Feedback from multiple sources can help employees grow by offering a more nuanced view of their performance. Or it can be a muddle of contradictory opinions and useless suggestions. It all comes down to the feedback givers and the advice they offer. So, let’s go through some practical tips on how to give 360 feedback at work.

In case this is the first time you’ve encountered the term 360 feedback, let’s go over the gist of it. 360 feedback is when an individual receives feedback from several different people. This form of appraisal is usually run anonymously. In an organisational setting, it should involve participants from different levels of the business. Provided they’ve worked with the feedback recipient, of course. This includes:

  • Equivalent colleagues.
  • People from other departments.
  • Managerial staff.
  • Senior leadership.
  • The feedback recipient’s subordinates (if applicable).

360 feedback is also known as peer appraisal, or multi-rater feedback. In order to get the most nuanced results, HR usually issues different survey questions to each group of respondents. The things they’ll want to know will vary depending on whether you’re the subject’s boss, or just someone who works next to them.

Of course, different businesses have their own preferred methods for conducting peer appraisal. Some use simple email surveys or physical print-outs. Others use dedicated 360 feedback tools to ensure a user-friendly experience.

But, if you’re unsure how to give 360 feedback, don’t worry. Our feedback tips are sure to be useful, no matter how you submit your responses.

Why peer feedback really matters

It’s a manager’s responsibility to be aware of how their people perform. Their strengths and accomplishments, as well as their weaknesses and difficulties. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the shared management experience for every employee. Far from it.

In fact, having an awful boss is pretty much a universal experience. A poll from Visier found that 43% of surveyed UK employees had left a job due to bad manager. That’s not to say they’re all terrible. But most people have at least one bad boss story. And that’s one of the main reasons 360 feedback is so important.

Mismanagement, or even just the perception of it, can devastate employee engagement. Multi-rater feedback is a way of providing impartiality to your feedback process. Or, at the very least, democratic consensus.

Plus, managers can’t be everywhere at once. If you do your best work while the boss is away, it’s hard to blame them for not realizing the scope of your contributions. Fortunately, your teammates catch a lot of the stuff your boss might miss. In that sense, 360 feedback can be very useful as another channel for employee peer recognition.

When will I have to provide 360 feedback?

The good news is that you’re probably not going to be ambushed and made to give someone feedback on the spot. Since it’s usually anonymous, peer appraisals generally take the form of a survey. And they’re mostly something that everyone will be taking part in. 

That means they have to be set up and fit into everyone’s schedule. Often, they’ll be part of your company’s performance review “season.”

What good 360 feedback aims to achieve

Every system of feedback and management ever invented has specific aims they’re built around. Strengths-based management helps employees excel by developing them based on their greatest skills. Two-way feedback aims to be a mutually beneficial source of self-improvement for both managers and employees.

And peer feedback is no different. Before you can learn how to give 360 feedback well, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish.

Anonymous peer appraisal (ideally) encourages employees to be honest in their critiques. Telling someone you see every day that you need them to stop being disruptive in meetings is an awkward conversation. And it’s even worse when it’s your boss you’re giving feedback to.

Amid the general stress of working life, it’s something many will opt to avoid. But, with anonymous surveys, employees know they’re just nameless respondents.

In theory, multi-rater feedback also offers a more complete view of employee performance. It’s a “fairer” form of feedback than what you’d get from a manager, because it’s consensus-based. The quantity can also make it harder to write off criticisms as “someone’s opinion.” If the majority of people giving you feedback say your customer service is sloppy, for example, chances are it’s something you need to work on.

Seven tips on how to give 360 feedback at work

Giving feedback can feel like a bit of a minefield. Even managers, who are expected to do this on a regular basis, are often averse to it. For ground-level employees expected to influence a colleague’s performance evaluation, it can be downright nerve-wracking. But, lucky for you, we’re here with our top tips on how to give 360 feedback in an effective way.

1: Honesty is the best policy

It’s understandable to not want to upset a co-worker. But people usually value transparency at work, both from their employers and each other. And you’re not doing them any favors by being dishonest. Solid feedback is essential for our long-term self-improvement. Without it, we stagnate. You don’t want to make someone think they’re doing everything perfectly when there’s clear room for improvement. Otherwise, they’ll struggle to understand why they’re getting stuck, professionally speaking.

