Why 360 reviews are vital to the modern workplace

Learn about the importance of 360 reviews in the modern workplace.

Zight | August 24, 2020 | 5 min read time

Article Last Updated: July 09, 2023

Why 360 reviews are vital to the modern workplace

When was the last time you got direct, detailed feedback from a manager or teammate? Without a structured process in place, feedback often comes sporadically, and usually only in response to our biggest failures.

Setting up a regular 360 review cycle can be an important step in changing an organization’s employee feedback culture. Before we talk more about the importance of 360 feedback and list a few best practices, let’s define what a 360 review is.

What is a 360 review?

360 reviews are a way for employees to gather detailed feedback on their job performance from managers, teammates, and others they interact with. They are typically conducted on a yearly basis so employees have time to act on findings and make improvements.

The exact questions included in a 360 review will vary based on the role of the person seeking feedback, but most reviews ask participants to assess things like:

  • Level of productivity
  • Leadership ability
  • Communication skills
  • Reliability
  • Problem solving skills

Questions around these topics (and more) are organized into a survey that is emailed to whomever has been asked to participate.

Why 360 reviews are more important than ever

360 reviews have been top of mind for HR professionals and managers since their rise to prominence in the 1950s, but today they are more important than ever. The global pandemic and resulting changes to the workplace are making feedback absolutely essential to the success of businesses, and employees, that are trying to adjust.

New work conditions require us to ask new questions – and more frequently

COVID-19 has changed everything about the way businesses function. Employees on every level, in every role, and across every industry have had to change the way they work – and deal with new challenges they’ve never faced before. While employees may be familiar with their strengths and weaknesses under normal circumstances, the pandemic will accentuate areas of improvement that were either unseen or simply irrelevant before.

By conducting a 360 review, managers can learn how they need to adapt their leadership style to better meet the needs of their remote team. Team members can identify skills that they need to develop in order to thrive in a remote work setting, and create plans to learn them.

At the beginning of the crisis, many organizations sent out short employee pulse surveys that allowed them to make quick check-ups on the rapidly-changing thoughts and feelings of their workforce. However, these mainly served the interests of upper management. With employees beginning to settle into their new routine, this might be the time to get employees the feedback they need to succeed in the COVID-19 environment.

Even though many organizations may have only just concluded 360 reviews in January, they may consider followup assessments to account for the changes of the last 4 months. As you consider your next round of surveying, whenever it may be, revisit your 360 template to determine if any new questions need to be added to reflect the new work environment.

360 reviews as a key to maintaining feedback channels in a “work from home” world

Much of the workforce that has moved out of office buildings in response to COVID-19 will never go back. Others will return, but only for a few days each week. In a world where “working from home” is the new normal, the day-to-day, in-person interactions that made regular feedback natural are all but gone. Organizations need well-established feedback systems to maintain, and improve upon, their communication.

360 degree reviews are an important part of any employee feedback system. They provide a depth of feedback that cannot be gathered in any other way. Organizations that had no feedback mechanism before the pandemic will need to set them up as soon as possible, or they run the risk of operating with slowed employee development, and managerial blind spots.


Tips on Conducting an Effective 360 review

Whether you’re new to 360 reviews, or a veteran looking to refine your methodology, here are some tips to help you get the most out of the process:

1. Make sure teams are ready

Without any context, the results of a 360 review can be jarring. Knowing that your fellow employees were the ones who directly called out your weaknesses can be painful. Make sure employees are mentally prepared to receive constructive criticism, and emphasize that these reviews are meant to improve the entire team – not to single someone out.

2. Don’t tie 360 results to bonuses

Tying 360 review results to any kind of reward will tarnish results. Some employees may try to game the system to get the reward – others will be punished by reviewers who are unduly harsh. Let employees know that this is simply for them to use in their own professional development.

3. Pick respondents carefully

Not everyone will be able to give good feedback on every employee. Identify only the people who work most frequently with the employee in question, and have them participate in their review process.

4. Choose a survey tool

The most common mode of administering a 360 review is via digital survey. A survey tool can streamline the process and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. You might also consider hiring a professional HR services company to conduct your 360 reviews, although the cost can be significant.

5. Encourage action

When results come in, invite employees to take time to reflect on what they’ve learned about themselves, and make plans to maximize the effect of findings. Before the next 360 review comes around, have employees revisit their lastest assessment and consider how they’ve been able to improve.

At a time when teams are operating farther apart from each other than ever before, and dealing with challenges they never thought they’d face, maintaining a steady stream of feedback is absolutely essential. A 360 review might just be the information your team members need to succeed as they manage through the crisis and plan for long-term growth in the new normal.


Stephen is a digital content specialist at Qualtrics who manages the Experience Matters blog and is interested in all things experience design.

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