The 7 Pitfalls of 360 Reviews (& How to Avoid Them)

November 2, 2016

Companies and organizations have excitedly adopted the 360 review model as a viable means to provide employees with actionable feedback. While this model is designed to help employees develop new business and interpersonal skills, it can fall short if survey creators are not careful.

If your company is embracing the 360 review model, be aware of the following pitfalls and take the necessary steps to fix them so you and your employees can get the most out of the process.

The biggest problems you may face are:

  1. Non-constructive feedback
  2. Not enough executive buy-in
  3. Poorly defined processes and questions
  4. Too narrow a focus
  5. Lack of development plan
  6. Too much negativity
  7. Confidentiality issues

Once you get the hang of this type of feedback system, your employees and company stand to achieve great insight that will, ideally, benefit everyone involved.


1. Feedback Gets Personal—Too Personal

First of all, whether your company relies on 360 reviews or more traditional feedback models, it’s going to struggle with employees that take criticism too personally.

Even so, a company definitely needs to make sure that staff participants are completely aware of the purpose of the feedback and instructed to focus on constructive professional criticism. Tact among your staff is essential and a lack of it could be a decided pitfall during your feedback sessions.

Be sure to remind your team before and after the reviews that their point is to build staff members up and not tear them down, which is detrimental to them and the organization. We recommend supplying concrete examples of constructive feedback and unconstructive criticism.


2. Too Little Participation From the Boss

It’s inevitable that programs designed to include the boss or upper management fail when those higher level employees refuse to participate.

While human resources staffers can push the 360 review paradigm, they’re going to struggle without the support of management. If the boss doesn’t participate, many employees may begin to view the program as less important than a system of feedback where the boss participates.

To enhance the success of your organization’s 360 reviews program, ensure that the boss and upper management team have buy in, are invested, and are willing to commit to the system.


3. Poorly Defined Process and Vague Questions

While there are several guides, tools, and resources available for companies interested in implementing the 360 review process, all are not equal. If your company is using a tool that contains vague questions and a poorly defined process, it’s going to miss out on the real opportunities available from this model to garner helpful insight.

Take time to explore various 360 review models and resources. Moreover, don’t be afraid to amend some platforms in order to customize them for your particular environment.

In addition, you can write your own guide for assisting employees during the review process. You’ll naturally want the process of your program to be clear and to include questions designed to elicit the most insightful feedback.


4. Too Much Focus on the Individual

With the 21st century’s intense focus on team playing and the development of team-enhancing skills, a focus on the individual could become problematic when you’re trying to adopt the 360 reviews model.

Even so, companies can still apply the 360 reviews model to individual teams within their company as well as individuals. To best correct what could be an unhelpful pitfall, companies should instruct reviewers to include feedback for the individual that is made within the context of their team involvement. Basically, bring more focus onto how that person can better work within the team.

If your employees feel too singled out, revisit your reviewers’ questions so that they target strategies for enhancing team development.


5. Lack of Development Plan or Strategy

Getting feedback is all well and good, but when there’s no actionable help for employees, they may feel a bit stuck.

A good development plan based on employee feedback can lead to the positive growth companies are looking for. In fact, that’s the real point of the 360 review model—to promote positive growth and development among employees. Without a plan to move forward, there’s likely to be little change.

To fix this problem, companies can even request that each employee creates their own plan based on the feedback they’ve encountered. They can then participate in a follow-up interview with their supervisor to go over this plan and discuss how to put it in place. In this way, the plan becomes a major focus of the entire process.


6. Carried away with Negativity

It does sometimes happen that staff members view their review session as the ideal time to “unload” on their colleague. This is unfortunate because an overtly negative session can reflect poorly on the program and prevent the positive feedback from spurring healthy growth and change.

First, staff members need to be aware that some negative feedback has its place—certainly if it’s true. If a staff member is taking too many personal calls, for example, it’s definitely ok to tell them if this is interrupting work flow or creating an issue for others.

On the other hand, it’ important to follow-up with something positive so no employee feels picked on. This same employee might be amazing at diffusing workplace conflicts or is always willing to stay late.

In essence, reviews should aim to be balanced if they’re to create a positive impact on each employee.


7. Confidentiality Goes Out the Window

When multiple staff members weigh in on employee performance, there is a valid concern among employees that their review and data will not remain confidential. To avoid fears about confidentiality breaches, it’s vital to ensure employees up front that their collective reviews will remain confidential

In other words, the entire staff will not have access to any other review than the one they provided themselves. The point of these reviews is not to embarrass anyone, but to promote positive growth. If confidentiality is breached, than that’s going to be a major pitfall for your 360 degree review program.

Take steps to outline your process so that confidentiality remains a major priority for your program.


Set Yourself Up for 360 Review Success

360 review programs can offer employees considerable insight that leads to improved growth as communicators and professionals, but the program can have its drawbacks if it succumbs to the pitfalls outlined here.

If you can avoid these pitfalls (and you can!) and fix them using the tips provided, your company will benefit from this model in some extraordinary ways that lead to a strong employee team.

The Alchemer 360 Review Package is the place to start. With a full library of pre-populated, customizable questions, easy administration, and more, Alchemer takes much of the pain out of 360 reviews.

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