Benchmark Survey Reveals Vast Differences in 360-Degree Feedback Program Implementation -- 3D Group Releases “Current Trends in 360-Degree Feedback” Covering Eighteen Industries

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360-degree feedback has been used by businesses for decades to provide valuable information about individual performance. 3D Group's benchmark survey gives insights into today's usage amongst some of the world's leading companies. While it is clear that this process is a critical tool for assessing manager talent, no one best way to design and implement a 360-degree feedback program has emerged.

Organizations are seeking to provide more information to their management teams about their overall effectiveness, and are using various measurement tools, including multi-rater or 360-degree feedback surveys. A new study of nearly 100 North American companies that use 360-degree feedback, has found these programs vary widely in how they are designed – including survey content, selection of raters, use of feedback and the decision-making process – and in how they are administered.

360-degree feedback involves gathering data and performance perceptions from the people reporting to you, the people within the organization who are your customers, your suppliers, and the manager(s) you report to. 3D Group, a human resource (HR) consulting firm specializing in 360-degree feedback, discovered widely differing practices in its updated and expanded version of their 2002 benchmark survey.

“While 360-degree feedback has become a standard practice for assessing manager effectiveness, it is not administered in a uniform way and it is not used for the same purpose across organizations,” said Dale Rose, Ph.D., co-author of the study and co-founder of 3D Group. “We found that many companies use results from360-degree feedback for both professional development and administrative purposes, while some integrate the information into processes such as succession planning, training planning and performance management. Although 78% of companies said they use survey results for professional development, only 17% use the data for individual development only.”

Another interesting finding in this day of increasing online access was that while web-based surveys have significantly improved the efficiency of processing 360-degree feedback data, more than half of companies interviewed still use paper surveys. "It seems not all employees in every company have access to Internet surveys," says Dr. Rose.

As part of its ongoing research, 3D Group conducted its most recent survey during 2003 using standard interview protocol modified based on a 2002 study. Telephone interviews consisted of fifty-four open-ended questions, which covered the interviewee’s role in their organization’s 360-degree feedback program, the development process of the 360-degree feedback tool, characteristics of the surveys used, process for delivering feedback, specifics of the feedback reports, and use of the feedback with types of developmental support offered to participants. Input came from 90 mostly large organizations in the United States in varying industries. A sampling of the participating companies includes: Anheuser Busch, Avon, Bank of America, Boeing, Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Dell, Entergy, FedEx, Gap, Georgia Pacific, IBM, Intel, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Motorola, Sprint, Staples, Starwood Hotels, Target, Wachovia Bank, and Whirlpool.

The primary intent of the survey was to provide a complete description of the range of 360-degree feedback programs used by companies in the United States. Some of the key findings:

• 25% of the organizations use “off-the-shelf” or standardized survey content.

• Half of organizations use a single set of survey questions across many jobs.

• Rating sources in nearly all programs include supervisors, direct reports, peers and self-rating.

• Despite the availability of web-based data collection, 54% of companies still use paper surveys, which is an increase over the 2002 figure.

• A large majority of companies make at least one development activity mandatory.

• Less than half of the organizations formally evaluate their 360-degree feedback programs.


“We are surprised that after decades of using 360-degree feedback with top management, there is very little definitive research on results following completion of the surveys and what is done with the feedback,” Dr. Rose said. “We are particularly surprised to find that very few organizations formally evaluate the benefits from their programs."


It is clear from the study that 360-degree feedback means different things to different organizations. Because of the wide diversity in designs, managers planning a program must carefully consider the quality of the feedback individuals will receive. According to Dr. Rose, "There are some surprising trends indicated in the data regarding the future usage in some of the world's leading companies. While it is clear that this process is a critical tool for assessing manager talent, no one best way to design and implement a 360-degree feedback program has emerged."

After reviewing the data from the report, 3D Group considers six design features to be critical:

1.    SURVEY CONTENT –limit items to less than 70, and include both qualitative and quantitative items. Written comments and particularly behavioral-based survey content are considered essential.

2.    SELECTION OF RATERS – a minimum of three raters in each category is the standard for keeping confidentiality of responses (excluding boss and self), and many organizations require manager approval of the rater list.

3.    FEEDBACK REPORTS – item level detail and written comments appear to be most easily understood. Complex statistics like standard deviations or group comparison data have yet to be determined as useful.

4.    DEVELOPMENTAL SUPPORT – perhaps the greatest area of concern on the part of 360-degree feedback program managers had to do with what happens after a manager receives a feedback report. One-on-one coaching to help employees understand, interpret and respond to results continues to be popular, and should be considered as an option. All organizations should examine the effectiveness of their post-feedback programs.

5.    UTILIZATION OF THE DATA – while 90% of the organizations responded that the primary purpose for 360-degree feedback was developmental, the survey also showed that the data is used for numerous purposes. Companies should be cautious in their decisions around the utilization of results that can lead to lower program acceptance and effectiveness.

6.    360-DEGREE FEEDBACK-PROGRAM EVALUATION – most companies in the benchmark survey used informal rather than formal evaluation to judge their program's effectiveness. This is an area where 360-degree feedback programs fall short. The particular concern is that almost none of the programs systematically examine changes in manager behavior following feedback.

"Current Trends in 360-degree Feedback" illustrates the wide range of talent management applications for 360-degree feedback programs. It also highlights some gaps between researched ‘best practice’ designs and practical considerations for implementation. Program managers would be well informed by examining the findings of the study.

A copy of the "Current Trends in 360-degree Feedback" benchmark survey is available for $295.95 by calling 3D Group at 1-510-525-4830 or visiting:

Available for interviews: Dale Rose, Ph.D., President and Co-Founder of 3D Group.

To schedule an interview contact: Donna Lehman 510-525-1474 or


3D Group specializes in 360-degree feedback and other employee assessment tools. They use their expertise in psychometrics — the specialized discipline of psychological testing and measurement — to deliver a wealth of objective, reliable, and easy to understand data that can be utilized in a variety of ways to improve manager and company performance. 3D Group is dedicated to helping businesses, and nonprofit organizations of all sizes to increase the effectiveness of their people and programs. 3D Group researchers have authored numerous publications related to employee assessment, including the “Benchmark Study of North American 360-Degree Feedback Practices, 2002 Study” and “Current Trends in 360-Degree Feedback”

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Donna Lehman
3D Group
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