What is 360 degree feedback?

A 360 degree feedback evaluation is a way to assess an employee’s performance within an organisation. It is an alternative to ‘upward feedback’ – or a more traditional style performance appraisal where employees would be assessed on a one to one basis, purely by their direct manager or supervisor.

In a human resources capacity, 360 degree feedback refers to a style of employee assessment that uses feedback gathered from that employee’s circle of colleagues. The process can be highly tailored and personalised as required, to include the individual’s immediate work circle as well as their peers, their superiors and their subordinates. Often, 360 degree feedback will also encompass an element of self-evaluation from the employee in question. Additionally, the 360 degree feedback process could even go so far as to survey external sources, thereby giving inclusion to feedback from customers, suppliers, shareholders or other relevant parties.

The results gathered from a 360 degree evaluation are generally used by the person receiving the feedback to aid them in enhancing their own performance where necessary, pinpointing their own strengths and weaknesses and to plan out their career path and strategies going forward. Results can also be used by an organisation’s management team when making decisions with regard to administrative issues, promotions, salaries and so on. There is some debate, however, as to whether this style of review is suitable to be used exclusively for development purposes, and so most companies choose to use it in conjunction with more traditional appraisal methods, to create a more complete picture of each of their employees.

The concept of 360 degree feedback is not a new one. In fact, as far back as World War II, it was used as a means to evaluate the performance of soldiers. Esso Research and Engineering Company are recorded as having implemented the idea in the 1950’s, and from there the theory has steadily gained momentum.

By the 1990’s most HR professionals were aware of the concept, but problems arose in that physically collecting, collating and storing so much data from so many sources was not feasible in what was still a very paper based corporate world. The paper trail, combined with lengthy delays and manual calculations, made a valuable process impractical to put into practice.

Of course nowadays, thanks to computers, the internet, and centralised databases within corporations, the process is now far easier and more efficient to conduct and as such, 360 degree feedback systems are seeing a huge rise in popularity.

Businesses are now able to have employees fill in surveys quickly and easily online, meaning that the valuable data that 360 degree feedback produces is now easily collected, collated and assessed.

Indeed in recent years, intranet and internet based services have become standard issue within most successful companies, and 360 degree feedback is heading in the same direction.

In conclusion, modern incarnations of collecting 360 degree feedback can be built to include all manner of useful features, and are proving to be a truly worthwhile exercise when used in conjunction with traditional appraisals to assess an employee’s performance and to plan for their future.

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