360 Performance Review Process 2022 Guide

September 17, 2021

360 reviews are about more than peers providing feedback to an employee; it’s about gaining a holistic view of how each employee functions within their respective department and within the greater company. Getting this process right requires considering a host of factors: visibility, anonymity, nominations, staging, question types. The sheer number of variables can be daunting. 

PerformYard understands that nailing the process is key to the success of any 360 program. We have helped hundreds of organizations implement 360 review processes  that are effective and streamlined. 

Let’s take a look at some real-world tactics you can implement to run a successful 360 review process.

Why process is so important for 360s

Process is important for 360s, because employees are asked to provide feedback to colleagues who fall outside of their traditional work hierarchy. 

Instead of having a manager review a direct hire, employees from all different levels are providing feedback for other employees also at different levels within an organization. With each additional exchange beyond manager to direct hire, you increase the opportunity for conflict to arise. 

Some employees, fearing conflict, may be hesitant to write anything but positive feedback. Others, not versed in providing constructive feedback, may cause unnecessary conflict by providing poorly presented feedback.  

A focused 360 review process gives your employees a helpful guiding system to keep their feedback meaningful and useful. Process will help you generate better feedback, filter it, and present it in the most effective way.

With the risk of office friction, hurt feelings, wasted time, and strategic confusion; it is critical that we get the 360 review process right. 

Start with the purpose of 360s

When you’re building out your process, it’s important to keep the purpose of the 360 review cycle at the center. 

The true purpose of a 360 review is to give managers and employees a broader number of perspectives on performance. Through 360s, you collect a more diverse set of ideas about what employees are doing well and what they can improve on. Leadership, the manager and the employee get\ to see a fuller picture of their performance, rather than just a single opinion.

Often peers or supervisors will have a perspective on an employee that their manager does not. This perspective is often missed in a traditional review process, but picked up with a 360 review. 360s are especially useful for collecting perspectives when a manager is not always directly working with the employee, such as when employees work on project teams or have a cross-functional relationship with different departments.

Setting the purpose of surfacing diverse feedback will help guide the rest of our decisions, and ultimately help us get new perspectives and diverse ideas. 

Four key questions to answer

There are four key questions that your organization needs to answer to create your effective 360 process. Your answers should be unique to your organization so that your 360 review process can reflect your organization’s needs.

Getting the right answers to these questions is critical to building an effective 360 process. Be honest and be thoughtful. 

1. Who will see the feedback and reviewers? 

In the traditional review, the employee and manager are the only people who contribute to a review. With a 360 process, this is not necessarily the case -- peer reviewers include feedback. 

You need to decide how your employees will receive their 360 feedback. You can choose to present feedback raw, you can have managers or HR sign-off on feedback first, you can have managers filter the feedback, or you can even have managers read and summarize the feedback to their employee. Each of these options presents pros and cons.

Raw feedback, for example, allows employees to understand how their peers see their performance. However, it can exacerbate the effects of inappropriate comments and will likely present a less-than-clear picture of what the employee should focus on.

On the other hand, If the manager reads and summarizes the feedback and that’s all the employee sees, they may wonder how accurate a portrayal of the peer feedback the manager’s summary is.

You should make this decision based on how well your employees give and receive feedback. At a minimum, we’d suggest the manager or HR sign-off on all feedback and have the manager summarize everything into a cohesive narrative.

The second part of the question, as mentioned earlier, is whether employee feedback will be anonymous for the receiver. Making this decision often boils down to how well your employees have been trained in giving feedback. 

If employee feedback isn’t constructive and focuses too much on personality issues, then the feedback can cause conflict and distrust. We suggest that you present anonymous or summarized feedback until your employees have had a few review cycles to become acclimated to this holistic feedback approach. 

As you continue to train your employees, and they become more comfortable with 360 feedback, you can adjust the process to align with your company’s strategic vision.

2. How will you stage the process?

Unlike a simple manager review, 360 reviews include multiple steps in the process. It’s important to make sure you give yourself enough time to account for these additional steps.

Typically the process starts with a nomination period if necessary. Then peer and self-reviews are completed first, followed by sign-offs, the manager review, final sign-offs, and then a review meeting between the manager and employee. 

Consider the number of peer and manager reviews your employees will need to complete to determine a timeframe. 1-2 weeks is typically an appropriate amount of time for each employee to submit their reviews. Longer than that will result in a dragged out process. Besides, employees will typically wait until the last week anyway, so no need to give extra time to procrastinate!

Scheduling review meetings should be given the same amount of time: 1-2 weeks. This way, everyone can plan for and make time on their calendars for a dedicated review period, as opposed to haphazardly slotting people in over a month or longer.

