a great way to get in-depth information and reviews, but they can be time-consuming if large numbers of staff are involved.
- Feedback forms offer an anonymous way for reviewers to give their opinions and evidence. They need to be collated by a manager but can sometimes be lacking in detail or depth.
- Online tools are available to simplify the 360 review process – from a simple group of forms to a whole software package. This can be an easier way to gather multiple reviews in a short space of time but does need some financial investment.
- Larger organizations may choose to find an external consultant who can offer a streamlined 360 experience. An external consultant can reduce the workload for managers, but this is probably the most expensive option.
For all review types, the usual process is to have a performance rating (usually on a scale of 1–5) and space for a written review and some examples.
Benefits of a 360 Review
A good 360 review brings benefits throughout the organization.
- Helping employees to develop
- Implementing better teamwork
- Improving accountability
- Creating a better working environment for everyone
More Than One Viewpoint
With input from multiple sources during the 360-review process, the legitimacy of responses can be verified, and a wide spectrum of opinions can be sought.
Relying solely on one viewpoint for an employee review can make the focus too narrow on the job descriptions and related goals.
The manager or direct supervisor may have infrequent or limited interactions with the subject of the review, and this can reduce the helpfulness of the review for personal and professional development purposes.
By gathering responses from the wider organization, it is possible to form a picture of how the subject is viewed in different areas of the business.
Teamwork and Accountability
When teams know that they will be asked to review the skills and attributes of their members, there is more accountability.
Peers are more likely to not only know about individual performance but also have direct examples about how the subject impacts their work.
Understanding the benefits of constructive criticism and how a dialogue about improving can lead to better communication is an essential part of group development.
Discrimination and Bias
With multiple inputs from different colleagues, managers and direct reports, the opportunity for discrimination is removed.
There is also less of a problem with the review being based on the last interaction between the reviewer and the subject, whether positive or negative.
The focus on skill sets and examples prevents the review from becoming a ‘witch hunt’ and ensures that any points are backed up with evidence.
The 360 review is an amalgamation of many people’s opinions. Recurring themes in the separate reviews can be used to pinpoint areas that need improving, as well as areas of relative strength.
This might be considered the most important benefit of a 360 review.
Of course, there may be areas of weakness in an employee’s performance that need work. These can be highlighted through the reviews and fed into a plan for improvement.
Limitations of a 360 Review
A 360 review can have limitations, and it is important to know what these might be as you go through the process.
Some workplaces expect too much from the process.
It is meant to complement the more traditional reviews rather than replace them and tends to focus on soft skills rather than functions. It also won’t immediately change the employee’s behavior. It is a process.
For any workplace process to be effective, it needs top-down support – everyone needs to be on board.
The process itself needs to be implemented to suit the business needs and must have buy-in from employees, managers and even the C-suite (senior executives).
All employees need to connect with the 360-review process, and the process itself needs to connect with the business needs and goals.
Focus on Negatives
As the reviews are usually anonymous, it makes it easier for those taking part to focus more on the negatives than the positives. This can be disheartening for the subject if the feedback is not presented constructively.
To ensure that the reviews themselves are useful, specific questions should be asked and answered. This will help to combat any problems caused by an ineffective rater.
Great 360 reviews focus on strengths. Questions should be framed in a way that makes it easier to find examples and information about what an employee does well and where they succeed in terms of skills and behaviors.
The 360 process is more than just a review. The gathered information needs to be collated and the important points highlighted before the results are fed back to the subject.
If the information is handed to the subject with no guidance or follow-up, it can make them feel upset and concerned about the review and therefore their performance.
One of the most important facets of the review process is the way it is presented and how actions are taken.
What Are the Common Rating Criteria in a 360 Review?
Several areas can be rated, and the criteria will change depending on the reviewee’s role and the organization’s needs.
Usually, the questions relate to soft skills and behaviors and can be linked to inherent abilities that are needed in the workplace.
The rated skills could include:
- Communication – Listening, speaking and nonverbal behaviors
- Interpersonal – Confidence, positivity and negotiation
- Teamwork – Participation, reliability and helping others
- Organization – Attention to detail, logistics and financial planning
- Creativity – Inventiveness, identifying and solving problems
- Leadership – Coaching, decision-making and delegation
- Organizational alignment – Strategic plan, community and mission
For example, a person in a management role is more likely to be reviewed on ownership and responsibility, as well as how approachable they are.
They might need to display empathy and vision or demonstrate that they align with the company’s values and mission.
What Is the 360 Review Process?
There is a common structure to the way 360 reviews are implemented, although it does depend on the business needs.
Initial Employee Meeting
The reviewer should meet with the subject before the review to discuss what is coming, talk about goals and look ahead to the process.
This might be a formal or informal meeting with a manager, the external consultant or whoever is administering the review.
As an employee, this is a good opportunity to think about what you want to achieve with your review, and where you want the information to take you in terms of your career.
Establish Review Criteria
The principal reviewer needs to make sure that they are asking the reviewers to comment on relevant criteria – these usually depend on the role.
All subjects should have separate criteria on which they are reviewed.
This means that the subject can be sure the input from peers is timely and relevant and will help them develop.
Decide Who Will Assess
This is important because the information the assessors give needs to be appropriate for the subject.
Immediate coworkers are probably the first choice, but managers, direct reports and even customers can be great review sources.
The longer the colleagues have worked with the subject, the better their knowledge is likely to be.
As the employee under review, remember that the feedback is not meant to be personal or negative.
