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Context & Fairness in 360-Degree Feedback

fairness in 360 feedback

Neutrality is essential, as interpretations are subjective

360-degree feedback is widely recognized as an equitable method for providing honest feedback due to its anonymity and comprehensive nature. However, the perception of fairness in 360-degree feedback is subjective and varies among individuals (Greenberg, 1988). The personal evaluation component of the feedback system, which emphasizes gap scores, is particularly beneficial as it allows employees to compare their self-perception with how others perceive them. Gap scores place emphasis on fairness by considering an employee’s individual perceptions rather than solely relying on raw scores.

Fairness is a top priority for human resources professionals (Dye, 1990). A leader who is perceived as fair gains authority and guidance over subordinates (Greenberg, 1988). This enables managers to offer suggestions based on feedback and provide follow-up advice. Moreover, fairness is particularly relevant in a leadership context as it allows employees to express whether they believe their boss or manager is being fair in their own review (Byrne & Miller, 2009). This creates an opportunity for subordinates to voice their opinions and for leaders to listen. Despite the predominantly quantitative nature of the data and the possibility of managers not receiving personal feedback discussions, the data is direct and compiled from multiple sources. When leaders are convinced from the outset that the 360-degree process is constructive and valuable to the organization, they are more likely to be motivated to improve following the feedback evaluation, even if it is negative (Atwater & Brett, 2001).

Specific data compiled from 360-degree feedback is perceived as fair and drives employees to enhance their performance because they perceive the source as credible (Bobko & Colella, 1994). Feedback, as argued by Kulhavy (1977), reinforces behaviors as it can be accepted, modified, or rejected. This is essential to consider when establishing dynamics between superiors and recipients of feedback. Additionally, the context in which feedback is revealed significantly influences an employee’s attitude towards 360-degree feedback. Factors such as supervisory style and feedback environment outweigh the manager’s personality traits (Funderburg & Levy, 1997). This means that even if subordinates dislike their managers personally, they can still constructively receive criticism provided the environment is appropriate. For example, holding meetings in a psychologically safe environment helps maintain confidentiality of information (Van Velsor, 1998). Moreover, ensuring that the manager conducting the meeting is aware of organizational constraints and individual barriers that may impede goal accomplishment is crucial.

While the environment holds greater importance than the manager’s personality traits according to Funderburg and Leyv (1997), the manager’s disposition does influence the effectiveness of the feedback meeting. Effective managers possess strong interpersonal skills and can communicate effectively without expressing judgment. They can adopt a task-oriented approach, emphasizing specific goals clearly and focusing on desired changes (Schipper, Hoddman, & Rotondo, 2007). This task-oriented perspective prevents an individual’s perception of their manager from hindering their ability to receive constructive feedback.

A significant advantage of using a third-party platform is the consolidation of information in a clear and concise manner. When conducting feedback reviews, it is crucial to avoid overwhelming participants with excessive information. Keeping the meeting focused and setting a few specific developmental goals allows for progressive and tangible improvement (DeNisi & Kluger, 2000). Establishing a follow-up action plan with deadlines and goals reinforces the notion of continuous improvement. Without clear goals, weaknesses identified in test results may be perceived as stagnant, potentially leading to discouragement.

By considering these factors and utilizing a third-party platform, organizations can maximize the fairness, effectiveness, and impact of the 360-degree feedback process (Greenberg, 1988; Dye, 1990; Byrne & Miller, 2009; Atwater & Brett, 2001; Bobko)


Brett, J., & Atwater, L. (2001). 360-degree feedback: Accuracy, reactions and perceptions of usefulness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 930-942.

Bobko, P., Colella, A. (1994). Employee reactions to performance standards: A review and research propositions. Personnel Psychology, 47, 1-29.

Dye, C. F. (1990). Ten rules define HR’s role. The Personnel Journal, 69(6), 82-86.

Funderburg, S. A., & Levy, P. E. 1997. The influence of individual and contextual variables on 360-degree feedback system attitudes. Group & Organization Management, 22(2): 210.

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.


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