How to design an effective 360 degree feedback questionnaire

Get the most out of your 360 degree feedback process by following this guide for how to design an effective 360 degree feedback questionnaire.

There are three steps to designing an effective 360 feedback questionnaire.

Identify the themes you want to measure

As with an employee survey, your 360 feedback questions should be structured into themes. Many organisations already have these themes identified in the form of a behavioural competency models or framework.

The themes or competencies you include in your 360 questionnaire will be influenced by the overall purpose of your 360 degree feedback process.

Your 360 feedback process may be used to cement your organisation’s values or create culture change. As such, your 360 feedback questionnaire themes should tie in closely to those values or the behaviours that have been defined as important in the new culture.

Where the objective is to develop people in a specific role, the 360 questionnaire should include competencies that have been defined as relevant to the role. For example, we have an HR Business Partner 360 degree feedback model.

You may be using 360 degree feedback to support a leadership development programme. In this case you may want to focus on competencies that tie in to the programme content.

You may simply want to use 360 degree feedback to support individual development on an ad-hoc basis, in which case it could be more appropriate to use a fairly generic set of competencies that will provide broad developmental feedback.

When we set out to design a bespoke 360 degree feedback questionnaire for our client, we often start with out own core competency model:

360 degree feedback competencies
360 degree feedback competencies

Create specific 360 questions based on your themes

There are two main types of 360 degree feedback questions which work best – quantitative and qualitative questions.

Qualitative questions

Qualitative questions are open questions or free text questions that allow people to provide more descriptive feedback. Free text questions can be useful when it comes to adding more detail to help the person understand the reasoning behind their feedback scores.

However, we recommend limiting the number of free text questions:

  • if you ask lots of open questions we tend to find that raters repeat themselves.
  • raters can get frustrated at the extra time it takes to complete the questionnaire if there are lots of free text questions. 
  • free text questions take longer to analyse.
  • free text feedback can be quite broad making it difficult to understand where specific strengths and development needs lie.

Quantitative questions

Quantitative questions use a rating scale (more on this below) to ask raters how much they perceive the person receiving the feedback demonstrates a behaviour. The bulk of your 360 feedback questionnaire should be composed of quantitative questions.

Writing high quality questions takes a fair bit of time as the question wording will have a big impact on the quality of feedback you get back and also the ability of the feedback recipient to identify specific areas for action. If your questions are poorly worded then raters will find it difficult to answer the questionnaire and recipients will find it difficult to identify what they need to do differently in specific terms.

There are four rules we adhere to when it comes to defining your 360 degree feedback questions:

1. Each question should contain one behaviour rather than multiple behaviours. For example “listens attentively when others are speaking” rather than “actively listens and evaluates options”. In the second example listening and weighing up options are different behaviours so it becomes difficult to rate someone who is effective at evaluating options, but not so effective at listening.

2. Use positive wording rather than negative. Helping people understand what they need to do differently is more motivating and effective than just focussing on what they need to stop doing.

3. The behaviour should be observable. 360 is less effective where people are asked to rate how much they believe people think or understand things. It is difficult to understand someone thinking strategically, but much easier to observe them explaining strategy.

4. The behaviour should be worded succinctly and clearly so raters know what is meant. 

Example 360 degree feedback questionnaire questions

These are example 360 degree feedback questions from our own competency question library.

It is not the exhaustive list, but provides examples of questions and the types of wording that works well.

360 degree feedback questionnaire
Example 360 degree feedback questions

Define your 360 degree feedback questionnaire rating scale

Most 360 degree feedback questionnaires use a Likert rating scale where people are asked to rate how they feel about something on a multi-point scale.

We often see two main approaches towards rating scales when it comes to 360 degree feedback. One approach asks how good someone is. The other approach asks how often someone demonstrates specific behaviours.

When it comes to an individual’s performance (how good someone is) we think it is really only the manager who has the ability, and the right, to do that. We also advise that 360 degree feedback should not be used to assess job performance.

As such, we advise using scales that ask how often the individual demonstrates the behaviours in the 360.

There is also loads of research on the ideal number of response options to use, but we find that this 5-point rating scale works best in practice.

360 degree feedback questionnaire

In conclusion

Designing an effective 360 degree feedback questionnaire takes lots of thought and effort, but it is critical to ensure that your 360 feedback process achieves its objectives and results in high quality feedback.