No matter who is asked to complete your review, they will be tasked with giving examples and details of your skills and behavior.
Send Out Review
It is best to give plenty of notice and set a timeframe for responses. The reviews need to contain some detail, so the more time the reviewers have, the more information they are likely to provide.
They should deliver constructive feedback with examples.
A self-assessment should also be given to the employee under review at the same time.
When you are sent your self-assessment, this is an ideal time to reflect on what you are like at work and how you support others. Be brutally honest with yourself to get the most out of this process.
Once all the reviews have been completed, the principal reviewer needs to collect and review the data, including comments and scores.
They should create a report containing the key takeaways from all reviews, and opportunities for development.
The reviewer should paraphrase the information to make it less identifiable.
The report that you see as a subject will be a cleansed version and should have any identifying information removed. Don’t waste time trying to analyze who said what.
The report is best delivered in person where possible. It is best practice to give the report at the time of the meeting, rather than sending it beforehand, so the reviewer can guide the subject through the feedback.
The meeting, conversation and any future plans should be documented.
As the employee being reviewed, you might find that some of the responses cause an emotional reaction – but try to remember there is no such thing as bad feedback.
Reframe any negative comments as actions that can be taken as part of a development plan.
The employee needs to accept the feedback and agree to the actions to be taken for improvement.
The benefit of a 360 review comes from the development that takes place after the meeting – and this needs buy-in from both the employee and their manager.
The long-term follow-up might include providing resources, coaching and mentoring, as well as regular reviews and acknowledgment of progress.
Example Questions in a 360 Review
A 360 review typically asks three to five questions relating to a colleague's experience of the subject.
How you answer depends on how you feel the person behaves, and the best way to answer is honestly.
This is true whether you are writing a review for someone else or yourself.
Example Question 1
How well does John Smith communicate with customers and colleagues? (Please rate from 1–5, 1 being the best, 5 being the worst)
Please provide at least one example of John Smith’s style of communication.
To answer this question, keep your feedback specific, short and honest, and provide concrete examples.
If you feel that John communicates well, you can rate him highly and provide an example that shows this. Think about a specific time when his communication was particularly effective to demonstrate why you are rating him well.
To provide the required information, remember that you don’t need lots of background information. Don’t hedge your words; be clear and state the facts as you see them.
If you feel that John needs to develop his communication skills, don’t be afraid to leave a more negative review.
The reviewer is looking for patterns in behavior and skills, and what you say is only one piece of the puzzle. It is important to be honest in both the positive and negative parts of the review.
Whether your response is positive or negative, make sure you give examples and details. These will make it easier for the subject and the reviewer to pinpoint areas that need development.
Example Question 2
How well do you feel John Smith works with the team? (Please rate from 1–5, 1 being the best, 5 being the worst)
This is a great question that can really help you feed into your colleague’s development and make your team more effective.
If you work with John on projects and feel that he doesn’t always pull his weight, this is the time to provide evidence of the problem so that he can receive additional support and training.
In this type of question, you could give specific examples of how the behavior directly affects you. For example, you could say something like:
John does not always give effective input into projects, which makes it difficult for the rest of the team to complete the work on time.
When our team was working on XYZ project, John was not available for team calls and didn’t feed into the project in a helpful way. This meant that the rest of the team had to work harder to make sure the project was completed on time.
Example Question 3
Can you describe interactions with John Smith that demonstrate his attitude to work?
If you can think of three examples of positive behavior and three examples of negative behavior, you can help colleagues to see where they are excelling and where they need some work.
Not everybody has the same strengths in the workplace, but highlighting good work or skills as well as areas that need improvement will be invaluable to the subject.
Tips for Writing a 360 Review
Bear these top tips in mind when you are writing a review, whether for a colleague or yourself.
- Be honest
- Take the process seriously
- Don’t hedge your words
- Use key interactions as examples
- Don’t worry about the negative impact of your review
- Keep it short
Tips if You Are Receiving a 360 Review
When you are receiving your 360 review, there are a few things that can make the process easier.
You will likely face some negative information from the review, and it is important to think about the positives that can be taken from the meeting.
Don’t Try to Work Out Who Said What
While it might be tempting to decipher who made certain observations and comments, the process is meant to be anonymous.
The report you receive will have collated information rather than individual comments.
Trying to pinpoint individual comments could harm your working relationships with colleagues.
Take the Feedback on Board
Whoever is completing the process will have some useful feedback for you.
It is important to take this on board for the review to be a true learning experience.
You will have clear steps to take in your personal and professional development that will help you to perform better in your role.
Frame Feedback as an Opportunity
Be objective about the feedback you receive, both positive and negative. You need to see it as a way to understand where you need to develop and grow as well as finding out where you shine – and then use it to become better, professionally and personally.
The feedback will help you to access training and learning that can enable you to get that promotion, become a better colleague and employee, and improve in all areas of your life.
360 reviews can be an important part of a full, rounded employee evaluation process.
While they should not replace a traditional annual or semi-annual review, they can help complement the system by providing feedback from other sources.
To be effective, 360 reviews need to have support throughout the organization, and the skills and behaviors being assessed need to be relevant for each role.
An anonymous review system allows for straightforward, honest answers. The opportunity for personal and professional development that comes out of frank conversations about skills, behaviors and actions can make employees work better together and ensure that teams are performing to their full potential.
When you are receiving and giving 360 reviews, think of the process as a positive step in development, even when the questions are difficult.