Looking Deeper in Your Toolbox: Finding New Ways to Use a 360 Survey

Human Resources professionals use a variety of tools and have relationships with various partners and vendors in order to perform their jobs effectively. As leaders we sometimes find ourselves looking for the newest tool to introduce in our organization to address issues we come across. I challenge you to look deeper into the resources you have at your fingertips and think about alternate uses for tools you currently use. 

As a consultant it is important for me to develop creative ways to solve client’s challenges. I’d like to present 3 different ways a business can use a 360 besides a portion of the employee performance management process.

360 degree feedback systems have been around for a number of years. Their main purpose is to assist leaders in understanding how their management style is perceived by others they interact with and ultimately aid them in improving their overall effectiveness. In order to accomplish this, the 360 survey is given to an individual’s manager(s) or the person(s) to whom he/she reports to directly. It is also given to the individual’s direct reports and sometimes outside persons with whom the individual works with closely. In addition, the individual provides his/her own self-assessment. The 360 is a safe, confidential and reliable way for colleagues to provide feedback and the company gains valuable insight into current leadership, teams and even the overall health of the organization.

Typically the survey has about 30 questions and will usually take a feedback provider about 30 minutes to complete. Using a 360 degree feedback survey can provide clear, specific observation from several reliable sources.

The report will help people understand their true strengths and identify developmental opportunities better than any other learning tool or method. Learning experiences that include feedback produce significantly more change than learning experiences without.

Once the target reviews the report, it will give the leader some understanding of how his or her current practices may be ineffective or limiting and/or can be improved upon. It also gives the individual an opportunity to see where his or her strengths lie or where the behavior is within a range acceptable for the type of role.

This is the classic use for a 360 degree feedback tool. As a consultant I take the problem solver approach.  I am a solution provider when it comes to suggesting a valuable service to clients.  I listen carefully to what they describe as their challenges and offer objective solutions.  This can challenge me to think about how we can use the tools we currently have outside their traditional purpose. My goal is always to provide answers to people challenges clients inevitably face in the work environment.

I’ve used 360 degree feedback tools as a lead into training for managers and supervisors.  Good leaders ask for--and want--feedback from the people they interact with on a regular basis. It’s an ideal practice for open communication between manager and employee and shows that leaders are interested in what others think and are willing to use the information given to take action in improving themselves. In the instance of training, it becomes a clear guide as to where this person is experiencing gaps of knowledge and has room for growth. Those who participate in training sessions will develop more in-depth knowledge about themselves and can begin to develop a plan on where they should focus additional time and effort to be more effective leaders.

Additionally, I would suggest 360 surveys can be used as part of developing a succession plan. For example, I worked with a client who had a small, family owned manufacturing business. Having owned the business since its beginnings, it became a very successful company that grew to just over 50 employees. During that time different family members were involved in the business as leaders. When I met the owners, they were in the process of preparing the business for sale and transferring leadership from themselves to other family members. They were interested in having a third party use objective measures to assist them in choosing who would be the next best leader for the business. 

Several assessments and tests were administered to each the two candidates they were considering, including measures for critical thinking, numerical ability, emotional intelligence, personality and a 360 degree feedback survey. After the results came in and were summarized by our psychologist, we provided the results to each of the candidates. The comments both of the candidates made about the process were consistent in that they both thought all measures were important to them but the most valuable and enlightening were the results of their 360 surveys. It was very clear to them how others perceived their performance.  This made the greatest impact on them going forward in making changes that influenced others and the business in a more positive fashion. In the end, the family member chosen as the next in line to lead the business was provided a personal coach. They created a development plan in order to address what they learned from their assessments, including the 360 feedback results.

In another instance our firm administered a 360 degree feedback tool for conflict resolution between a nurse and a physician at a medical practice. It was a classic situation of “he said, she said”. Initially we discovered there were no witnesses to the events that led to the conflict. The nurse and the physician was each given assessments for personality and emotional intelligence in order to gain a deeper understanding of their types. Then a 360 tool was used to gain insight from others including themselves.  Following the assessments, each of them met with an industrial organizational psychologist to review the results of the assessments and the 360. Next, the consultant stepped in and met with both the physician and the nurse separately for a discovery interview. The consultant was seeking revelation on their perceptions and emotions behind the conflict and wanted to hear each side of the story. One significant result, which was revealed following the 360 survey, impacted the results. The 360 revealed that another staff member who contributed to the 360 survey, witnessed the conflict event. Although this person never stepped forward, the feedback received markedly changed the direction of the investigation. In the end, the results included a substantial change in policy and procedure as well as changes in the staff at the practice.

When you are looking for a new tool to solve a workplace challenge, consider one you may already have in your back pocket. Your 360 can be more versatile than you think. It’s helpful to use a third party to administer the survey in order to keep the process anonymous. This is important for participants to know in order to collect the most accurate responses.


Contact Lauri Flanagan directly at Lauri@mrgpeople.com for more information on 360’s or to ask a question about your own organizational challenges.

We are happy to help.