Another important stage in the process is how the feedback form is presented to the employee. You could choose to present the completed feedback forms to the employee ahead of the review meeting. This allows the employee to read, digest and prepare for an effective conversation. It’s important not to share these forms too far ahead of the meeting, however, as a lot of important context will be shared during the discussion, and you don’t want employees to stew over misunderstandings. Less than 24 hours is a good time frame. 

Alternatively, you could present all the feedback forms after the meeting as support/summary of what was discussed. This puts the employee at a disadvantage and could result in less effective discussions. 

All of these stages add up, and adding unnecessary time into each stage can stretch a few review weeks into a review quarter. Be judicious with your timeline.  

3. What will you ask peer reviewers?

When creating review questions, remember that most peer reviewers are probably not trained to give accurately calibrated ratings or answer detailed competency questions.

That’s ok. That’s not the purpose of peer reviews. We’re not looking for a final determination from peer reviewers; we’re looking for more perspectives. Stick with high level questions that draw out details you won’t get from a manager review.

Some classic 360 questions are, “What does the employee do well? Share examples,” “What can the employee improve on? Support with examples,” and, “Share examples of how the employee lives up to x or y key values.” 

Always ask for specific examples as they keep reviewers focused on actions rather than opinions of character. Examples will increase clarity and reduce “she-said-he-said” if there is disagreement between peers.

As a general rule, a few open-ended and high level questions work best. A simple form keeps the process moving rather than bogging down employees who will often need to complete several peer reviews per cycle.

4. Who will review whom?

The selection of peers can be a challenge. Most employees will have one manager, which makes it easy to know who will complete the manager review. However employees can have many qualifying peers, so it becomes difficult to determine who reviews whom and who chooses these reviewers.

We’ve found that there are two variables you can use to easily determine who reviews whom: 

  • What are the criteria for qualifying peers?
  • How many peer review forms will each employee complete? 

Once you determine the answers to these two variables, you arrive at a much more manageable and stable pool of potential peer reviewers. 

A common approach is to give employees a fairly detailed list of criteria, and then let the employees nominate whoever they want peer reviews from who match the aforementioned criteria. Managers and HR will then check the nominations to ensure they are qualified before moving ahead.

When it comes to the volume of reviews, we believe that the number of peer reviews should be balanced based on how much you’re asking from each peer reviewer and how much feedback you want to solicit. We’ve seen companies do 10+ peer reviews per employee and use a very easy to fill out form. Other companies choose to do just 2-5 peer reviews and ask a bit more in the form.

Importantly, 360s reviews shouldn’t come from only peers. Because your purpose is to solicit diverse feedback, the most valuable perspectives could be from multiple supervisors, direct reports or even clients. Make sure that each employee has a balanced list of reviewers so that they get a holistic look at their performance.

The 360 review process step by step

You’ve answered your four key questions. Congrats! Now it’s time to set up your successful 360 review process. 
Let’s go through the steps together.

Step 1: Train reviewers

Letting your employees figure out how to give constructive feedback on their own can quickly turn into a nightmare with feedback that is vague, overly negative, or plain unhelpful. 

You should give your raters general guidance before the 360 surveys are sent out to ensure their feedback is productive. We have included an email template at the bottom of this article that provides some helpful feedback guidelines as well as links to some helpful resources. Feel free to borrow it!

When training reviewers, give models of good positive and negative feedback. Instead of focusing on who the employee is as a person, feedback should talk about specific actions and impacts. Reviewers should write specific examples for both positive and negative feedback. Negative feedback should include things employees can do better. Focus on actions, not personalities. 

It’s also important to explain why 360s are valuable to your organization. Take the time to show how 360s can be great for career development. When people know why they’re giving feedback, they’re more likely to give feedback you can use.

We believe that comprehensive training on feedback would be best -- such as an in-person or livestreamed presentation -- but even a short clear email at the start of the process will make a big difference.

Step 2: Nominate reviewers

Create clear nomination criteria and then carve out a separate time period for employees or their managers to nominate who will provide peer reviews. For small organizations, consider having HR complete the nominations if this is feasible.

Make sure you have a due date for nominations. You’ll need all the reviewers and reviewees determined before moving into peer reviews, so setting an early deadline will reduce the odds of a bottleneck in your process.

Don’t just assume the nominations will happen. Send reminder emails throughout the deadline week, and give yourself time to track down everyone who misses the deadline. Trust us, there will be people who miss the deadline. 

Lastly, build in some time for HR or managers to review the nominations before proceeding to the reviews.

Step 3: Launch the cycle

Do not go small on the launch. 

Everyone will be busy with their own work, and it’s easy to miss or ignore the launch of the review cycle if it’s confined to a single email. You need to amplify the message.

Jump into department meetings. Ask your CEO to send an all-company email. Send another email a week ahead of the launch to get people thinking about what they’ll write. Send another email with a short guide to giving feedback. Send an email the day before with an overview of the process. Finally, send an email the day of announcing the forms are live.

