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How to Implement an Organizational 360 Feedback Initiative

How to Implement an Organizational 360 Feedback Initiative

Feedback collected from a 360-degree assessment is a powerful tool for learning and, more importantly, development. By understanding leaders’ current effectiveness, as well as their potential, you can set the stage for organizational success.

Any development as a leader begins with an open and honest assessment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

By integrating 360 assessments into their talent management plan, organizations can help identify what’s most important in order to attain their strategic goals. The correct implementation of 360 feedback assessments should improve an organization’s financial performance, strengthen its existing talent, and enhance its leadership pipeline for the future.

Depending on your company, large-scale, 360-degree feedback at an organizational level could be the catalyst you need to align leaders, create a sense of urgency for new business strategy, and ensure quick execution. Organizational 360-degree feedback could also serve as the starting point for a successful coaching program focused on change.

How to Roll Out a 360 Feedback Initiative

Take the following 5 steps to successfully roll out this powerful tool for leadership development.

1. Articulate your purpose and strategy.

The use of 360s has become so pervasive these days that if your company is not currently using one, it might feel as if you’re missing out. But if you don’t make a strategic decision about what you want to accomplish with 360, you won’t know if your investment made any difference.

If you’ve heard any horror stories about 360-degree feedback initiatives that simply fell flat, know that research shows that when 360s fail, it’s usually because of botched implementation, not the tool itself.

So before you start, consider how a 360 feedback initiative connects to your business strategy and to your talent strategy. Be sure to answer these questions:

  • Why do you need this? What business problem are you trying to solve, and how will a 360 help you?
  • Why right now? What’s made this a priority?
  • Who is it for? Who will be receiving the 360 feedback? Why is it critical that this targeted group be included to best solve your business problem?
  • What outcomes do you expect?

You’ll want to consider and plan exactly how you’re going to use 360 feedback for leadership development at your organization in the future.

In addition to working closely with an assessment vendor to choose the right 360 assessment for your business needs, ensure whatever assessment is selected aligns with your organization’s competency model and business outcomes. Ask about research-based content, assessment philosophy, and the level of support that will be provided through the implementation. Senior HR leaders should define the metrics and then work with other senior executives to ensure alignment.

2. Get organized.

Implementing a 360 initiative is inherently labor-intensive. Despite technological advances in data collection and reporting, a lot of human beings have to do what they’re supposed to do for this to work well.

When you’re planning the rollout of a 360 feedback initiative, consider carefully both the “when” and the “who:”

  • When: Keep in mind other dates that impact your organization and employees. Make sure you’ve considered major holidays and meetings. And avoid rolling it out during the yearly talent review.
  • Who: Consider who will be involved, both in terms of rolling out the 360 initiative, and participating in it:
    • Project manager: Often a senior-level Human Resources staff member, this person has overall responsibility to select an appropriate 360 assessment, schedule the calendar, and make decisions about the way the feedback will be delivered and the kind of follow-up that will occur. In consultation with others, this individual is the master planner.
    • Project administrator: The project administrator has the hands-on responsibility for logistics such as distributing, monitoring survey return status, and answering questions from participants. In smaller initiatives, the project manager and project administrator may well be the same person, but at larger organizations, this may be a more junior person in HR or Talent Management.
    • Participants: Start small, run a pilot, and then address the larger numbers. Make sure that the first person and the last person going through the process will have the same high-quality experience. Target people who will appreciate an opportunity to receive 360 feedback. Don’t set up unnecessary processes or rules for everyone to safeguard against that single employee who might be resistant.

Also, the support of senior management is invaluable. For best results, ask these key stakeholders to agree to be the pilot group. They’ll help set the proper tone as they share their experiences and their 360 feedback throughout the organization. “Going first” also sends a strong signal that they respect the process and that 360 isn’t something they’re going to do to other people.

If it’s not possible to start with senior management, be clear on why you’ve chosen the beginning participants.

