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What is a “360 Degree Feedback Survey” (and how does it differ from a “Performance Review”)?

In this post we’ll talk about the what, why and how of “360 Degree Feedback Surveys” (aka “Multi-Source-Feedback Surveys” / “MSF Surveys”), and how they differ from “Performance Reviews”. 

Let’s start with the difference

360 Degree Feedback” or “Multi-Source-Feedback” (MSF) is a process designed to give a leader (the “ratee”) feedback from specific groups of individuals – usually their manager(s), peers and direct reports (the “raters”).

The input from these multiple sources can give insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the leader, and can help in creating a leader’s development plans.

Performance reviews” on the other hand are processes in which an individual’s performance is examined with an eye toward determining their level of success in obtaining stated goals within a certain review period.

Some organizations do supplement the performance review alongside, or within, a 360 degree process – but best practice suggests that 360 reviews and performance reviews are best administered as separate and distinct processes.

Hidden Gems and Blind Spots

One component of a 360 Degree Survey that further differentiates it from a Performance Review is the discovery of:

  • Hidden Gems” – areas where the leader is significantly stronger than they think they are.
  • Blind Spots” – areas where the leader believes that they are more capable than others believe them to be.

Best practices for running a 360 Degree Survey


If the 360 degree feedback process is new to your organization you’ll need to prepare leaders and employees in advance – making sure that everyone understands the process, what is expected of them, and how it will benefit them.

This includes explaining:

  • the role of the ratee
  • the role of raters
  • matters around privacy and confidentiality. This is a particularly critical component of the process, and using a third party can be helpful here. One way or the other details on how privacy and confidentiality are being maintained should be communicated to all participants.

Rater sample selection and size

Clearly you need to have as large a group of raters as is possible in order to:

  • gather as many opinions as possible, from as wide a group as possible
  • prevent one or two raters from “running the show”
  • help preserve the anonymity of the raters

That said, you obviously don’t want to be asking the opinions of individuals who do not interact with the leader at a sufficient level that they can provide meaningful input.

Maintaining the raters’ privacy

Leaders/ratees should not try to communicate with respondents/raters after the survey is completed, but respect their anonymity and make no effort to identify individuals.

The survey questions

Survey questions should be clearly focused and specific on the set of skills, competencies, or behaviors that matter to the organization and to the leader’s role.

Again, the 360 degree process is not designed as a performance review, but rather as a way to provide an individual with feedback on their leadership competencies and skills in order to create development plans.

(For tips on HOW to ask and structure the survey questions themselves, you can refer to our other Employee Survey Pro Tips, such as Pro Tip Series 20 – “Double-Barrel” questions – what are they and how do I avoid them?

Post-survey coaching

Assistance should be provided to help participants learn how to:

  1. interpret the results
  2. relate the results to their career and performance goals
  3. use these results to assist in the creation of a solid development plan.

This can be provided internally or through external leadership coaching.

This is an ongoing process

Leadership skills are learned and developed over time, and organizations should consider repeating this process every 12 to 24 months so that participants can:

  1. measure progress
  2. identify ongoing issues and new development requirements
  3. and then adjust their development plan as needed.

As a result development plans should include both specific activities and timing.


  1. Communicate details on roles and confidentiality to all participants before starting the survey process.
  2. Recruit as many raters as possible, given that they need to know the ratee well enough to give valid and constructive feedback.
  3. Keep survey questions focused on specific skill sets, competencies, and behaviors that matter to the organization and to the leader’s role.
  4. Search out and communicate “hidden gems” and “blind spots” in the results.
  5. Maintain privacy and the confidentiality of all participants during AND after the process.
  6. Make coaching available to help the ratee in interpreting the results.
  7. Keep in mind that this is an ongoing, iterative process.

Hope this was of help, but as always give us a shout if you would like to discuss!

Next up– the first of our 4-part series on question scales: Pro Tip Series 24 – What question scales should I use, Part 1 – Odd or even?

Thanks for reading, and if you’re interested in discussing a survey for your organization call us at 1-604-219-7876, email us at [email protected], or just book a discovery call for a one-on-one chat.

We love to engage in curious conversation! Grab a time on my calendar if you’d like to elaborate more on this topic or anything else
Maureen Simons

Maureen Simons is a senior human resources and communication consultant with over 25 years of experience helping clients achieve their business and organizational objectives through their people. (Linkedin)

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Adam Hunter has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and 35+ years of technical and programming experience, resulting in a broad mix of analytical, statistical, project-related and business skills. (Linkedin)