You’ll know the right balance for your organization, but don’t be afraid to go big. 

As the cycle progresses, don’t be afraid to keep sending updates and reminders even before the forms are overdue. Occasionally letting everyone know how many of their peers have already completed their forms and reminding them of the due date can keep your process top of mind.

Step 4: Collect feedback

Collecting feedback, passing along feedback, and alerting the next person in the process comprises one of the most critical, yet underlooked components in the 360 process. 

If you’re unprepared, this is where things will get clunky -- forms will get lost or delayed, and everything can get bogged down. In the worst case, reviewers may misunderstand the process and email a raw review form directly to the reviewee. Yikes!

To prevent this, HR should either create very clear guidelines for who employees need to pass forms to, or HR should act as the central dispatch, receiving and sending out the forms themselves. 

Either of these work great, but if you’re really looking to streamline your process, you should look into performance management software, which completes these steps automatically.

Step 5: Review/sign-off/analyze

After all feedback is collected, managers or HR should read each form to make sure the feedback lives up to the standards of your feedback training. Follow up on any conflicting or vague information. Managers should pay special attention to trends across multiple reviews, building a holistic view of the employee in question. 

Don’t skimp on this step. The manager should be prepared to help the reviewed employee interpret the feedback and understand how to best act upon it.

Step 6: Bring feedback together

Think about how you’d like to share the feedback with your employees. We’ve found that showing the feedback from multiple peer reviewers inline, along with a manager’s commentary, followed by a summary from the manager, makes all the feedback easier to understand for the employee. 

Step 7: Present feedback to employee

Shortly before an employee’s review meeting with their manager, send the employee a copy of their review forms. This gives the employee time to digest the feedback and prepare for the meeting. 

Not everyone is calm under fire, and if you present an employee with unexpectedly negative feedback in the meeting, they may get flustered and not be able to have a constructive conversation. After a few hours or even a day, everyone has had time to compose themselves and think about what they want to say.

On the other hand, it is best to not wait too long, as employees may stew on feedback without the ability to discuss this with a manager. 

But -- and this is important -- not all feedback is negative. A lot is positive! Many employees will receive positive and constructive feedback. Receiving this ahead of the in-person meeting will still allow the employee to focus on the points raised, and help ensure the conversation is productive. 

Step 8: Discuss feedback with employee

Set aside plenty of time to have a thorough discussion of the employee’s feedback. This meeting is what everything has been building towards. The result of a peer review is not a bunch of filled out forms — it’s an informed and productive discussion of past and future performance between a manager and employee. 

The manager should give the employee ample time to share their own thoughts on their performance and focus the discussion on how the feedback can be translated into productive future action. 

This is how employee development happens. A productive 360 review process will give an employee a clear view of their own standing in the organization as well as a strong path forward. 

360 Case Studies

Let’s take a look at some notable companies who implement 360s in their review cycle. Maybe one of these will end up being a great match for you!

Egg Strategy

Egg Strategy is a consulting firm that runs 360 reviews after every project. This results in a lot of 360s -- some employees can get upwards of thirty a year. The questions are qualitative and touch on specific qualities of participating in the project. The feedback had been anonymous, but Egg Strategy recently shifted to open feedback after they trained employees on delivering high quality feedback.

Five-Star Technology

Five-Star Technology is an IT consulting company that uses 360s as part of their annual review process. The peer feedback asks how employees live up to the six core values of the organization. Managers then go through a process called “qualitative coding,” where they compile quotes on each core value and then create a cohesive picture on the employee's performance. Sometimes, the lack of positive feedback around a core value can be very enlightening as to where deficiencies lie. 

J2 Interactive

J2 Interactive, a technology services firm, runs annual 360s. Each review cycle includes feedback from 5-10 people, such as account managers, peers, clients and direct reports. The feedback forms ask a few open-ended questions on examples of success and areas for improvement. All the feedback is reviewed by a manager and the employee’s mentor. These two people discuss the feedback with the employee in question. Following the meeting, the reviewers write up their summary of the feedback, discussion, and next steps.

Netflix

Netflix has a bold and famous 360 review process where anyone can review anyone else in the company. Employees use an online form to tell each other what they should stop, start, or continue. As an added layer of transparency, everyone up the chain of command has access to your 360 review.

This may seem like an extremely high-pressure way to collect feedback, but 360s are separate from compensation reviews. That way, no one worries about how their feedback will affect the pay of themselves and their coworkers. Netflix also has a hard-earned feedback culture that is regularly reinforced.

360s In PerformYard

PerformYard makes the 360 process streamlined and automated. Gone are the days of chasing down forms, emailing raw feedback to HR, and manually delivering the results to each manager. 

