360° feedback seems like a modern concept, you wouldn’t be alone in assuming this type of feedback started maybe 10… possibly 20, years ago. The origins can actually be traced back to around 100 years ago!
We’re going to look at – where 360s started, where they expanded, where they are today, and where they’re going to be in the future.
‘Multisource feedback’ is a type of employee review wherein the reviewee is assessed by: themselves, their managers, their peers, their direct reports and sometimes even their customers. All this information is then collected and collated into a report that gives a 360° review of their performance.
While all this may seem like a very new concept, in reality, forms of 360° feedback can be followed back to 100 years ago when the American Military employed multi-rater feedback among their soldiers during WWI. But, while this feedback took opinions from many difference sources, it lacked input from subordinates.
True 360° feedback did not come about until WWII when the German Military introduced it as a way of assessing their soldier’s performance , considering the opinions of supervisors, peers and subordinates. The information was then used to determine payment and promotions.
Despite its dark origins, 360° feedback was introduced into the business world in the 1950’s. The Esso Research and Engineering Group (Now known as ExxonMobil) became the first company who had documented use of multisource surveys to evaluate their employees . Esso were soon bought out after an increase in productivity and from that point on the demand for 360° feedback exploded.
Expansion into Mainstream Use
The proliferated use of 360° feedback trickled down to smaller companies after some giant multinational corporations made it fashionable.
The CEO of General Electric, Jack Welsh was one of the first to use 360s for appraisals, in which he used the results to justify firing the bottom 10% of workers in every feedback cycle. Since then, the application of 360s has evolved from Jack Welch’s cutthroat streamlining process.
Companies of all sizes moved on to use feedback to identify and develop the strengths of each worker rather than punish people for their perceived weaknesses.
From this point in the 1980’s and onwards the concept of 360s gained traction and over the next 20 years 360° feedback became a term most HR departments were very familiar with. But the expansion was not over yet.
The Present & The Future
Since the invention and mainstream use of the internet , feedback gained a new impetus as the days of filling out and filing hundreds of pieces of paper are behind us. Thanks to the on-going digital revolution, technological improvements are going to make accessing feedback more and more thorough, accessible and intuitive.
Developments in real-time phone applications for 360° feedback could spell the beginning of a whole new era for feedback techniques.
It is estimated that over a third of U.S. companies  and 90% of Fortune 500 companies utilise 360° feedback  and these figures are only increasing with no signs of this growth letting up.
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