360 Assessments: Getting The Whole Picture

When most of us receive feedback, it comes from a single perspective. Perhaps it’s a performance review from our boss, or comments from customers. But how often does our perspective differ from what we hear? Wouldn’t it be nice to see a comparison of all of these perspectives in the same place, using the same evaluation scale? This is where 360 assessments come in – providing a multi-perspective view.

What is a 360 Assessment?

A 360 refers to the 360 degrees of a circle, which symbolizes getting feedback from every angle. These perspectives usually fall into four categories: your boss, your peers or teammates, the people you manage, and finally, yourself. Each of these categories represents a vital component of your professional life.

  • Your Boss – Represents your responsibility to the organization or business.
  • Your Peers – Represents your ability to operate on a team and support colleagues.
  • Your Reports – Represent your ability to lead and manage others.
  • Yourself – Represents your personal satisfaction and professional development.

There are different types of 360 assessments, each focused on a different skill set. For example, assessments aimed at executives and managers may focus on leadership skills. A 360 for supervisors may be more tactical and focused on specific management skills. Forbes has a helpful list of how to decide. But regardless of the assessment, each 360 enables you to directly compare your evaluation of yourself with that of your boss, colleagues, and direct reports.

Why are different perspectives important?

Most leaders and managers are responsible for far more than simply completing tasks.  Their jobs include managing people, representing the organization, maintaining open communication at all levels, strategy, and supporting colleagues.  Balancing all of these responsibilities can be extremely challenging.  This is especially true for younger managers who were promoted from within. Most of these individuals were noticed due to their ability to do a task extremely well, but now they’ll being asked to manage others to do those same tasks, which is an entirely different skill set. No wonder drifting into micromanagement is so easy.  

A 360 provides a valuable comparison among these various responsibilities. Let’s say, for example, that the people you manage consistently rate you higher than your boss does. Is your boss unreasonable? Are you a committed advocate for your people? Are you having to regularly fight the system? While any or all of these may be true, what’s more important is the fact that what your boss sees you differently than your people do, and yet you’re accountable to both. If you’re managing your people effectively, you may have to communicate better with your boss. Or you may have to focus more on supporting the business rather than always defending your team. Bottom line, a 360 helps open these critical discussions.

Why 360s need special facilitation.

More than most assessments, 360s can easily be misinterpreted? Results should never be distributed without clear explanations of what they are and how they should be used. As illustrated in the example above, when taken out of context, the results can easily be misused. This is compounded by the fact that 360’s can be far more intimidating than other assessments. If someone is upset, it’s unlikely that they’ll view the results objectively. Skilled facilitation when debriefing this process is extremely important.

A 360 is a powerful tool. The American Psychological Association says such assessments are of “great value when done correctly” but they must be used responsibly. While they are one of the most powerful tools for professional development, they should not be used for evaluation. In fact, the Society for Human Resource Management cautions against its use for pay raises and promotions. Always be sure to consider the ethical considerations before using any assessment.

Learning Technologies can help your company implement a strong, useful 360-degree assessment program and guide team members on a path to developing the skills they need to succeed.