Context & Fairness in 360-Degree Feedback

Neutrality is essential, as interpretations are subjective


Given the anonymity and comprehensive nature, 360-degree feedback is seen as one of the most equitable ways to administer honest feedback. Feedback context & fairness in 360-Degree Feedback is subjective, however, and “rests in the eye of the beholder” (Greenberg, 1988). In the realm of fairness, the personal evaluation in the feedback system is especially beneficial as it draws an emphasis on gap scores. More important than the rater’s perception of a particular employee, 360-degree feedback allows an employee to measure it against self-perception. Gap scores draw an emphasis on fairness because it relies on an employee’s individual perceptions and not strictly the raw scores.

The top priority for human resources professionals is to be fair (Dye, 1990). A leader who is perceived as fair, gains authority and guidance over subordinates (Greenberg, 1988). This ultimately helps managers to offer suggestions based on the feedback generated and follow up with advice. In addition, fairness is also particularly relevant in a leadership setting because it gives employees an opportunity to state whether their boss or manager is actually being fair in his or her own review (Byrne and Miller, 2009). It gives subordinates a chance to speak up and leaders a chance to listen. Given that the data is mostly quantitative and even if the manager does not receive a personal feedback discussion, the data is direct and compiled from multiple sources. If leaders are convinced from the beginning that the 360-degree process is constructive and will be valuable to the organization, they will be more driven to improve following the feedback evaluation even if it is negative (Atwater & Brett, 2001).

If the data compiled from the 360-degree feedback is specific, it is seen as fair and drives employees to enhance their performance because they perceive the source to be credible (Bobko and Colella, 1994). Kulhavy (1977) argues that feedback does reinforce behaviors because it can be accepted, modified, or rejected. This is essential to note for establishing dynamics between the superior and the one receiving the feedback. Even the environment could render the process inefficient or detrimental if approached incorrectly. In general, ensuring fairness is a way for the employee to receive the feedback results in a straightforward manner, without allowing other factors such as bias or presentation get in the way.

The context in which the feedback is revealed is also crucial in determining an employee’s attitude towards 360-degree feedback. Factors like the supervisory style and feedback environmental factors outweigh the manager’s personality traits (Funderburg & Levy, 1997). This means that even if a subordinate dislikes their manager as a person, they are able to constructively receive the criticisms provided the environment is appropriate. For example, holding the meeting in a psychologically safe environment helps to keep the information confidential (Van Velsor, 1998). Additionally, making sure the manager who is holding the meeting is aware of the organizational constraints and individual barriers that might prevent or impede an employee from accomplishing their goals.

Though Funderberg and Leyv’s (1997) research does stress that the environment is more critical than the manager’s personality traits, the effectiveness of the meeting is certainly be influenced by this disposition. The most effective managers bolster strong interpersonal skills and can communicate effectively without expressing judgment. Managers can focus on a task behavior approach; stressing specific goals clearly with an end goal in mind about what must change (Schipper, Hoddman, and Rotondo, 2007). This task-oriented perspective does not let an individual’s perception of his or her manager prohibit them from receiving constructive feedback.

A major benefit of a third-party platform is that it consolidates the information in a clear, concise manner. When administering a feedback review, avoiding the presentation of too much information keeps the meeting on task and allows for just a few specific developmental goals to be set (DeNisi & Kluger, 2000). Establishing a follow-up action plan with deadlines and goals leads improvement to be seen as an issue for progressive, tangible improvement. Without these goals, many of the weaknesses shown in test results can be seen as stagnant and potentially lead to discouragement.



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Greenberg, J. (1989). Cultivating an image of justice: Looking fair on the job. Academy of Management Executive. 2, 155-158.

Kulhavy, R. W. (1977). Feedback in written instruction. Review of Educational Research, 47(1), 211–232.

McCauley, C. D., Moxley, R. S., Van Velsor, E., (1998). The Handbook for Leadership Development, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 439.

Shipper, F., Hoffman, R. C., Rotondo, D. M. (2007). Does the 360 Feedback Process Create Actionable Knowledge Equally Across Cultures? Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6(1), 33-50.