February 26, 2020

What 360 Feedback Looks Like in Your Leadership Journey

It’s rare that leaders get the feedback they need the most from their teams. Team members are reluctant to speak up, no matter how open the leader (you) say you are. Enter the formal 360 feedback process.

Think about the last time a direct report approached you and said, “I noticed you didn’t react when Janet started crying in the meeting. You may not be aware of this, but it made the rest of us uncomfortable because you seemed cold and uncaring. I think this is something I can help you with. Are you open to talking about this and may I make some suggestions?”

Subordinates rarely, if ever, will come to their managers to offer their observations and their help, especially when it comes to their manager’s behavior. Most managers say they want feedback in their team meetings, so they assume that if people have any actual feedback to offer they will share it. Unfortunately, declaring an open door policy does not guarantee anyone will walk through it.

At SJ Leadership Coach, we use both personality/behavioral assessments and 360 feedback to help generate the self-awareness required for meaningful growth and change. 360 feedback in particular can help leaders cultivate valuable insight into their key areas of opportunity relative to their current or desired role and organizational context.

Organizations collect 360 feedback primarily in two ways: online or in-person. The data gathering should always be done by an independent third party to ensure confidentiality and validity of the data. The goal is to provide actionable insights for the person receiving feedback without burdening them with information that’s unproductive, unhelpful or cruel.

One benefit of conducting 360 feedback online is that it’s faster and cheaper than conducting 1:1 verbal interviews. Leaders can self-evaluate through an online 360 survey and access comparison reports to illustrate differences in perception between their direct reports, peers, managers and themselves.

The chief downside to online 360 feedback surveys is that you lose some ability to fully customize the process or the interview questions. And, it’s harder to capture subtle nuances within and between individual responses through a survey alone.

The real gold is in verbal interviews. This is where we meet with 8 to 12 people that have a stake in the leader’s behavior and skill sets. Stakeholders typically include the boss, direct reports, peers and sometimes external partners, clients or vendors.

Usually the same consultant in our firm who will be coaching the leader conducts the interviews so they hear the feedback directly about the leader’s strengths and areas of opportunity. We use a structured interview which includes some standard evidence-based questions along with others that may be tailored to the values and culture of our client’s organization.

As interviewers, we aim to record the feedback verbatim as much as possible, then we go back and edit the raw feedback to make it anonymous. We summarize our findings in a written report to the leader, highlighting their strengths and development areas and helping them to identify their areas of highest leverage or return on investment for time and energy to shift.

When you receive a 360 feedback report, it’s important that you follow up with people who provided the feedback. You won’t know exactly who said what, and that’s the point—it should be anonymous to that extent. And, there’s a right way and a wrong way to follow up. You should never put an individual or group on the spot by asking them to validate the feedback for you.

Likewise, if you disagree with the feedback or feel frustrated because some people describe your behavior as a strength while others describe that same behavior as a stretch, do not give into the temptation to “prove” one perception is right while the other is wrong.

The right way? Own your impact. Even when your impact on some people appears to be the opposite of your impact on others. Express your appreciation to people for giving you the gift of feedback, affirm that you are indeed processing it, not rejecting it, and that you take it very seriously. Acknowledge any significant concerns raised in the feedback openly and without throwing out caveats, judgment or sarcasm.

Remember, your stakeholders invested time individually to provide you with feedback and the organization hired a consultant to run the process. Net, net it represents a significant investment to produce actionable 360 feedback. Respect the investment.

Finally, share with your stakeholders what changes you plan to make as a result of their feedback and how they can help support you in the journey. Engage a coach who can help you do this. That signals to people two things, 1) you are serious about making changes, and 2) you are wise enough to know that shifting your mindsets, skillsets and behaviors after you receive the feedback will be a heavy lift.

Each time you receive 360 feedback is an important inflection point in your leadership journey. You will probably feel vulnerable and uncomfortable at times. And your reward for moving through your discomfort can be huge. It can alter the trajectory of your career and also your personal life for the better. Embrace the opportunity!

I address this and similar leadership growth topics in my Be a Better Leader video series. Sign up below to receive instant access.

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