Do you want to know how to deliver 360 degree feedback effectively?

The feedback discussion is a critical part of the 360 degree feedback process. In this post we outline some important advice for how to deliver 360 degree feedback effectively.

Why is it important to deliver 360 degree feedback effectively?

When we hear people say things like “I’ve had a bad experience of 360 before”, this is usually down to a combination of factors, but the main one is often the nature of how the feedback was delivered in the feedback discussion.

Just imagine you are about to ‘receive feedback’, the mere thought of it can be enough to make people feel anxious.

Will anyone have been overly critical? Will anyone have been nasty? Unfair? If the feedback is negative, what will the implications be? Will I lose my job!?

Think about when to reveal the 360 degree feedback report

how to deliver 360 degree feedback effectively

The timing of when people see their 360 feedback report can have a big impact on how they feel about the process.

It’s human nature to want to feel reassured so when people first see their 360 feedback report they will immediately do a quick scan to see what the results look like.

In our experience, people then respond in one of two ways – they tend to either dismiss the things that could be better if the results are generally positive.

Or they focus on the things they consider to be the most negative and fail to look at the broader picture. At the exclusion of everything else!

We advise that the first time the person sees their results is at the feedback discussion itself. In this way the feedback can be delivered in a constructive way.

Who should facilitate the 360 degree feedback discussion?

Delivering feedback is a real skill that takes confidence and practice so who you are going to ask to facilitate the feedback takes some consideration.

Don’t assume managers can facilitate an effective 360 degree feedback discussion

This sounds harsh, but our employee survey data consistently shows that ‘my manager gives me regular constructive feedback’ is rated low across all industry sectors. If managers are generally pretty poor at delivering feedback it is highly unlikely that they will be better able to give good quality 360 degree feedback.

What’s more, the manager is likely to have contributed to the 360 degree feedback for the individual so asking the manager to deliver the feedback tends to introduce additional anxiety, both for the manager and for the individual receiving the feedback. Managers are likely to feel anxious as their feedback will be laid out in front of the individual and they may feel they need to justify it.

The individual will feel anxious as they will have concerns around the implications of negative feedback. As a result, the conversation will be much less constructive and exploratory than it could be, and will simply tend to feel like an appraisal discussion.

Having said that, asking managers to deliver 360 degree feedback is a cost-effective option as it spreads the resources needed to facilitate feedback for lots of people.

There is also an argument to say that asking managers to deliver 360 feedback will develop their feedback skills and strengthen the relationships they have with their people. Our managers’ guide to giving effective feedback will help if you are thinking of doing this.

Internal versus external facilitators

So if managers aren’t the best option, what are your other options?

Many organisations use internal resource from the HR or Learning and Development functions. L&D professionals are a good option as they tend to think in developmental terms rather than performance terms and they often have experience of delivering feedback to aid people’s learning and development.

However, most L&D functions are fairly small so delivering 360 degree feedback to lots of people can have a big impact on resources. HR functions tend to have more resource, but HR professionals don’t always have the same developmental mindset as L&D people so you need to be careful not to assume that they have the experience and capability to facilitate good quality 360 degree feedback.

We often find that using HR people can also introduce an element of anxiety similar to when managers are used to deliver feedback. Many people can feel anxious when asked to ‘meet with HR’!

The other option to consider is using external resource as this solves the capability issue and the resource issue. Some companies already employ external coaches and these are a good option to utilise for 360 degree feedback, especially if the coach is already working with someone who is going through the 360 feedback process.

Alternatively, most companies who offer 360 degree feedback services will be able to supply expert feedback facilitators too. The obvious downside to using external facilitators is the additional cost.

In conclusion, if you have enough capable internal resource then using that resource is the most cost-effective solution. If you lack internal resource then you should consider using external resource to maximise the return on investment of the process.

How to facilitate an effective 360 degree feedback discussion

Opening the feedback discussion

As we mentioned earlier, people will naturally have a degree of anxiety as they come into the feedback discussion so you need to bear this in mind.

One of the core skills of giving feedback is to be warm and empathetic towards the individual. Consider your body language and even the layout of the room. Welcome people in. Sit side by side rather than across the table. Offer them something to drink. Smile!

The first few moments are all about putting people at ease and reassuring them. It is often useful to ask people how they are feeling and empathise that they might be feeling anxious. Reassure them that this is normal and use it as an opportunity to explain the purpose of the process (we strongly advise that 360 be positioned as a developmental process).

You might even want to go a little further and tell people that overall their 360 feedback is either generally positive or negative. This removes the fear of the unknown, but it has risks.

Telling people their feedback is positive has the immediate effect of relaxing them – they have nothing to worry about.

The downside is that it can then make people become a little complacent and closed to learning how they could be even more effective going forward.

The content of the 360 feedback report will give you a clue as to how people might respond.

In our experience some people have a higher opinion of themselves than others do – these are the ones who lack self-awareness or have a blindspot around how others see them.

