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How multiple perspectives support employee and company-wide growth

Manager giving 360-degree employee feedback with a survey.

Measuring employee performance in a digitized, automated work environment is like piecing together a mosaic of people analytics, hoping to form a complete picture of an employee and their potential.

The sheer variety of tech-enabled measurement tools and feedback methods can get overwhelming. However, some employee performance methods are more powerful than others—like 360-degree feedback. With surveys for 360-degree feedback, you can continually monitor employee performance while identifying and supporting development opportunities.  

In this guide, we will explore how managers can leverage 360-degree feedback to create more effective leadership development programs, emphasizing the critical role of surveys in cultivating better leaders.

A 360-degree feedback method gives employees a more holistic view of their strengths and areas for improvement by gathering input from all colleagues who interact with them—including managers, peers, direct reports, and even clients. 

This more expansive feedback loop contrasts with annual reviews between employees and their managers, which can offer a somewhat limited perspective. Regular 360-degree surveys allow individuals to monitor their professional development through various lenses, creating growth opportunities that drive better job performance, employee experiences (EX), and customer experiences.

Rather than top-down assessment tied directly to compensation or promotions, employees can receive the candid insights they need to shape goals aligned with business outcomes across functions. This reflects a significant shift in performance management culture, from retrospective evaluation to continual learning for the individual and the organization.

Using 360-degree feedback for leadership development uniquely positions managers as co-collaborators in mapping future growth based on the “terrain” of skills that fellow employees have highlighted in their survey responses. Here are some of the additional benefits of this form of feedback. 

With 360-degree feedback surveys, managers can assess an individual’s soft skills and technical abilities. Here’s a breakdown of which types of assessors may be best positioned to give feedback on these two areas: 

  • To assess technical skills: Managers and direct reports can provide feedback on strengths and areas for growth in an employee's core job function, as they have immediate visibility into technical execution.
  • To assess soft skills: Colleagues can evaluate soft skills such as collaboration, communication, responsiveness, and inclination to lead. Peers uniquely experience these skills firsthand and can help identify areas where leadership training may be necessary.

Because managers need more visibility into the range of employee proficiencies, traditional review methods often miss critical competency gaps. For example, a sales leader can’t observe every interaction an account manager has with their clients. 

While managers may subjectively determine advancement readiness, a 360-degree feedback survey can give real-time insights into the employee’s level of skill development. Rather than relying on the guesswork that comes with infrequent performance reviews, managers can pinpoint exactly when promising employees acquire the critical thinking, communication proficiency, and other capabilities to handle increased responsibilities. 

Another benefit of 360-degree feedback surveys is that the responses can be made anonymous. When colleagues provide feedback knowing their identities will not be revealed, they tend to be more honest and authentic. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the feedback will be negative—according to leadership consultants at Zenger/Folkman, “After decades of conducting and reviewing thousands of 360-degree feedback reports [made anonymously], we almost never see messages that are intentionally barbed or mean-spirited.”

Since 360-degree feedback is growth-oriented, these surveys rely on anonymity to surface constructive truths that employees may hesitate to share otherwise. Plus, colleagues can give feedback without concern over negative professional consequences. 

When executed meaningfully, 360-degree feedback surveys supply clear, data-driven priorities for leadership development directly from an employee’s colleagues. These well-rounded insights provide a greater sense of purpose and accountability, allowing individuals to shape their professional journeys rather than passively receive top-down assessments.

The first step in using 360-degree feedback for leadership development is determining who could most benefit from visible, measurable feedback tied to business outcomes. The most obvious candidate may be a high-potential employee—receiving 360-degree feedback may be just the tool they need to accelerate this trajectory.

Others who may benefit are those transitioning from an individual contributor position to a managerial role. With regular 360-degree feedback, this type of employee may be able to course-correct any management competency gaps they were unaware of. The same is true for low performers. Surveys for 360-degree feedback can provide the insights needed for better goal setting and improvement, identifying any leadership training opportunities. 

