360 Degree Feedback: Best Practices for Improving Performance Review

This transformative approach for performance reviews is something that can inject fairness and effectiveness into your feedback processes. I believe a solid understanding of 360 degree feedback is essential, and with the insights of this article, you will gain exactly that, becoming an expert in a critical, holistic feedback strategy.


James Moffatt


February 21, 2024

360 degree feedback is a method of performance evaluation that to many, is largely an alien concept. The reality, however, is that in widespread workplaces, 360 degree feedback has a stronghold as an evaluative revelation. It represents an essential approach for performance review and management, as it offers a more comprehensive view of an employee's performance through collecting together pieces of feedback from various sources. So, if you have been missing this essential approach in your workplace set-up, fear not, as this article will give you all of the insight you will need to go away and make use of these effective 360s.

1. What is 360 Degree Feedback?

As briefly mentioned, 360 degree feedback is a multi-source feedback system where employees, or historically, soldiers, receive anonymous feedback from various people that they work, or go into battle alongside and together with. The group of peers can be widespread and depends on the profession, but typically includes bosses or managers, colleagues, direct reports, and occasionally clients. That encompasses the modern approach, but allow me to give some further context on the military presence of 360 degree feedback.

To me, 360 degree feedback seems a more modern concept, and I don't believe I'm alone in having this perception. However, myself, and any fellow believers, could not be further from the truth. 360 degree feedback has truly stood the test of time, with this specific performance evaluation method having origins that can be traced back to a period around 100 years ago. These origins coinciding with The Great War are no coincidence, and in fact, ODRL tells us that 360 degree feedback was slowly permeating into the American Military during WW1, with multi-rater feedback being used among their soldiers, but something was still missing in our current day definition of 360 feedback. This was soon to change.

To follow the storyline, along came the German Military, with their ever-present efficiency and new approach to evaluation and soldier assessment. Taking the opinions of supervisors, peers and subordinates, the German's used this information and performance appraisal to determine payment and promotions. If this method of feedback was good enough to instil the trust of the entire German Army, I don't think it will be out of place in your workplace!

Anyway, to go back to the present day, this comprehensive feedback system continues to represent a method that provides employees with a much broader perspective of their performance. The benefit of such, is that the feedback is more likely to touch upon a wider range of aspects, mainly leadership, teamwork, communication, and other job-specific skills. 360 degree feedback loses the conventionally one-dimensional nature of traditional performance reviews coming solely from a supervisor, becoming a well-rounded evaluation that is more likely to lead to employee development

2. 360 Degree Feedback Examples

Despite the more sinister beginnings of 360 degree feedback, the utility of it was quickly realised post-war, with The Esso Research and Engineering Group, which nowadays is known as ExxonMobil, becoming the first early-adopters in a business sense (that was documented), to use multi-source surveys as a method for performance evaluation for their employees. You could say that they made it 'cool', as their subsequent boost in productivity led to Esso being bought out, and in turn, 360 degree feedback boomed in popularity and demand for its use in workplaces globally.

One person who followed suit and resultantly became another example is Jack Welch, who was the CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001. Welch quickly garnered attention for using 360 degree feedback in his cutthroat approach to performance appraisals, as he used the results from this feedback funnel to justify firing the bottom 10% of his company's people at that time. This is something that became fairly infamous as a leadership style, but Welch's idea that a company will roughly have 20% A players, 70% B players and 10% C players is clearly a theory that has some legs. I say this because, by sticking to this approach, and while clearly among other leadership and strategic approaches, Welch took General Electric from a $12 billion valuation in 1981 to a $410 billion valuation at the time of his retirement. I can imagine it's not unusual to think that this is too savage an approach, but Welch strongly defended himself in his book, by claiming that the real cruelty is "keeping people around who aren't going to grow and prosper". I mention evolution a lot on this blog, and perhaps Welch has shown here that 360 degree feedback is the perfect method to evolve your business.

Aside from more famous examples, 360 degree feedback in a typical workplace scenario might involve an employee receiving feedback on several different areas of their game. For example, the leader of a team might receive some comments on their ability to lead their team through challenges and be inspirational in team success, but to contrast that, an individual team member would get feedback on their collaboration skills and areas of the project where they showed good technical know-how. For me though, the key takeaway here regarding 360 degree feedback is that these feedback examples really begin to show the versatility of the method and the potential it has to address whichever workplace roles and responsibilities need dealing with.

3. 360 Degree Feedback Sample

Your 360 degree feedback sample can be versatile and tailored to you and your organization, but a standard approach is to have a series or combination or scales where you can rate your colleagues, in the form of a survey, and then also some open-ended questions. The survey might assess specific competencies such as problem-solving abilities or interpersonal skills, and should be comprehensive to cover every critical aspect of an employee's role and performance, but must also encourage honest and constructive feedback. On the other hand, open-ended questions should provide room for detailed, narrative feedback, offering context and specific examples to support the ratings.

4. 360 Degree Feedback Questions

To get some benefit from using this feedback approach in employee performance reviews, we have to ensure we're asking the right questions. This is obviously subjective, and the 'right question' ranges, but in general, try to inquire about whether a specific employee was able to meet a deadline/s, or able to manage a project where they were assigned as leader. This is the strictly work related side of things, but your evaluation should also extend to questions about their interpersonal interactions as a whole, and their contribution to the team's dynamics. Overall, the questions should be designed to elicit constructive and actionable feedback.

