More than 100,000 employees are assessed using 360-degree feedback, according to a survey of major private sector employers.

Management development has been the traditional focus of 360-degree feedback, today nearly four in ten (38%) companies now target non-management employees, specialists and talented individuals who may not be in management positions.

360-degree feedback emerged in the 1980s as an unbiased way to assess performance rather than relying on the line manager alone. Individuals are rated by their more senior and junior colleagues, their peers and sometimes customers.

360-degree feedback is used intensively today. Nearly half of companies (45%) run two or more 360s, with over 1,000 employees completing a 360-degree feedback programme, on average.

“Businesses see that 360-degree feedback supports real improvements in individuals’ performance, which is why tens of thousands use the technique,” says Dominic Wake, Director of ETS plc. “Tailoring the use of 360-degree feedback to each company is crucial to its success. What works in one company may fail in another,” he concludes.

Some respondents believe that 360 is most successful when development is linked to appraisal, and also remuneration, while other respondents believe that this link reduces its effectiveness. It is clear that 360-degree feedback needs to be employed in a way and for a purpose that reflects the organisational culture and context.

360-degree feedback is mainly used for personal development. Colleagues are able to offer insights from working with the individual in a range of different situations. However, one fifth of companies use the technique for appraisal or as part of their talent management efforts.

The challenge with 360-degree feedback is to ensure that individuals use the new insight into their behaviour as a positive force for change.