It’s rare to really know what other people think of you. I mean, really, really know. Most of us will probably never get to know what our colleagues, managers, and other folks at work think of us and our behaviour. Unless that is, we do a 360° (degree) assessment. In this post, I review what 360’s really are and what they can be used for.

360°: The Basics

At its core, a 360° Assessment is a structured survey of perceptions. While regular surveys measure people’s attitudes, often about abstract topics like company climate or job satisfaction, a 360° Assessment focuses on how one person is perceived by others.

It’s important to note that a well-constructed 360° Assessment should target observable behaviour. Put another way, if you’re going to ask people what they think of someone else, it’s usually better and more accurate to ask them what they see that person doing, rather than what they guess that person might be doing.

An example: Look at these two questions:

  • Question 1: “To what extent does Paula know the company strategy?”
  • Question 2: “How often do you see Paula reference company strategy in meetings?”

Only the second question really asks us to report on visible behaviour, and is the kind of questions we’d generally include in a 360° Assessment.

Apart from the questions, the decision of who rates who is an important one in 360° assessments. Good 360°s tend to sample a wide range of raters, from managers to colleagues to subordinates. And of course, not just people who feel favourable to the person being rated! Good 360° systems tend to assist users in setting up this rating matrix in an easy, intuitive way.

Once the 360° assessment is launched, there’s a fair amount of monitoring and reminding that has to take place. Again, having a system that can do that for you is highly recommended.

Finally, the report generated from a good 360° assessment will be easy-to-understand and focus more on perception and perceptual differences than numbers. It’s a common mistake in 360° applications to over-emphasise numbers and scores — often leading to unfortunate consequences for participants.

360°s: What are they good for?

One of the best qualities of 360° assessments is their fantastic versatility. A well-constructed, well-applied 360° assessment can be used for all or some of the following:

  • Measuring a person’s leadership / professional brand in the organisation
  • Checking to see if employees are living the company’s value system in daily behaviour
  • Measuring the impact of organisational change on employee behaviour
  • Checking to see if an intervention, like training or coaching, has had a real impact on people’s behaviour
  • Helping someone understand their behavioural impact on others

The above is a small sample of what 360°s can be used for — in our experience, their uses are only limited by the imagination of the client!

An important auxiliary benefit of using 360° assessments is the way they reveal people’s levels of self-awareness. Self-awareness is an oft-cited element in successful leadership behaviour, and the 360° assessment is perhaps the only tool that provides a direct measure.

By analysing the gap between a person’s perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of their manager, colleagues, and subordinates, we gain insight into how self-aware he or she is, how in-tune he/she is with the way they come across to others. 360°s are therefore excellent measures of personal blind-spots.

Finally, we can collate individual 360° data into organisational reports. Across a range of individuals, 360° data can reveal how teams behave, how leadership actually manifests inside of an organisation, and how groups of people are perceived by others.

Tune in next week for more on this powerful, practical assessment tool!