And it’s not just about the feedback recipient. Leaving issues unaddressed increases the stress on everyone else. If one employee keeps slacking off, everyone else must work harder to compensate. And, if you willingly ignore clear issues, you’re making life that much harder for the employee’s line manager.

2: Recognition is vital for personal development

It’s not all about pointing out flaws. As helpful as it is to know what we’re doing wrong, it’s just as vital to know what we’ve done right. You might think of employee recognition as a manager’s responsibility. But peer recognition is every bit as essential to a thriving work culture.

One thing, though. Remember to draw a clear distinction between your positive and negative feedback in any qualitative answers. Both kinds of feedback are important. But the so-called “Feedback Sandwich” tends to result in mixed messages and misunderstandings.

3: Support your critiques with examples…

It can feel awkward to bring things back up that happened weeks (or even months) ago. But, if you aren’t willing to give examples of problematic behaviour, your criticisms can be very easy to dismiss. And not always out of malice. People may be unaware of the impact their actions (or lack of them) are having. Or they might struggle with attribution bias and always find excuses.

Imagine someone keeps disrupting meetings, for example. It might be in an innocuous way, like lapsing into personal anecdotes. Being able to point out the last few meetings that ran long because of that person makes highlighting the issue at hand much easier.

4: …But don’t forget that less is more

When it comes to your written responses, remember, you’re not filling a library. As therapeutic as it can be to vent at length about a frustrating colleague, that’s not how to give 360 feedback. If that’s what you want to do, we suggest you start journaling.

Keep your criticisms (and any relevant examples) concise and to-the-point. A few solid points with clear reasoning will have more impact than a wall of complaints.

5: Consider the sort of feedback you’d like to receive

It’s a simple thing, but worth bearing in mind. If you’re stuck on where to start, consider what advice you’re hoping to get in your own feedback. Or what you wanted when you used to be in their role. It’s like figuring out what gift to buy. Thinking about what you’d appreciate can help to point you in the right direction. This is an example of how empathy and emotional intelligence can be valuable skills at work.

6: Keep your criticism professional…

Workplace social politics can get intense. And there’s every possibility you may have to offer professional feedback to someone you don’t like. But, remember, you’re not drafting stand-up comedy. You’re there to aid professional development.

Leave any personal disagreements at the door, and confine your criticisms to their workplace conduct. After all, there’s a good chance the person you’re critiquing will end up having to do the same for you.

7: …But don’t worry about the negative impact

One of the major reasons people struggle to offer negative feedback is that they’re reluctant to slate their colleagues. We don’t want to feel like we’re sabotaging someone’s career. And passing judgement on someone you see every day can feel awkward, even when you know it’s anonymous. But don’t forget that your responses are merely individual points in a larger data set.

Line managers and senior leaders use this data to supplement their own insights. And they’ll do this based on their overall impression, not just your responses. You’d have to make some pretty concerning allegations to be solely responsible for ruining someone’s performance review. So, overall, you shouldn’t worry about the negative feedback you give. 

The right tools make a huge difference

If you’re still unsure how to give 360 feedback effectively, don’t worry. Our list of tips should point you in the right direction, but it also helps to have the right tools. Implementing a system for regular two-way feedback between managers and employees can benefit multi-rater feedback in several ways.

Checking in with employees regularly provides ongoing sentiment and performance data. HR can then use that info to pinpoint the best time to run peer appraisals for employees. And, since check-ins can be continually adjusted over time, it’s easy to keep performance conversations fresh. This helps to keep employees in the right mindset for when 360 feedback season rolls around.

Check-in questions even feature an element of peer review themselves. Specifically, the positive side of peer feedback. Recognition questions enable employees to tag colleagues by name. These might be people who’ve been especially helpful or gone the extra mile. And this mindset of positive recognition is contagious. When someone recognizes our contributions, it makes us want to pay it forward.

Like any tool or policy, peer appraisals require employee buy-in to function successfully. And showing employees how to give 360 feedback properly is important for making it feel accessible. If you need any more info on how to do that, check out our 360 feedback guide today!

A weekly employee check-in is the foundation of more modern performance management practices: