What's the Right Length for a 360-Degree Feedback Review?

We're often asked by clients, "how many questions should our 360-degree feedback review ask?" Shorter is almost always better

Articles » What's the Right Length for a 360-Degree Feedback Review?

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 sift through.

Continually refine

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.

Last updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Our website uses cookies
Cookies enable us to provide the best experience possible and help us understand how visitors use our website. By browsing EchoSpan, you agree to our use of cookies.
I Understand More Info