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Introducing 360 Degree Feedback – Part 1 – WHAT to do first to ensure your 360 is a success

Your six key questions answered so you can get going with your 360 project

Article by Elva Ainsworth, World-renowned 360 degree specialist, author and consultant

Your CEO has finally agreed that 360 is a good idea and has asked you to implement it as soon as possible.  You have been working on this for ages so it is quite a relief but now you have the problem of what to do and how to do it…  This article deals with the first part of those questions ie WHAT; supplementary articles cover the WHO, HOW and WHEN.

This article deals with these six questions:

  • What is to be the purpose of this 360 project – the “Why?”
  • Who should be the reviewers?
  • What type of survey should you use?
  • What do you want to base the survey on?
  • What parts are you going to have in the survey?
  • What are the questions?

In our experience of running over 200 successful 360 projects, Talent Innovations has supported many clients through the journey from “I want to do 360” through to having participants having received their reports and the coaching as well as the leadership understanding the aggregate data and clear on what the insights are telling them about what’s next for their people strategies.  There are many different ways to deliver 360 and literally over 100 decisions to make about it.  Through these articles you will get to see the methodology we use to guide this decision-making process – and we start with some basic but fundamental set-up questions:

  1. What is to be the purpose of this 360 project – the “Why”?

360 can fulfil many objectives.  Here is a list of just 10 of the possible outcomes you can get from completing a 360 programme:

  • Leaders get insights on their behaviour
  • Helps encourage a feedback culture
  • Resolves performance issues
  • Shows up blindspots for individuals
  • Informs a coaching programme
  • Provides a full picture of a team
  • Gives data on talent potential
  • Identifies succession
  • Improves leadership levels
  • Supports a leadership development programme

I am sure you can think of many more!  The point is the benefits will be multiple but, in order to design your 360 so it is truly fit for purpose, you need to be clear on your priorities.  You need to “pin your colours to the mast” and be clear which of these is your top priority to deliver, and which are your secondary and tertiary priorities.

Agreeing these with your key stakeholders will be key to the set-up of your 360.  Once you have decided, all your design and process decisions can then be aligned with your objective and you can be sure that you can provide the value and outcome desired.  You can also set up methods to evaluate the effectiveness of the project alongside this.  You will therefore end up with the proof that your project was a success.

2. Who should be the reviewers?

“360 degree feedback” describes a simple concept – a process of getting many perspectives and views on someone (or a team/department) – views from “all around” them.  For individuals this usually includes the following parties: self, manager, colleagues/peers, direct reports/subordinates, customers/others.

Sometimes it can also include internal stakeholders or family and friends. The key requirement is to include categories that are seen as important to the individual concerned and that differentiate reasonably well in terms of perspectives.

In terms of numbers of reviewers a typical 360 will include:

  • Self:  1
  • Manager:  1 (or 2 if appropriate)
  • Colleagues/peers:  3-5
  • Direct reports/subordinates:  3-5
  • Customers/others:  3-5

Total:  11-17

In our experience of over 200 x 360 projects, the average number of reviewers is approximately 14.  You will need to think about how to structure your 360s for your people.  There are a couple of key points to consider – ensure you have enough in each category to ensure reviewers feel they are anonymous.  You want them to feel safe and comfortable expressing their opinions.  This way they will be fully open and honest and they are likely to write a lot of open text commentary which is usually extremely useful for the participant.

3.  What type of survey should you use?

You then need to decide on the survey itself.  The main choice you have is to pick an off-the-shelf 360 version or to build one based on your own context and with your own branding.  There are advantages and disadvantages with both these approaches:



  • Tried and tested survey
  • External benchmark data
  • Easy access, ready now


  • Language is not yours
  • Key strategic behaviours may be missing
  • Introducing a new model



  • Your colours and branding
  • Your language throughout
  • Your competency/values model
  • Internal benchmark data
  • Current business strategies included


  • Time to develop and test
  • Cost to build
  • No external benchmark

These days a hybrid approach is recommended.  This allows you to use the foundation of an off-the-shelf instrument which you then brand and colour with your own language.  You can add a mapping to your own competency/values model to ensure there is alignment and connection and you can include external benchmark data where you have it.  It is quicker to develop and usually more cost effective too.

4.  What do you want to base the survey on?

What you want the 360 to be based on is therefore the next big question.  You tend not to ask reviewers to rate random statements.  It is helpful to have them structured in a framework of some kind.  Typically you might have a “competency framework” or a “values model”, or alternatively you might have “career path indicators” or “leadership track”.  A 360 can be built on any of these.  The key question to ask is why you are doing the 360 and to ensure you use a framework that connects directly with this purpose.  If you want to encourage your leaders to develop and learn from feedback so they can improve, then you will be best finding a model that will differentiate accurately between those who should end up with high ratings on the survey and those who score low ratings.

5.  What parts are you going to have in the survey?

Now you are ready to look at the detailed content of your survey.  There are three key types of survey you can include in a 360:

  • Normative ratings of behavioural indicators (or “items”)
  • Ipsative, forced-choice rankings
  • Open text questions

You can see examples of these types of surveys in our guide “Examples of 360 degree feedback surveys that work” – please click this link or call for a copy.  You will need to decide whether you are going to present the questions in random order or not and also whether all the questions are asked of everyone.  You will also need to decide whether to ask for open text comments against the behavioural items.

6.  What are the questions?

The actual questions themselves then need to be generated.  This is usually an exercise of translating your model into behavioural statements that can be observed by the reviewers.  There are five golden rules to drafting 360 questions – click here for details.  Further guidance to writing 360 questions can be seen in our guide “Write great 360 degree feedback survey questions” – click here for a copy.

Now you have a draft 360 survey, you might want to find someone to trial it for you.  This is really useful as you can properly test out every stage of the process, in particular, check out potential security/firewall issues that can occur with automated emailing.

Review and refine with your pilot group and you will soon be ready to roll!


© Talent Innovations
April 2018


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