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A guide for researching and selecting a 360 assessment company

Can you think of anything more exciting than settling in to begin the deep dive research necessary in choosing your next 360 assessment vendor? Get ready for the seemingly never-ending lists of pros and cons. Checklist after checklist created, updated, sent around to the team, updated again, rinse and repeat. Just imagine the must-have feature sets headed your way. Oh, and these will change weekly. Yep, let the fun begin!

All Vendors are not created equal

In recent years, it seems as if 360 assessment companies are popping up overnight, with little experience in the field. As you can imagine, this oftentimes leads to less than stellar results and leaves behind a bad impression of 360 feedback. This is truly unfortunate since 360 feedback, done properly, has a real opportunity to generate positive change within an organization.

Consider the following as you begin your research.

  • Subject matter experts on hand: Oftentimes, these individuals have a background in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, and can help ensure that the competencies being measured are relevant to the leadership roles being evaluated, as well as align with the client’s values and vision statement.
  • Quality 360 assessments: It can take years to develop and test a 360 that truly measures what it intends to measure. Assessments should be reliable and role-specific, focusing on behaviors that are observable and trainable.
  • Customization should be expected: Organizations are unique, and should be treated as such. 360 assessment companies should be willing to customize the assessments and processes to meet your organization’s needs, all while following best practices to ensure a successful 360 assessment program.
  • Experience counts: The old adage is often true, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur. 360 assessments and the multi-rater process requires a unique set of variables that are best handled by a company that has experience with the many facets of 360 feedback and best practices.
  • Coaching resources: A qualified coach can help defuse emotional responses, putting the feedback in context of their role and environment. The coach can also be a competent sounding board to help organize key priorities and brainstorm next steps to navigate the challenges the individual is facing, ultimately leading them down the road of behavioral improvement. 360 feedback without some form of coaching or training is seldom, if ever, successful.
  • Guidance and Support: Consider seeking out a vendor that will not only give you the level of control you desire, but also help guide you through the entire process from beginning to end. A support team should be available to help manage the process, field questions, and address technical issues at any point in the process and in a timely manner.

360 Feedback Reporting Considerations

Off-the-shelf vs. Custom

Whether you need off-the-shelf or custom reporting make sure the vendor can support your current and future reporting needs. If you’re moving an existing assessment or creating a new one and you do not have specific report requirements then an off-the-shelf option could be a good fit. It would be a good idea to ask the vendor for samples and have them talk through how the data in your report would be presented and how it would look in terms of style. If you want to maintain brand continuity and user experience then make sure the vendor can match your report, or at least replicate the charts and data views that make your solution unique.

Types of Reports: Traditional vs. Interactive

PDF Report

The PDF report has served the 360 feedback industry exceptionally well for decades. They can be full color with stunning visual displays of 360 assessment data and can also include development plans, resources and links. However, the length, density, and static nature of PDFs can sometimes present challenges to coaches and participants. PDF 360 assessment reports are linear, creating limitations, and sometimes sacrifices what should be shown in order to reduce length and file size.


360 assessment report dashboards give you the ability to sort and toggle between different types of scoring, and turn on or off data, giving greater control to the user and more data views than a PDF can allow. Having the ability to choose the data you want to focus on is one of the most important features that is usually inherent with reporting dashboards, giving way to a dynamic experience that is unique.

Regardless of which reporting direction you opt for the data should be clearly presented so that the participant and coach can easily identify development opportunities and spot YOY trends.

360 Software Features and Security

There are many types of survey software available on the market. Some excel at performance management, while others focus on market research or customer satisfaction.

Choosing software built specifically for the 360 feedback arena will ensure you’ll have all of the flexibility and robust feature sets needed to support the administration and participant related tasks that are typical of managing development 360 degree feedback initiatives.

Administrative Features to Expect

  • Easy project setup and kick-off.
  • Deadline control at the group level or for individual participants.
  • Various ways to track participant and rater survey progress through the software or by email.
  • Rater approval by a supervisor, coach, or administrator, if needed.
  • Report delivery control by an administrator, coach, or facilitator.
  • Integrated credit system if you want to prepay without the hassle of invoicing.
  • Rights managed software, allowing for hands-off or hands-on control depending on your needs.

Participant Features to Expect

  • Each step of the feedback process is clearly defined through an intuitive interface.
  • Real-time return rates of rater completion to track progress and remind raters.
  • Online development planning to help ensure goal completion.
  • Development resources, if available, are easily accessed to help with development planning.
  • Custom “pulse check” surveys can be created focusing on competencies most important to the participant’s development goals.
  • Interface is translated in the most common languages.

Integration and Security

The 360 assessment solution you choose should allow you to focus on your core business while the vendor focuses on theirs: serving up a reliable platform in a secure environment. The vendor should stay on top of the technology so you don’t have to. If you already have an existing Talent Management Platform, integration services should be available to provide seamless integration with the major platforms, as well as offer “Single Sign On” (SSO) capabilities. And on the security front, a comprehensive Security Management system should be in place that addresses all aspects of data privacy and security, including encryption, Intrusion Prevention & Detection (IPS/IDS), access control, and regular vulnerability testing.

360 Assessment Implementation and Management

When launching a new 360 assessment program, many companies focus solely on the 360 content and the technology (both critical factors) but too often fail to place sufficient attention on the actual design and implementation of the program itself.

Regardless of the quality of the assessment, the way in which a 360 program is designed and implemented will have a direct impact on the overall success of the initiative.

To ensure your 360 assessment program provides maximum value, it’s important to focus on a few key components.

  • Agree on the fundamentals: The first step is to determine the key tenets of your 360 program. For example, what is the goal of your 360 assessment program? Will the 360 be required or optional? How will the results be used? What support or coaching will be provided to participants?
  • Find the right 360 feedback assessment: The focus here should be around reliability and relevance. Think: “One size fits none.” In the world of 360 assessments, custom surveys tend to perform best and at the very least you should look for level or role specific assessments. Ultimately, you want an assessment that is highly reliable and one that measures behaviors that are relevant to a given role.
  • Communication and Change Management: Preparing your population for a 360 is extremely important to ensuring the feedback is accurate and is acted upon. The goals of the program, the process, what the participant is accountable for, all these should be addressed in a communication plan.
  • The 360 Degree Assessment Process: It’s important to consider how the process itself will be rolled out and supported. For example, identifying process owners, key stakeholders and administrators helps structure the ownership of the program. The rollout itself should also consider other areas, like coordinating rollout volume with the availability of coaching resources, or to consider scheduled stages to avoid rater fatigue.
  • Leveraging the results: Perhaps the most critical component of a 360 assessment program is how the results are leveraged. Ideally, each participant receives one-on-one coaching either through an internal or external coach. Also consider requiring the participants to build an action plan and share it with their direct manager/supervisor. The organization should also review aggregate reports to identify broader trends and development opportunities.

Bottom line it for me

The biggest takeaway from all of this is there’s a lot to consider when choosing your new potential long-term assessment partner. After all, 360 assessment initiatives are not typically one-and-done events, but rather an ongoing and strategically important piece of the training and development puzzle. Increased job satisfaction and team morale, coupled with lower turnover and improved performance, are just some of the reasons that almost every Fortune 500 deploys 360s in some fashion. In short, there’s a lot riding on your selection decision. You must choose, so choose wisely. No pressure.