360 Feedback Vendor Selection

Choosing a 360 degree feedback vendor should be a deliberate and well-researched process. Today many 360 degree feedback companies are popping up overnight and creating 360 surveys with little experience in the field. Such companies may not offer sound products and services, resulting in a poor ROI and leaving a bad impression of 360 Feedback. This is unfortunate because 360s were created to generate positive change within an organization by focusing on confidential career development of its leadership talent.

Facilitating an environment that encourages self-development leads to job satisfaction and better performance for the company. This also minimizes turnover and the costs associated with replacing employees. Overall, 360s help assure that managers and leaders are being responsive to their teams and colleagues – uncovering needs that they otherwise might not have discovered without an effective 360 degree feedback program.

Consider the following as you begin your research.

  • Confidential development: To achieve a successful 360 feedback program, 360s need to be conducted for the right reasons. It should be used for developmental and not appraisal purposes. The two purposes are incompatible.
  • Quality 360 degree feedback tools: It can take years to develop and test a 360 that truly measures what it intends to measure. Assessments should be reliable and clearly focused, targeting the roles of organizations today.
  • Customization should be expected: The majority of organizations have their own unique needs whether it’s company culture, terminology, or a unique set of competencies. A quality 360 degree feedback vendor should be willing to customize 360 feedback assessments and processes to meet your organization’s needs, all while following best practices to ensure a successful 360 feedback program.
  • Experience does count: 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.
  • Training and development: Make sure that follow-up training programs accompany the 360 program. This can be done through one-on-one coaching, or group facilitation. 360 feedback without training is seldom, if ever, successful. A good training program will increase the likelihood of a solid return on investment.
  • 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 Degree Feedback Tool Research

A quality 360 feedback vendor should have subject matter experts on hand that specialize in competency building & analysis. 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.

360 assessment items to consider.

  • Survey reliability: 360 degree feedback instruments need to be tested for reliability and validity. This means the 360 should measure what it proposes to measure, consistently and accurately. A well-researched instrument will also be normed against a statistically valid database
  • All questions are not alike: Survey questions should be clearly focused and specific around a particular set of skills, competencies, or behaviors. Competencies can be improved through proper training and coaching; personality attributes can be changed only through long-term counseling.
  • Anonymity: Rater anonymity is key to the success of a 360 feedback program. Ensure you are choosing an instrument that guarantees confidentiality (including the open-ended comments). Anonymity will lead to more honest and open feedback from the raters.
  • Don’t choose on cost alone: Low-cost is a false economy when purchasing a 360 feedback instrument. It takes years to develop a good one. There are many instant “experts” on 360 degree feedback that generate custom questionnaires overnight. View 360s as an investment in the organization’s future performance.
  • Reassessment: As useful as it is to take a 360 the first time, it’s the 2nd and 3rd times when progress can be measured. Choose a 360 program that allows you to compare scores over time, knowing that continuous improvement requires constant measurement.
  • Order is important: If competencies are randomly ordered there is a missed opportunity to capitalize on the importance of the work process sequence which is how competencies are commonly practiced. Organizing competencies based on a work flow sequence can help the participant prioritize development.
  • Customization should be expected: Assessments should be customized to meet your organization’s unique needs. Customization can be as simple as adapting an existing assessment, creating one from a library of competencies, or authoring one from scratch. It’s important to note that customization is common but it should be done while maintaining reliability of the assessment.

360 Feedback Reporting Considerations

PDF Report

The PDF report has served the 360 degree feedback industry exceptionally well for decades. They can be full color with stunning visual displays of 360 feedback 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 feedback reports are linear, creating limitations, and sometimes sacrifices what should be shown in order to reduce length and file size.


360 feedback 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.

Consider the following dashboard features.

  • Drill down into score details from a summary level data view by simply clicking on data points
  • Easily turn rater groups on and off to tune out the noise and focus on specific sets of data
  • Toggle back and forth between scores and sort Highest to Lowest, Lowest to Highest, or by Competency order
  • Easily spot YOY development trends. Compare current scores with previous scores for each rater group, both at a summary level and question level
  • Many data views possible while the perception of length or size of the report is not affected.

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 degree feedback arena will ensure you’ll have all of the flexible and robust features 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.
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 tech 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.
The 360 survey software used should be fully secure and preferably in an environmentally controlled facility with enterprise grade network & application security. 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 Feedback Implementation and Management

When launching a new 360 degree feedback 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 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 degree feedback 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 feedback, 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 Feedback 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 degree feedback 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.