Infographic: How to Implement an Organizational 360 Feedback Initiative

3. Build trust.

An organizational culture of psychological safety, trust, and openness helps people feel secure in providing authentic 360 feedback. It’s important to create clarity from the beginning. Ensure that the outcomes are clear, and that you’ve addressed confidentiality of data and anonymity of rater responses. (Raters are the people invited by the participant to complete the 360 feedback survey. At CCL, with our assessments, feedback ratings from groups such as direct reports and peers of the participant are anonymous, while feedback ratings from the boss or other superiors are typically not anonymous.)

Whatever your 360 initiative, avoid the unnecessary dilemmas about who will “own” and “see” the 360 feedback data.

4. Gain support.

As you plan to roll out your 360, remember that implementing the initiative requires a strong communication plan. To create a positive, sustainable impact, be sure administrative roles and processes are clear. Create a realistic timetable, and communicate.

Simply sending bland email communications to all employees about the unveiling of a new program is ineffective. It’s essential that a new 360 feedback initiative be announced in a compelling and unique way that fosters engagement. Look beyond communicating about the new program and instead treat it as an internal marketing campaign that features several aspects of the program’s benefits.

Participants, managers, and other raters need to understand the purpose and exactly what they’re expected to do. Make sure individuals know how best to approach collecting 360 feedback.

5. Connect to development.

Be sure that everyone involved knows that assessment isn’t development.

Receiving, evaluating, and discussing a 360 feedback report is assessment. But development is what happens afterward — and development is what matters most to organizations. For the organization and the individual to maximize the effectiveness of 360 feedback, there needs to be a process for creating a development plan, as well as support and follow-through. Make sure participants know how to understand what their 360 results really mean and have a framework for setting and achieving development goals.

You’ll maximize the ROI potential of the 360 initiative if you plan for follow-up. Insightful 360 feedback combined with a coaching experience can extend the learning. A private one-on-one session between participants in a feedback initiative and a trained facilitator can enhance the impact of the 360 feedback process. The facilitator reviews the feedback report prior to the session. Depending on the time available, the facilitator is able to help the participant understand the data and take steps toward creating an action-oriented development plan.

Not all organizations have the budgets to continue paying coaches for ongoing support. If that’s the case, your HR department could fill in these gaps to provide the necessary follow-up.

360 Feedback: Credentials and Confidence

If you’re looking to introduce 360s in your organization, replace a current tool with a targeted or customized tool, or want to become a 360 feedback facilitator to help your participants get the most from their assessment data, our Assessment Certification Course is a smart first step.

From this program, you’ll gain the knowledge you need to structure, design, and implement a successful 360 feedback initiative.

Our goal is to give you the confidence that you can do this. We spend a lot of time defining and addressing 360 implementation issues — the common mistakes and typical organizational challenges. You’ll also get plenty of time to practice and ask questions.

Our certification program covers:

  • Various ways 360-degree assessments can be used.
  • How to read and interpret 360 feedback from our research-based, validated, and client-tested instruments.
  • Giving effective feedback, including opportunities to practice and observe 360 feedback sessions.
  • Development planning — how to link report data to an action plan.

We know you need to be wise about how you spend your training and development dollars, which is why a well-chosen, well-implemented 360 feedback process is one of the most powerful and cost-effective strategies for developing your leaders.

Tips for Successfully Implementing a 360 Feedback Initiative at Your Organization

Implement a successful 360-degree by:

  • Making an investment in the process.
  • Aligning the 360 with business needs.
  • Getting senior management buy-in.
  • Planning carefully.
  • Communicating widely.
  • Selecting the right vendor.
  • Measuring the right things.
  • Using the process to leverage developmental activities.

For even more tips, view our webinar on Maximizing the Impact of 360 Assessments.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

We can partner with you to create a custom 360 feedback initiative for your organization. Learn more about designing, implementing, and facilitating 360 feedback using our world-renowned leadership assessments, and get certified to deliver them with our Assessment Certification Course, which certifies coaches, consultants, and HR leaders to facilitate our industry-leading Benchmarks® 360 assessments suite, and the straightforward and simple-to-use Skillscope® leadership skills assessment.


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September 4, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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