In the same way that a GPS tracker needs multiple points to zone onto an exact location, a 360-degree appraisal uses the people one works with to provide the 'coordinates' of one's performance and leadership acumen. The size of the organisation and the type of role performed typically dictates the number of people involved in the feedback process. Typically, this ranges from 3 to 6 individuals who work with the employee in different capacities – e.g. senior managers, fellow colleagues, subordinates, even ex-employees or 3rd parties if relevant.

A 360-degree Appraisal

There are a number of ways how a 360-degree appraisal can take place. The survey method is efficient and can also be set-up within existing HR systems to collect and summarise data from all team members in a pre-determined cycle. However, these systems typically allow for a very limited number of questions. This would be acceptable for junior roles but would lack depth for senior team members. There is also an issue that results vary depending on what was asked and how it was asked. Questions to such surveys have to be carefully selected, being careful that the wording is not ambiguous and the survey not too long.

Crucially, any 360-degree process relies heavily on anonymity. Depending on the culture of the organisation, few employees would be ready to be open and candid about their opinion of their senior leaders, especially if there was the possibility for their identity to be disclosed. Whilst online surveys can be anonymous, employees may distrust the process – e.g. who would be receiving the results? Why was I picked to give the feedback? What happens if I don't reply?

A way to mitigate these difficulties is by appointing an independent HR Consultant to coordinate the 360-degree feedback process. The survey method can still be used but with a professional on board, the company can ensure that the right questions are asked. Respondents would also have their mind at rest that replies are received by a party external to the organisation who would take care of collating all data and presenting them to the business leader/s as one complete report. Whilst this method would offer fruitful insight, it still does not address the issue of depth. This is where an interview format for 360-degree feedback is ideal.

After careful selection of the main questions to guide the 'interview', our independent HR professional would sit with each person selected for the exercise and gather all impressions and feedback. The advantage is that the employees providing the feedback can go in as much detail as they like without being confined to the way the question was asked. People tend to provide more information verbally than if they had to write it in a tidy box in a survey – particularly if the person sitting at the other end is a trained professional who knows how to listen, gather feedback, ask the right follow-up questions and can guarantee anonymity to the interviewee. The juice of all these interviews is then written in a report that is composed of the overall impressions gathered by the professional supported by the feedback of those involved in the exercise.

Carried out well, a 360-degree feedback process is a powerful exercise that can provide valuable insight particularly for those managing people or occupying top executive posts.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.