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360 Degree Feedback: What Makes It Work

Posted by: Liz Sheffield

Imagine an organization in which executives aren’t working as a team. Or a manager who has difficulty working with a member of her team, but has no idea why. Without any input, insight, or advice from others, it’s nearly impossible for these individuals to improve their performance. That’s where 360 degree feedback can help—it identifies blind spots that may be preventing an employee from moving forward.


360 Degree Feedback Process

Unlike typical performance reviews or leadership development tools, 360 degree feedback is different in that it gathers input regarding unique aspects of an employee’s performance from a variety of roles including direct reports, peers, and supervisors. Because of this approach, it’s possible to see yourself the way others see you and to identify your hidden strengths (areas where everyone else sees you doing better than you think you’re doing). It’s also a way to recognize blind spots (areas where you think you’re doing great, but others see room for improvement). Having this feedback from a variety of sources helps you have a better understanding of your interpersonal skills and what areas you might consider for professional development. The feedback can be very eye-opening since people often receive feedback that doesn’t match their own perceptions of how they behave.

The sensitive nature of the 360 degree feedback process makes it unwise to attempt to collect the feedback on your own. If there’s a lack of trust that the feedback will remain confidential or fear of repercussions for providing their feedback, the data won’t be reliable because responses won’t be honest. Similarly, if feedback gathered from the survey is used in performance evaluations and the employee wasn’t previously made aware this was the intent—trust will also be lost. Using a third party provider helps establish a sense of trust and communicates a commitment to confidentiality for participants.

The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a useful tool for illustrating what 360 degree feedback can provide. It demonstrates how we can experience deeper personal understanding and improve ourselves when we are transparent and open to feedback from others.


The process of gathering and reviewing 360 degree feedback opens up the “open/free area”, the “blind area” and the “hidden area” of the Johari Window. The more peers, managers, direct reports, and leaders understand about you, and the more aware you are of how you’re perceived, the more effective your communication can be and the more successfully you can work together. Understanding these different areas can be difficult, which is why it’s valuable to have a coach to help explain the feedback and aid the employee in deciding what to do with their feedback. A coach will assist in determining a plan for developing competencies, adapting behaviors and leveraging the highlighted strengths.

The Powerful Combination of 360 Degree Feedback and Coaching

Many 360 feedback providers administer the collection process, analyze the results, and provide a list of action items. What they rarely offer is the next level of support that includes one-on-one coaching and group training sessions that drive behavior change and produce results. When organizations include coaching as part of their 360 degree feedback process, it delivers powerful insight, as well as a deep level of personal and professional development. A coach helps people understand the mechanics of their feedback report and provides an objective, non-emotional look at what the feedback means. Coaching also helps people understand the why and the how of choosing a development area, and how to improve themselves and their working relationships.

“It’s not just about having a purpose. The 360 degree feedback process also helps teams and individuals examine what has prevented them from achieving this purpose in the past,” said Casey Holcom, Organizational Development Consultant for People Element.

360 Degree Feedback in Action

People Element conducted a 360 assessment for a healthcare provider’s executive team. Once the feedback was collected, People Element consultants led one-on-one coaching sessions where the executives decided what they were going to focus on, based on their strengths and weaknesses.

The healthcare executives found the process to be so helpful that they asked People Element to conduct the 360 assessment with all of their vice presidents and associate vice presidents. Following the completion of their assessments, these leaders all had a one-on-one coaching session and then participated in a two-day leadership retreat to discuss some of their strengths and weaknesses. One of the positive outcomes from the session was a shared list of solutions and techniques colleagues were using. For example, if one leader received 360 feedback that they didn’t provide enough recognition to their subordinates, co-workers in the room were able to share tips and advice for how they were successfully handling recognition in their teams. At the end of the retreat, everyone shared a purpose and had created a vision of what they could accomplish.

Participants continue to use that purpose moving forward,” says Holcom. “With each decision and interaction, these leaders ask themselves—and one another—if a decision supports their purpose.’”

The successful experience of this healthcare organization illustrates how coaching, training, and action planning add to the power of a 360 feedback survey. Skilled coaches can partner with individuals and the organization to maximize results in a way that an organization can’t do on its own. By taking the process beyond the “survey only” approach, People Element can build relationships and customize the program to best fit the organization’s needs.

A 360 degree feedback process that includes coaching provides leaders and their organizations with a powerful tool. Instead of an executive team that is in constant competition with one another, there’s a shift towards partnership and teamwork. Managers who were confused and uncertain about supervising underperforming employees now have a plan for modifying their management style to meet individual needs. By identifying blind spots and hidden strengths during the 360 degree feedback process, individuals can move forward and positively impact their working relationships.

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