Tendency to include too much
Over the course of running hundreds of thousands of 360-degree feedback reviews, we've noticed a general tendency by companies to include too many
questions in their questionnaires. This tendency is especially strong in those new to the 360 review process.
While this is understandable-on the surface, more questions seem like they'd result in more responses and more actionable information-it's almost always
unnecessary and usually detrimental to the process.
Surveys containing one hundred or more items are not uncommon, but are almost always far too long and onerous to complete. One survey uploaded to our
system recently contained more than 300 items. When it was deployed to a group of executives, they flat out refused to complete it, leading to a
last-minute scramble for the client to shorten and republish it.
When review forms are too long, they risk aggravating respondents, which, drops response rates and ultimately doesn't deliver the quality of feedback
needed to spur real developmental conversations. Shorter reviews, on the other hand, are easier to complete in one sitting and are better at delivering
useful feedback to participants.
First, focus on completion rates
So, how do you determine the right length of a review? One method for deciding on the appropriate length of a survey is to consider how long you expect
raters to spend working on their responses. A good rule of thumb is that each rated item takes between 5-10 seconds for a person to answer, and each
comment-style item requires about 3 minutes of working time to complete. If you assume that you want your users to spend around 15 minutes on each survey,
then you can reasonably include 50 or so rated items and 2 comment items.
Review the review
Whittling down a long list of proposed review questions to a manageable length is no easy task. Reviews are often created by committee, and each item is
considered important by at least one member.
One method of downsizing a lengthy review is to ask managers of the individuals being reviewed what they consider to be the top 3-5 behaviors necessary for
success in a given role. Their answers can be mapped to items in the review. The items that are mapped most frequently make it to the review's short list,
while those that are not can be discarded.
This process can be performed informally or through the use of an online surveying tool. Performing this exercise can quickly reduce the length of a review
by 75 percent without compromising fidelity.
Rely on your values
Another useful and easy method of shortening lengthy reviews is to tie the review content to the company's core values statement. Core values statements
are generally brief and usually name behaviors in several areas that are key to attaining company success. These translate well to a compact review that is
in line with the company's goals. Adding a few job-specific or technical behaviors rounds the review out for each role being assessed.
RaceTrac Petroleum has a particularly succinct and specific core values statement. It can be found on their web site here. With only minor
tweaks, it could be converted to a 360-degree review that's not only of appropriate length, but also aligned with company values and easy-to-understand.
Put yourself in the participant's shoes
Response rates and rater satisfaction aside, one of the most important considerations in choosing the right length for your 360-degree feedback review is
how the feedback will be received by participants.
Since receiving feedback from peers, direct reports and supervisors all at once can be an inherently stressful experience, feedback participants often
complain of being "buried" by long review reports that try to cover too much. Because action plans that often result from 360-degree reviews usually focus
on improvement in only 3 to 5 areas, the final report should make those areas easy to identify and not inundate the reader with too many data points to
Even once you've created review content that is right for your organization, you should regularly refine it for your company's changing needs. Part of the
refinement process should always include a check of the review's length. In doing so, you're more likely to administer reviews that are completed by
respondents and that produce results understood and internalized by participants.
Try our review length estimator
Want to determine if the length of your 360-degree feedback review is right for your audience? Try our automated Review Length Estimator here.