Why 360 degree feedback should not be called 360 degree assessment

360 degree feedback and 360 degree assessment, even 360 degree appraisal are often used interchangeably. However, in our view they tend to imply different meanings around how the process is used in practice. This post explains our view on why 360 should not be called 360 degree assessment.

What is 360?

360 degree feedback is a multi-source feedback system where employees receive confidential, anonymous feedback from the people who work around them. This typically includes peers, subordinates, supervisors, and sometimes, external stakeholders like customers or clients. The feedback encompasses various aspects of an individual’s performance, behaviour, and competencies, providing a comprehensive view from multiple perspectives.

The Purpose of 360 Degree Feedback

The primary purpose of 360 feedback is developmental. It aims to help employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement through diverse perspectives. This holistic feedback mechanism is intended to foster personal and professional growth, encourage self-awareness, and facilitate open communication within the organisation.

The Implications of calling it 360 degree assessment

An assessment, in a professional context, is typically defined as a formal evaluation or measurement of an individual’s skills, knowledge, and performance. Assessments are often associated with judgement, scoring, and comparison against predefined standards or benchmarks. The focus is on determining how well an individual performs relative to certain criteria or their peers. This has certain difficulties:

Connotations of judgement:

The term “assessment” inherently carries a connotation of judgement and evaluation. When feedback is framed as an assessment, it can create anxiety and defensiveness among employees. They may perceive it as a critical evaluation rather than a tool for growth, leading to resistance and reduced effectiveness of the feedback process.

Impact on openness:

Feedback systems thrive on openness and honesty. When employees believe they are being assessed rather than supported, they are less likely to provide candid feedback. This undermines the core purpose of the 360 process, which is to gather authentic, constructive insights that can drive development.

Shift in purpose:

Labelling the process as an assessment shifts the focus from development to measurement. It transforms a developmental tool into an evaluative one, which can alter how it is used by both the employees and the organisation. Instead of focusing on growth opportunities, the emphasis might shift to performance ratings and rankings, which can be detrimental to morale and engagement.

The benefits of referring to it as 360 feedback

360 degree feedback encourages Development

Using the term “feedback” emphasises the developmental intent behind the process. It reinforces the idea that the goal is to provide insights for personal and professional growth, not to judge or rank employees. This encourages a culture of continuous improvement and learning.

360 degree feedback promotes psychological safety

Employees are more likely to engage positively with a feedback process if they feel safe and supported. The term “feedback” fosters a sense of psychological safety, making employees more open to receiving and acting on the input they receive. This can lead to more meaningful and effective developmental conversations.

360 degree feedback enhances constructive dialogue

Framing the process as feedback encourages a two-way dialogue. Employees can discuss the feedback they receive, seek clarification, and collaboratively develop action plans for improvement. This interactive approach is less likely in a rigid assessment framework, which tends to be more one-sided and prescriptive.

In conclusion

Referring to 360 as an “assessment” misrepresents its core purpose and can negatively impact its effectiveness. By maintaining the term “feedback,” we preserve the developmental focus, promote openness and psychological safety, and enhance the overall value of the process. Organisations should be mindful of this distinction to ensure that their feedback systems truly serve their intended purpose of fostering growth and development.