How to Conduct 360 Employee Review Cycles

AJ Beltis
November 15, 2022
360 employee reviews, employee reviews, performance reviews, performance management

Employees need positive, direct, and actionable feedback in order to thrive in their roles. It acknowledges what they’re doing well and outlines what steps can be taken—based on past performance and future opportunities—to improve. 

This is why employee performance reviews, when done right, are so valuable. They’re the time and place to document an employee’s attributes and successes based on what’s been observed in a given time period. 

But therein lies a problem: Whether your direct reports sit across from you or work remotely from across the country, there will inevitably be aspects of your workers’ performance that you’re not privy to. 

This is where 360 employee reviews come in. As the name suggests, they take a more holistic approach to sourcing feedback from others so employees receive a well-rounded performance review. 

Related content: What Is Performance Management?

What are 360 employee reviews?

360 employee reviews, also known as 360-degree performance reviews, incorporate feedback from multiple individuals who have worked with the employee being reviewed. 

While traditional performance reviews might only take into account the sentiments of their direct manager(s), 360 employee reviews incorporate feedback from an employee’s teammates and the reviewee themselves. 

If an employee’s role involves collaboration with those outside of the company, these individuals may be contacted for feedback as well. For example, customer satisfaction scores might be referenced in a customer support rep’s review, a candidate’s feedback may impact a recruiter’s review, and feedback from a newly-signed customer might factor into a salesperson's review. 

360-degree feedback acknowledges that those writing and delivering an employee review only know so much, and those who may work more closely with an employee (or in a different capacity than their manager) can provide helpful critiques and cite specific incidents that managers can’t.

Ultimately, managers compile all feedback and factor in standout comments and common themes from these sources into an employee’s final review. To allow employees time to reflect on their performance and to make progress on their recommended improvements, it’s a good idea to hold performance reviews at least once a year, but no more than four times a year. 

Related content: How to Boost Employee Happiness: 4 Strategies for HR and People Teams

How to conduct a 360 employee review

1. Determine who will provide feedback

You and your direct report should work together to decide whose feedback for the review cycle in question is most valuable. 

You’ll want to hear from enough individuals that the feedback encompasses the major areas and projects the employee works on, but not so much that you’re getting feedback from those whose opinions aren’t as relevant. While this number varies based on the role and the organization, a good starting place is 3 to 5 close coworkers—but feel free to scale this number up if needed. 

Everyone chosen to provide feedback should be individuals both you and your employee feel will provide accurate, impartial, and timely feedback. In other words, it might not be the best idea to let employees source feedback only from their close work friends.

2. Gather the right feedback

Since multiple parties provide feedback in 360 reviews, you’ll need to source comments in a variety of ways. Building a questionnaire using a tool like Google Forms and emailing it to those providing feedback is a common method, but there are easier ways that streamline right into where you document employee reviews.

A 360 feedback tool like Eden’s performance management product allows customizable question types, easy selection of which employees to review from your directory, and automated alerts that they have a review to leave. 

No matter what tool you’re using to collect data, here’s how to collect it. 

First, gather feedback from your direct report through a self-review. This affords employees the chance to identify their areas for improvement while also outlining their proudest moments in the review cycle. 

Consider asking self-review questions that challenge your employees to think aspirationally and honestly, such as:

  • What accomplishments are you the most proud of from your work over the past quarter? 
  • Looking back, what do you feel you could have done better last quarter? How would you have done it, and how will it shape you moving into next quarter?
  • What in the last six months have you done that has most positively impacted your team? The organization? The customer?
  • What soft skills (communication, politeness, diligence, etc.) have you improved upon this year? Which important ones do you feel you did not exemplify?
  • Compared to the last review cycle, which areas of improvement do you feel you have shown the most improvement in?

Second, ask approved peers to provide their thoughts on the reviewee. The questions here should be open-ended to ensure you get helpful feedback, but also not too lofty. 

Some peer feedback questions might include:

  • What was something that Ryan did last quarter that you found to be remarkable?
  • What strengths does Tasha have that made her an asset to the organization this past year?
  • Looking back, what could Isaac have done better in Q3?
  • Moving forward, what should Alexa stop doing next year?
  • Are there any other comments about Spencer you want to share?  

Encourage these peers to provide examples and to leave questions blank if they don’t feel like they have anything relevant to share. This will help you, as the reviewer, find specific instances of these traits in action, as well as find the comments these feedback-givers feel most compelled to share. 

Third, you’ll need to collect feedback on behalf of those who mainly interact with those outside of the organization, like recruiters, salespeople, account managers, and support reps. When sourcing feedback here, try to keep questions simple and quantifiable out of respect for answerers’ time. 

These customer feedback questions might include:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how well do you think Alicia represents our company?
  • Did you have a positive experience working with Tyler? Yes or no?
  • On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend working with Sam to another customer?
  • Do you have any other comments to share about your experience with Harry?
Related content: How Gathering Feedback Will Improve Your Office Culture and Employee Experience

3. Find the themes and follow up

As you read feedback, you should hopefully find some common themes within comments. These themes can be distilled into key pillars of performance as you prepare to write your review. 

You’ll want to find traits that are cited by more than one person, but pay specific attention to two different types of findings: standouts and surprises. 

Standouts are comments—typically from just one individual—that go against the grain of what you and other reviewers have noted. For example, if everyone expresses appreciation for an employee’s responsiveness, but one holdout suggests the employee is always late, it’s worth following up with this reviewer to better understand the circumstances of this feedback. 

Surprises, however, are themes among reviews that come off as news to you. Maybe you see several comments praising how creative your employee is, and you realize you’ve never seen this strength in action. This opens up the door for you to highlight this previously unknown strength, and maybe even assign projects requiring more creativity to your employee in future review cycles. 

After reviewing and following up, you should find yourself with a list of 3 to 5 strengths and 3 to 5 weaknesses to use as a foundation for your review. 

4. Write the employee’s review

All of the feedback collected in the 360-degree process boils down to the manager review, which combines comments from everyone surveyed including the employee themselves and their manager. 

Reviews should be structured with a summary of the employee’s performance, followed by a clear pros and cons list to support the summary. Each pro should explain why the trait is positive to possess in the role, while criticisms should be supported by the negative impact the behavior can have on the organization, alongside concrete ways to improve. 

It’s helpful when the review contains actual quotes (preferably anonymous) from feedback to help the employee understand why they’re receiving the feedback. 

For example, if an employee’s review states “those who gave Michael feedback stated he does thorough work,” it’s really not saying much. However, when weaving in a comment like “Specifically, one coworker acknowledged the impact Michael had on the competitive analysis project, while another one said ‘his knowledge of competitive analysis software and willingness to share his findings saves my team so much time,’” is much more impactful. 

Related content: 3 Tips to Support Mentorship on Hybrid Teams

360 feedback = better feedback

As a manager, you can’t have your eyes everywhere—and that’s why 360-degree feedback is so important for employee recognition and growth. 

While your team can manage reviews manually, it’s an easier and more streamlined process with a performance management tool. Peer feedback can be collected, performance can be documented, and final reviews can be shared all from one easy interface. As a result, managers and their direct reports will have constant access to a record of their performance and how to improve it for future reviews. 

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