PCs, beepers, Filofaxes and dial-up internet connections characterised business in the 1990s.

With newfound autonomy, the average worker then became the subject of the 360 review process. As put by a BellSouth Personal Development Guide, "You stand at the centre of a circle of feedback sources. These sources are the people who know you best. They are the people whose opinions you trust; at work, at home and in the community." Thus the 360 review began to dominate and has been a major part of the HR professional’s toolkit ever since. But does it still hold up? Technology has moved on vastly and now offers a compelling alternative to the traditional 360.

The growing popularity of 360 feedback in the 1990s came from the newly liberated workforce. No longer boss-centric, it was okay to have subordinates and peers appraising managers, and self-assessment was a respectable mode of evaluation. 360, or multi-rater feedback, is the widespread practice of assessing competencies and attitudes by combining self-assessment with the views of other raters.

However, such is the wealth of personal tracking technology that my iPhone probably knows much more about me than any of my colleagues. My “circle of feedback sources” is “the devices and services which know me best”:


Part of my digital footprint for January 2015


The devices and services of my quantified life are now the "multi" in "multi-rater". If I think I had a good run, my fitness apps (Endomondo.com and Strava.com) confirm it with a personal best icon next to my workout. If I think I've kept on top of emails, Conspire.com confirms it with a weekly report of my email activity and response times. If I think I've not been working from home enough, MoneyDashboard.com confirms it with my monthly transactions breakdown for Transport. If I worry I haven't been very good at telling the team what I'm working on, our chat app Slack.com and our Kudos-bot confirm it with communication statistics and peer-recognition points. The list goes on and on. In short, technology can track every aspect of my life and work.

The individual worker has a wealth of data at their disposal, should they wish to interrogate it for clues about how to keep happier, healthier and more productive. Similarly, HR professionals can use data to manifestly improve how they do their jobs.

Combining these two capabilities empowers a new model of 360 review. This requires a trust and benefit relationship between the employee and HR: in exchange for pledging some of their data footprint, the employee should expect the reward of more responsive and relevant feedback. Crucially in this world of increased data mobility, a reluctance to exchange data is not a sign of a dishonest employee, but of a damaged trust-benefit relationship.

The reason this type of data-360 picture is so powerful is because the data can show correlations and causations. Every working day at Saberr, we each self-report our own happiness and productivity levels. Is there any use in knowing how productive I or my colleagues think I am? Probably not. Subjective assessment taken by itself can’t provide a fully accurate picture of how people work. However, knowing how many emails I've sent this morning, how many code changes I've made, how many papers I've read, how much I ate this lunch time, how far I ran last night and how many meetings I went to this morning, might tell us something, and give a much more complete, objective, and reasoned report of my productivity than several people's opinions.

360 reviews are a blunt instrument when assessing the health of a workforce. Personal prejudices, differing opinions on working practice and a host of other factors can influence how someone provides assessment on a colleague on any given day. Collecting and analysing data removes the subjective element and creates a more accurate reflection of a company and its people. The technology is generally inexpensive and intuitive to use. It also has the capacity to reduce staff turnover, improve morale and increase productivity – potentially saving a business thousands of pounds each year.

The data-driven-360 manifesto for HR professionals in 2015 should include just three ideas:

  1. The data our devices and services create should be treated as "first-class-citizens", as valid as the input of our peers.
  1. The human aspects of feedback should be created assuming they need to be included in data analytics, not just communicated once.
  1. An employee-employer data relationship has to be a trust-benefit relationship.