Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

The 360-degree Performance Review

With insight from

Andy Porter

Andy Porter

Chief People Officer at Broad Institute

Andy Porter is the chief people officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. There, he leads the Human Resources function and is responsible for creating an organizational environment that fully enables the success of the Broad mission by attracting, developing, and retaining top talent.

Porter brings over fifteen years of experience to the job, most recently as Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals. Prior to joining Merrimack, he served as head of Human Resources at Dyax Corp, worked for several years as an independent consultant within the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, and held roles in Human Resources at Harvard-affiliated hospitals. Additionally, Porter has spent time outside of his full-time roles teaching as an adjunct professor at MCPHS University, and sharing his views on organizations and talent management as a contributor to the blog “Fistful of Talent.”

Porter holds a B.S. degree in organizational psychology from Bridgewater State University, and an M.S. in organizational development from American University.

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR, managers
  • What you’ll get: 
    A ready-to-use 360 review and how to use it
  • Why you need it: 
    For better talent evaluation
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    In the performance review cycle

The 360-degree performance review gives employees a better idea of how they — and their work — are perceived from a range of perspectives, not just in the eyes of their direct managers.

Why Companies Do 360-degree Reviews

The 360-degree review is primarily used as a developmental tool. Employees are given a broader view of their work in terms of how peers, direct reports, and other managers view their output and behaviors. In an ideal context, this information can lead to:

  • Increased awareness of behaviors
  • Increased awareness of co-worker expectations
  • Greater alignment of performance expectations between managers and employees
  • Improved internal communications

But this is important to understand upfront: 360 reviews are not necessarily traditional performance reviews. Very few employees would want their compensation, promotion, or retention tied to the opinion of others. Hierarchy evolved the way it did for a reason. We understand being evaluated by a boss, manager, or superior, but having our benefits connected to the opinions of peers confuses many. As such, you need to be careful with 360 reviews. In part, that’s what this article will guide you toward.

This article explains whom to survey as part of a 360 review and provides tips for what a 360 performance survey should look at. Then we offer a sample 360 review that you can use as a model to build your own 360-degree review template.

Andy Porter

Andy’s Take

My opinion is that 360s are very important for individual development. It can be an incredibly helpful tool to help managers see their impact on their peers and the people they manage. And I’m not necessarily in the camp that 360s should be in the formal process. I think stripping away the financial components [the compensation-related aspects of performance reviews] makes the 360 a much more useful tool. I’m also not a fan of anonymity here. I am a fan of developmental 360s that are not anonymous as a way to really change behavior and support a manager’s development.

— Andy Porter, Chief People Officer at Broad Institute

Getting Started with 360-degree Reviews

The 360-degree review involves more moving parts than the traditional performance review, but taking a step-by-step approach makes them easier to create, conduct, and interpret. Considerations include who gets reviewed, what questions to use, and who does the reviewing. This section will walk through those steps in the 360 review process.

Who Gets Reviewed in a 360-degree Process?

When you’re initially experimenting with the 360 review in your organization, it’s often best to use a “pilot program” of 35 to 50 employees to iron out potential challenges.

For example, employees are often concerned when they hear their organization is moving to 360 reviews. They may wonder if bonuses and compensation are tied to how their peers feel about them. Employees are often concerned that these types of reviews will make the organization cutthroat and competitive.

If you fully commit to the 360 review, all managers in your company should be reviewed this way. This gives them context for how their manager sees them and how they’re viewed as a supervisor.

Ideally, the first 35 to 50 employees who receive 360 reviews should include all senior managers. This sets a model for the importance of the 360-degree review to the organization.

Questions to Ask in a 360-degree Review

In their Harvard Business Review article “Getting 360 Degree Reviews Right,” consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman argue that a written 360-review survey sent to an employee should take about 15 minutes to complete. The questions you ask on any 360 review will vary based on organizational objectives. But some sample ideas from the Society for Human Resource Management include:

  • Does the employee translate corporate vision into actionable goals?
  • Does the employee implement the decisions of others?
  • Does the employee effectively seek and implement customer feedback?
  • Does the employee allow for flexibility in how work is accomplished?
  • Is the employee respectful of others and their ideas?
  • Does the employee promote continuous growth and learning?

