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Getting the best from 360 degree feedback tools


Thinking of using a 360 degree feedback survey as part of a development intervention? David Cooper reports on what to expect from 360 suppliers and how the tools can enhance a whole range of development solutions.


Early 360 degree surveys consisted of paper questionnaires that were manually processed, or at best a web-based version where the results had to be lifted into an Excel worksheet. Today, the best 360 degree feedback tools are purpose-built, secure, hi-tech solutions powered by state-of-the-art web applications.

As a minimum, you should expect your 360 supplier to provide all of the following at no extra cost:

  • Fully automated systems.
    They should use a rigorously tested online system that guarantees the accuracy, quality and confidentiality of the whole process and requires no manual intervention.
  • Individualised questionnaires.
    Although generic 360 questionnaires can be useful, they often fail to fully reflect the culture and environment in which the subject works. The best systems allow for personalised questionnaires to be used with ease.
  • Flexibility.
    Enabling all aspects of branding, process implementation, client support, design, development and questionnaire / report formats to be easily adjusted to meet the client's needs.
  • User friendly feedback.
    Feedback reports should be clear, concise, understandable and easy to interpret - not filled with data that requires an analyst to decipher.

Adding value

Over the past few years 360s have grown in popularity and their use has been widened - often being viewed as critical components in a wide range of management development interventions. Below are some of the most common applications where they are currently being used to add real value:

Photo of DAVID COOPER"360 degree feedback can be used to provide genuine insight into an individual's working style."

Performance coaching

Used at the beginning of a coaching relationship, a 360 degree feedback report can be a powerful 'accelerator' and 'alignment' tool. By clustering and prioritising any undesirable feedback results, the subject and coach can quickly gain a clear picture of where their coaching sessions should focus, ensuring key development issues are recognised and addressed. This approach to performance coaching ensures a needs-driven focus based on valid, accurate behavioural information.

Personal development

Used as part of a life coaching programme or as an annual development tool, 360 degree feedback can be used to provide genuine insight into an individual's working style across a spectrum of leadership and management behaviours. It can also provide insight into how their 'personal brand' is perceived.

The feedback report can be used to provide clarity of direction for future personal development and career planning. We are also starting to see a trend for using 360s to supplement and provide qualitative evidence in CVs.

Performance management

A common trend within the public sector is to use 360 degree feedback to provide an all round view of performance as part of the appraisal process. The feedback is used by line managers to inform appraisal ratings and contribute to the development discussion. Used in this way, the tool can also act as a management strength benchmark, as well as highlighting individual personal strengths and problem areas.

Development programmes

Used at the beginning of a leadership or management development programme, 360 degree feedback tools can be used to inform (or determine) programme content. The feedback data from a group of people can be combined into a group summary report that provides an aggregated view of the group's strengths and key development areas. Using 360s in this way enables programme designers to effectively tailor their programme content to meet specific identified needs.

It can also be used for individual alignment. Providing programme participants with feedback against what is expected of them in their role - and then supporting them to convert their lower ratings into a meaningful development plan - is a great way of ensuring that they start their development journey with a clear picture of what success will look like.

"360 degree feedback can be a powerful component within a talent management programme and is often used to benchmark or identify the talent strength within an organisation."

Talent management

Whilst 360 degree feedback provides insight into a manager's past and current behaviour, when the framework of questions includes the attributes and qualities needed to work at more senior levels, they can also act as an indicator of future growth potential.

360 degree feedback can be a powerful component within a talent management programme. It is often used to benchmark or identify the talent strength within an organisation - and to identify individuals who have the potential to operate at the next level. It can also be used to highlight how ability and potential can be developed, act as a progress measure and provide evidence-based data for any prospective 'chessboard' talent management process.

Team feedback

Just as an individual 360 provides a snapshot of how the participant is seen by those they work with, a team 360 report collects feedback from groups of stakeholders across the organisation. This type of survey provides excellent feedback for use in team development sessions. It can be used to help teams gain clarity of purpose and direction, understanding the expectations of stakeholders and providing a clear picture of a team's strengths and weaknesses.

Some providers also offer a team development 360 that allows team members to rate each other against those skills needed for successful team working. Used as part of a development event, this type of survey provides insight about team functioning, direction, working relationships, atmosphere, communications etc.

Individual contributor

Finally, feedback tools can be provided for individual team members who want to gain development feedback on their personal effectiveness. Questionnaires are typically built around a range of individual skills areas such as planning, use of time, delivery, relationship building, influencing, customer focus, self confidence and continuous improvement.

David Cooper is director of Lumus, a supplier of 360 degree feedback tools. For more information visit:


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