Next, you’ll want to determine the criteria and competencies you’d like to evaluate through a 360-degree survey. Focus on five to eight competencies relevant to the employee's needs. You can also create an ideal skill profile and a set of competencies that track back to it. Whichever you focus your questions on, keep them observable and concrete so colleagues can easily draw upon examples from their own experiences.

Here are some example criteria to consider when developing your survey: 

  • Leadership skills: Strategic thinking and vision, modeling company values, leading and implementing change, demonstrating agility, and developing others professionally.
  • Communication skills: Presentation abilities, active listening, transparency, context setting, frequently relaying feedback. 
  • Collaboration: Proactively seeking cross-functional partnerships, demonstrating inclusivity, managing conflict skillfully, and building trust and confidence among colleagues.
  • Performance: Demonstrating good judgment, providing high-quality work, and encompassing strong problem-solving and decision-making abilities. 

Once you’ve determined the subject and criteria of your 360-degree feedback survey, it’s time to select assessors. The type of mix you select depends on the role of the employee under review, the competencies you’ve chosen to focus on, and the goals of your survey. 

For example, suppose you wanted to create a 360-degree feedback survey for a new manager. In that case, you might select peers who can evaluate their communication skills, direct reports who can assess their ability to nurture team development, and the employee’s immediate supervisor.  

Another best practice is to include a self-assessment as part of the 360- degree evaluation. This allows for a self-perception baseline, which can be compared against group perception aned uncover potential blindspots.

Now the fun begins. With the above elements in place, you can begin creating a thoughtful survey that is well-communicated and constructed for actionable, unbiased feedback. The following steps will get you there. 

  1. Create relevant questions: Your questions should match survey goals to effectively evaluate key competencies. For example, if you were evaluating how a manager nurtures team development, you could ask their direct reports how improved their performance is after getting feedback from the manager.
  2. Ask open-ended questions: In the above example, the question was not if the assessor’s performance is improved after receiving manager feedback, but how. This is an important distinction, as it allows the assessor to provide more color and context in their response.
  3. Avoid bias: Bias, or the tendency to encourage one outcome over others, has a way of sneaking into the surveys of even the most experienced researcher. There are many ways to avoid accidental survey bias, however. A few things to watch out for: leading questions, which involves inserting your opinion into the question; or loaded questions, that is, when respondents are persuaded to answer questions in a certain way because of how you worded the question. 

    Related: Common types of survey bias and how to avoid them
  4. Use a 360-degree feedback survey template: Don’t have the time to create a survey from scratch, or need more ideas to get the ball rolling? You can always use a purpose-built survey template as a starting point. The SurveyMonkey 360-degree employee evaluation survey allows you to choose expert-written sample questions with structure and methodology baked in. 
  5. Follow these two steps for sending out the survey: 1) Communicate the purpose of the survey and what the results will be used for, and 2) send the survey to the individual being evaluated for self-assessment, as well as to the people evaluating them. 

Schedule one-on-one time to discuss the survey results and collaborate with the individual on an action plan based on the insights—including leadership training. You may come across developmental themes, but be sure to allow space for the employee to interpret the findings themselves so that you can gain context before asserting your takeaways. 

It’s important to position 360-degree feedback as the beginning step of a continuous development journey, rather than a final verdict. Employees should feel empowered by a new sense of self-awareness, not limited by skill gaps that feel hard to overcome.

Conducting regular 360-degree feedback surveys as part of a leadership development program offers several advantages. Over time, the talent analytics you provide can inform HR teams to educate and inform current and future leaders better.

For the individual contributors, regular feedback supports continuous growth and keeps them motivated. The repetition of goal setting, self-reflection, and working through feedback gives employees tangible insights that allow them to benchmark against past performance.  

When executed thoughtfully, 360-degree feedback delivers undeniable value as a tool for leadership development. Unlike traditional, manager-driven performance data, multi-source feedback can reveal specific skill gaps, derailment risks, and blind spots that undermine individual and organizational success. By fully illuminating these hidden obstacles, top talent can reach their maximum potential, and companies can transform the employee experience.

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