Now, HR can easily set permissions, quickly send reminders, collect feedback, and examine employee trends all in a single platform. 

Let’s take a quick look at how you can run your 360 process through PerformYard. 

Set up your cycle

Your HR team (or whoever is an admin in PerformYard) can quickly set up settings for each 360 review cycle. These settings, which will all be set before any reviewer even gets nominated, will cover every aspect of the 360 process. This means nominations, notifications, approvals, data collection, and feedback dissemination. The entire process is streamlined and set up in advance. 

Set up your nominations

PerformYard has four typical ways in which reviewers are selected. 

The first is by an employee requesting to review another employee. The second is by an employee requesting that another person review them. The third is for a manager to request that employee x review employee y. The last is that HR creates all the peer reviews.

HR has the ability to set permissions -- companywide -- that limit or expand who employees can request for reviews. Admins can also require manager or HR sign offs on each requested review, ensuring that each review is for a valid reason. 

What you’re doing here is delegating the nomination step down to the manager and employee level -- with guardrails put in place. Now, a manager and an employee can choose who are the correct reviewers for the 360 process, without having HR get bogged down in the process. 

Set up your due dates and reminders 

With your PerformYard admin account, you can quickly set up uniform due dates for every step of the process. Due dates for nominations? Check. Due dates for feedback? Check? Due dates for manager review? You can see where this is going. 

Every time an employee completes a step, this information is automatically recorded in PerformYard. But, sometimes employees forget (we’re all human!), and so reminders need to be sent. 
Not to worry, you can easily set reminder emails to go out whenever a due date is missed. These emails will contain a link directly to the form the employee needs to complete, helping reduce further delays. 

Set up your 360 forms

PerformYard has flexible 360 form templates that you can customize however you need for your organization. You can modify the form so that the peer review is different than the manager review, which is different than the self review. 

As a general rule, a few open-ended and high level questions work best. A simple form keeps the process moving rather than bogging down employees who will often need to complete several peer reviews per cycle

Once all your forms and permissions are set, it’s time to launch your cycle!

Launch the review cycle

Launch your 360 process! Once triggered, PerformYard will send an email to all employees containing links that will bring them directly to their next step in the process.

First, they’ll complete nominations. Once the nomination process has run its course, PerformYard will send another email launching the review portion. This email will have a link to where each employee completes their necessary reviews. 

As always, if anyone is behind in the process, PerformYard will send a reminder email, prodding them to finish their outstanding task. 

Manager review and sign off 

After all reviews have been completed, managers will gain access to the 360 feedback for each of their employees. From there, they will be prompted to review, summarize, or prepare the feedback as your organization sees appropriate. Additionally, managers will have access to peer review as they complete their own reviews of their employees. 

Once manager reviews and sign offs are completed, PerformYard will automatically disseminate the feedback to employees per the permissions you have established. 

We made it! 

And that’s it! Thanks to PerformYard’s streamlined review process, the entire 360 experience has been streamlined and formalized. All feedback is easily stored and accessed through one software, allowing admin and managers easy access to performance insights and metrics, making employee evaluations and development discussions more transparent and understandable. 

We’re pretty proud of how easy PerformYard makes the review process, and hopeful that you’ll partner with us in the near future!

360s Process Templates

360s are a bit daunting if you’ve never rolled one out before. To make their adoption easier, we’ve included two example templates below -- a training email template and a review questions template. Feel free to borrow these!

If you’re looking for an example timeline and a feedback guide for employees, be sure to download our free 360 degree process template.

Training reviewers template

This month, we’re kicking off our 360 review process. You will be asked to give open-ended feedback on your colleagues. As you write this feedback, please keep a couple of things in mind.

One, focus on actions, not personalities. Write about specific actions and impacts that you’ve seen from your colleagues.

Two, focus on the positives, but don’t forget the negatives. Suggest ways your colleagues can improve on their weaknesses.

Three, give helpful feedback. Simply writing “Jane does a good job” is not helpful for Jane. Why is Jane doing a good job? What should she continue doing?

An example of helpful feedback would be “Jane is doing a great job at connecting with customers. She is truly concerned for their well-being. I see this in the way she remembers their birthdays and other life events. Jane could do better at getting back to customers in a timely manner. Sometimes customers email me when Jane hasn’t replied to them in a few days.”

Review questions template

Manager Form

  1. How have you seen this employee perform well in the last year? Give three specific examples.
  2. What are three specific things this employee should work on in their performance? Give examples.
  3. How has your experience overall been working with this employee. Give examples.
  4. Is there any other information you wish to share?

Peer Form

  1. Share examples of when this employee contributed at a very high level.
  2. Share examples of when this employee could have done better.
  3. Would you always want to have this employee on your immediate team? (Yes/No)

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