Other people have a lower opinion of themselves than others do. These are the ones who are likely to be more self-critical.

They may also have low self-awareness and blindspots around their capability, but providing them with some early reassurance often makes them receptive to understanding more about the reality of how others see them.

Telling people their feedback is negative might seem counterintuitive as surely it will make people feel disappointed?

Well, they might be disappointed, but it is an opportunity to lay it on the table.

After all they are about to see some bad news in the next few minutes anyway so you may as well get it out in the open.

For those with a high opinion of themselves this can actually shock them into taking the feedback seriously.

Of course, for those people who have a low opinion of themselves it can lead them to become disappointed.

Positioning the purpose of the discussion

Whether you choose to provide people with an overall view upfront or not, this part of the discussion is the perfect opportunity to explain the purpose of the session, which is:

  • to explore the feedback data to understand what it is telling the individual.
  • to work together to understand the reasons behind the feedback.
  • to think through why different groups of raters might have different views.
  • to agree the most important messages from the feedback.
  • to discuss how the individual could do things differently.
  • to commit to specific actions and changes the individual can implement based on their feedback.

This is also a useful point to emphasise to the feedback recipient that the purpose of the feedback discussion is not to find out who said what!

Introduce the 360 degree feedback report

This part of the discussion is to outline the data that is in the 360 feedback report and explain how you will work through it. It can be useful to explain things such as:

  • how raters were selected.
  • what rating scale was used in the questionnaire.
  • how the feedback from different rater groups is aggregated or split out.
  • what the various charts are showing.
  • whether or not additional open comments have been included.

Explore the report

This is where the real skills of facilitation are needed – asking questions, listening and challenging.

As the 360 degree feedback facilitator you will need to guide people through the 360 report so there is a degree of ‘telling’ required.

However, our advice is to limit that to guiding people through the data and stating facts around the data rather than providing your own interpretation.

Asking questions to the feedback recipient is a powerful way to get them to focus on the data and think through what it might be telling them.

Ask questions such as “what do you notice?”, “what jumps out at you?” are good questions to ask.

If people are reluctant to open up then you could revert to a little bit of tell by saying things such as “well, what I notice is….”.

Other useful questions to ask are to use probing questions to encourage the feedback recipient to put their 360 data into some context.

For example, questions such as “can you think of a situation where you might do that?”, “can you give me examples of how yo tend to respond to situations such as….?”, “why do you think your raters might be seeing you do that?”.

Once the conversation is flowing, effective 360 feedback coaches will also tend to challenge the feedback recipient, either because they are tending to deny, deflect or discount the feedback, or because they are really engaged in defining what they could do differently.

Challenging is also based on question, good examples being questions such as :what could you do differently?”, “in what situations?”, “when interacting with who?”.

how to deliver 360 degree feedback effectively

Of course asking questions is only half the battle. Questions should really be intended to encourage the feedback recipient to open up, but good feedback coaches will also know when to step back and listen.

Effective listening involves more than not speaking though, really effective listening involves capturing not just what the speaker is saying, but why they are saying it and how they are feeling.

Often, saying nothing is all that is required. Asking a question or making an observation and then staying silent is a really powerful way to get people to speak – human nature means we all prefer to avoid awkward silences!

Effective feedback coaches utilise a little instinct to guide the conversation, saying things such as “I’m sensing that you tend to….”. Forming a sense of things relies on effective listening as you can only notice how someone is feeling when you are fully focussed on them rather than what you are going to say next. However, using your intuition can really challenge people to think deeper.

There will come a point where the discussion comes to an end, hopefully because you and the feedback recipient have fully explored the issue.

At this point it is useful to summarise any key points of themes that have been identified and by making linkages between issues that have been discussed. This is where you can start to think about concluding the feedback session.

Conclude the discussion

At this point in the discussion, you will have moved your feedback recipient through the phases of awareness (they understand the feedback data and what it means for them) to acceptance (they acknowledge there are some things they need to start doing differently). You now need to move them to the final stage – action.

A good feedback session should end with some clear actions and goals.

Actions should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound. We advise not agreeing to more than three actions.

Much of the feedback will be pointing towards the need to change behaviour, but it is really difficult to change behaviour in a sustainable way as our behaviour tends to be ingrained as habits. Psychology suggests that it takes a lot of focussed effort to begin changing individual habits so if you try to define too many actions the end result is likely to be some good intentions, but not much tangible change.

Encourage the feedback recipient to define their own actions, but challenge them to prioritise the top three things (maximum) things that will have the biggest impact and can be implemented fairly easily and quickly.

Once you have defined some specific actions you can close the meeting. We find it is useful to ask the feedback recipient to reflect on how the session was for them – did they feel the feedback was fair?

In conclusion

The feedback discussion is a critical part of the 360 degree feedback process, it can make the difference between someone leaving the discussion feeling encouraged and motivated to develop or completely destroyed.