All questions should be focused on the employee’s behaviors, not necessarily the goals or outcomes the employee achieved. The nature of the 360 review implies that many responding wouldn’t even know the goals or outcomes of the employee, since they are not that employee’s direct manager.

To increase variability in scores and get better comparisons, using a 1–7 Likert scale is preferable to a 1–5 scale. Although some talent management leaders prefer Likert scales that are 1–5, research shows that 1–7 scales (where the 3–4 range represents neutrality by the survey taker) produce additional thought and decision-making in the respondent.

Who Is Invited to Review Others in a 360-degree Review?

The employees whom you should consider to review an employee for a meaningful 360-degree performance review will include:

  • The direct manager of the employee
  • Any direct reports the person being reviewed manages
  • Other managers the person being reviewed has collaborated with
  • Peers of the person being reviewed

Andy Porter

Andy’s Take

To make 360s work, I think it’s important to have a sort of chaperone for the process, someone to interpret the feedback with the manager, especially if the feedback is anonymous. Anonymous 360 feedback in a vacuum with no one to interpret it can be damaging. Regardless of whether it’s anonymous or not, a 360 is most useful when there’s someone who can help the person understand and process the feedback, even if that’s just to provide some comfortableness around what that person is hearing and how they are responding. I mean, rather than the person getting the feedback saying, “Yes I know I do that, and I’m going to keep doing it,” there needs to be someone to help them develop from what they’re hearing. Of course, that means that in your managers, you’re looking for people who are open to learning, to saying, “All right, yep, I’ll get to work on that.”

— Andy Porter, Chief People Officer at Broad Institute

Interpreting the 360 Review

Interpreting and providing feedback from a 360 review should result in supporting the employee to understand why should they improve, what they can improve, and how can they improve.

Interpreting 360-degree Results

Extensive research has been dedicated to the interpretation of 360-degree reviews. You’ll want to interpret the results at the individual and organizational levels.

At the individual level, it’s generally agreed that employees should get information about their raw scores (averages from 1 to 5 or 1 to 7, depending on the scale you used) and their percentile rankings (relative to the entire company). Although views differ, it’s often best to encourage employees to focus on the raw score data as opposed to the percentile data.

In short: A focus on their raw scores will give them a better idea of where they stand as employees and where they can grow. A focus on percentile scores usually leads to employees comparing themselves to other roles in the company, which is less relevant for growth in their position.

An important caveat: Some managers use 360 reviews to set up employees for firing, because it seems more justified to eliminate someone if various levels of the organization think they aren’t performing well. This is a tactical mistake.

At the organizational level, there are multiple implications when you interpret 360-degree review results. Some areas to consider include:

Senior leadership scores

What are the lowest-level employees invited to evaluate senior leaders saying about them? This can give you a good indication of how your executives are perceived (e.g., good strategists, poor communicators, etc.) at the broadest employee level.

Managerial scores

How are managers in your organization being viewed by peers vs. direct reports? If some managers have great peer or supervisor scores but terrible scores from direct reports, it might be time to move them away from people management or revise their role.

Consensus across questions

Were there types of questions that consistently had high scores or low scores across all the reviews? This could mean that the question was worded in a leading way, or it could mean that your organization is very strong (or weak) in that area.

Because 360-degree reviews are not usually used for performance appraisal (i.e., raises), they’re most powerful as a developmental tool. This occurs at the individual level as employees get their scores and feedback, but it’s important organizationally as you look at the bigger picture of company-wide results.

A Sample 360 Review

A 360 review typically has two distinct parts. The first part is the questions. The second is the results for the employee to review. Below is an example of each: sample questions an employee might see when they fill out results for co-workers, and what the employee gets back based on feedback about them. In the second graphic, your performance management system should be able to show an employee their scores, scores of their direct reports (if applicable), and company-wide scores on various competencies.