Definition of 360-Degree Survey

HR Glossary: What Is the Complete Definition of a 360-Degree Survey?

If you ever want to get a better view of how someone is perceived throughout all levels of the organization, use a 360-degree survey. These surveys are used on a multitude of various occasions. At times they are used for:

  • Performance feedback
  • Leadership development
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Succession planning

These surveys typically focus on job-related competencies and seek meaningful feedback.

But what is a 360-degree survey?

In sum, 360-degree surveys are a series of identical questions confidentially posed to people at different levels and in various capacities throughout the organization (and sometimes outside of the workplace) to provide information about an individual. This feedback may be solicited from:

  • Managers
  • Peers
  • Direct reports
  • Customers
  • Vendors

People with a working relationship with the individual for whom feedback is being solicited are often sent an electronic survey. Once they complete the survey, it usually goes to a 3rd party for a confidential compilation of the information.

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Why would a 360-degree survey be critical to your organization?

One of the best ways to have a clear picture of how someone is viewed throughout the organization is to have them participate in a 360-degree survey. Some organizations refer to these as 360-degree performance evaluations.

Some of the behaviors that tend to come to light in these surveys include:

  • How well the employee interacts with people at all levels of the company.
  • If an employee provides timely responses and meets deadlines.
  • Whether the employee works well in a team project environment or excels when working by themselves.
  • How employees behave when at different locations than their typical work environment. (If they have work meetings that are off-site or in another city or state.) This is not to suggest that employers should use these surveys to impose on an individual’s private/non-working activities.

These surveys are instrumental when employers use them for leadership development. They help identify blind spots an individual may have.


For example, there are times when a person is adept at managing up to their leadership but treats those who report to them or are at the same level poorly. The employee may not be aware they’re behaving this way, and the survey shines a light on an area they can control and change.

When did 360-degree surveys come into prominence?

The company now known as ExxonMobil, (formerly Esso Research and Engineering Group when they instituted the process), initially piloted 360-degree feedback surveys in the 1950s. They weren’t the 1st documented use of the 360s, though. The German military used the process during WWII to gather information about their soldiers and how they were performing.

Although the technique had a less than ideal beginning, Esso felt there was a benefit they could glean from the 360-survey. They quickly learned, however, that collecting and tallying the results by hand took significant time, making the surveys unwieldy and inefficient. Despite those challenges, they also found that the feedback provided meaningful information and helped employees improve their performance.

By the 1990s, the progression of desktop computers and their associated programs made the process of tabulating the data more accessible and practical. This brought the function of the 360-degree survey into the spotlight and made it a prominent tool many organizations use.

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360-degree surveys are helpful tools for companies

When they’re used correctly and prefaced as a tool intended to help the subject of the feedback develop, 360-degree surveys are full of valuable information. Employers need to perform some vetting regarding who is involved in the process. Statistical approaches are best to use when considering things such as outlying results.

There’s nothing better than helping others improve — especially those who want to better themselves. A 360-degree survey is one way to move in that direction.

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