5. 360 Degree Feedback Tools and Software

The type of tool and software that you want to use with your 360 degree feedback process depends on you and your team, and there are many. However, for me, I think that given the anonymous nature of this employee review, a more asynchronous approach makes sense; let me tell you why. For this method to be successful, you want employee engagement, but in an independent way, which is something that directly mirrors the asynchronous working environment. When we work async, we collaborate and offer insights, but on our own time, and we do so by sending bubbles with our thoughts, work, and responses. The way that I can envision you and your team using Bubbles for your 360 degree feedback is both varied, and clear, and I will explain below.

One approach would be that the leader of a specific round of performance management would create a workspace with all of the contributors. This way, the feedback survey and instructions are able to be quickly and easily dished out to everyone, without the subject employee having any idea. The leader can then instruct everyone to inform themselves of the instructions, think about their responses, and respond on their own time. This way, all of the feedback is received in the same location, with more carefully thought out responses due to the lack of time pressure, and the feedback surveys can be processed easily, accelerating the process and next steps.

Another way would be to send instructions separately to all participants, to achieve a higher level of anonymity. Whether you do this via a bubble, or via an email or message, you could then instruct feedback to be supplied in a bubble. The benefit of doing so is again to ensure a thorough response, and one that can be easily organized and reviewed.

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Best Practices for Implementing 360 Degree Feedback

Encourage Openness and Fairness

To be successful, you need to make sure your working environment is one where giving and receiving feedback is seen as an opportunity for growth, and not something to become demoralized over. Further, we have to make sure that the feedback process is perceived as fair and unbiased, because if not, people are unlikely to commit to the process and take it seriously. This is one of the many ethical considerations that we have to consider when using 360 degree feedback.

Ensure Confidentiality

Don't just ensure this in the process, but make sure the participants know about the confidentiality. The last thing you need is respondents losing trust in the process, and therefore, clarity and a strong privacy policy are important factors.

Use Feedback for Development, Not Just Evaluation

This shouldn't be just a session of nit-picking and bashing or praising teammates, but instead, one where we can go away with our feedback and create a development plan. Appraisal is good, but without action, it is worthless.

The Right Performance Review Phrases

Make sure you are setting the respondents up for success with your instructions. Use comments and words to encourage thought and reflection, and stress your desire to really get their opinion.

Train Participants

This should be a process of trail and error, and it should not be seen as a crime to learn on the job. Along the way, make sure there is continuous improvement in this method of performance evaluation, and educate those involved on how to give and receive feedback well.

Integrate Feedback with Performance Management

Ensure the feedback aligns with overall performance management goals and the organization's culture for improvement. This is an opportunity to steer people in the right direction, both for the health and safety of the company, but also for their career.


As I have mentioned, feedback should lead to actionable steps or it is largely pointless. Therefore, implement these action items post-feedback, and then have regular check-ins to track progress.

Statistics and Studies on 360 Degree Feedback Benefits

As briefly established by the historical examples, research and studies have shown that when implemented correctly, 360 degree feedback can go a long way to achieving significant improvements in employee performance and engagement. I want to justify these claims further here, with some more modern examples of this approach being successful in organizations.

Case Studies

Philips Case Study

Philips implemented a new 360 Degree Feedback program to better enable the development of its employees. The program was brought about by Magdalena Bracco, who at the time, was HR Group Project Leader of the Dutch company. Bracco was insistent that 360s were their starting point to having effective conversations and establishing development plans, and in general, this approach aligned with the new competency framework and leadership behaviors introduced at Philips. The feedback program allowed employees to clearly understand their strengths and areas for improvement against key behaviors that were stressed as critical to Philips alongside the implementation of 360 feedback. Clarity was achieved through keeping the reports simple and focused, and as a result, powerful business impact was seen, with respondents particularly noting the efficacy of 360 feedback for achieving easily-actionable reports and improvements.

Tesco Case Study

Tesco created a 360 Degree Feedback program to embed new leadership skills and realize a new vision that was almost forced upon them with the rapidly changing retail landscapes at the time. The feedback program was designed to fit Tesco’s culture, with questions using the same language used internally by Tesco, which again, comes back to my point where I stressed the importance of using the right performance review phrases. Jon Sale, ex Group Head of Talent for Tesco, backed me up when speaking on their project, as he stressed the importance of look and feel in an approach like this. The simplicity and familiarity of the 360 degree feedback system in this instance and application, encouraged participation and made the process more intuitive. For me, Tesco is a great example of the success of 360s, as their continued joy of use with this approach led to the successful use of 360 feedback for various people programs along their journey, including senior managers and high-potential employees, helping to form personal development plans, even for those most senior, and inform career conversations.

Penguin Random House Case Study

Following their merger which left the company employing over 10,000 people worldwide, Penguin Random House introduced a 360 Degree Feedback program to develop employees and help keep track of the new values that they had created. The program focused on establishing these values throughout the organization, and a goal was to make sure that these values reflected what employees enjoyed about working at the organization. They therefore went hand-in-hand, and this is a great example of a work in progress being exercised. This comprehensive approach to 360 feedback helped create an open culture in Penguin Random House and encouraged employees to share feedback, but also, gave employees, down to the lowest level of job title, an opportunity to shape the company and the culture of the workplace.

To wrap things up, I believe that in order to implement 360 degree feedback effectively, there is a large requirement of a careful balance between gathering essential, comprehensive input and maintaining the trust and morale of the team or organization as a whole. This is why I have tried to be so thorough regarding the application of 360s, because I know how valuable they are, and don't want you or your team to squander this opportunity through a careless mistake. We just have to look at some of these examples and success stories to understand the potential power that 360 degree feedback harbours, and I hope that by reading to the end, you have gained insights into how to harness this power effectively in your own organization, drawing some inspiration from the past, and being ready to commit to this approach with the technology of the future, Bubbles!

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