Getting The Most From 360 Feedback

by the Dynamic Results Team

We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.
– Anais Nin

Participating in a 360 feedback process is a potent opportunity. Done well, the process can give you a clear picture of how your peers, direct reports, and customers view your strengths and blind spots, allowing you to identify some game-changing ways to advance your skills as leader. The key to getting the most value out of a 360 process is making it easy for people to give clear and honest feedback, and then leveraging your follow-up plan after you receive it.

Common formats for 360s are:

  • formal company-wide programs
  • programs designed for a team often using customized tools and followed by team development, or
  • a custom program designed for an individual leader and coordinated by his/her coach.

In each of these formats the feedback is typically aggregated anonymously by rater group so you don’t know who said what (except your boss, whose feedback is often identified).

As I’ve coached leaders through each of these types of programs, I’ve found that several common strategies can make a difference in getting valuable results. If you have the opportunity to arrange a 360 feedback process through your company or coach, here are six things to keep in mind:

1. Select the right raters.
Usually, you’ll choose 10-12 raters from among your peers, direct reports, cross-functional partners, and customers. Often the most useful feedback comes from people who are invested in your success and who care enough to make the effort to offer useful observations, but for well-rounded feedback, include a few “critics” – those you may struggle with in some way.

2. Ask for frank, honest feedback.
Set a strong context with your raters by encouraging them to give you useful and honest feedback. Don’t assume that HR or the program administrator will set the context for your raters for you… send an email saying why you’d like each person’s feedback and ask for specific, honest comments about both areas of strength and struggle.

3. Make sure the feedback instrument fits you and your role.
Which behaviors are most crucial to your success? Does your company’s 360 instrument cover these? If not, see if you can adjust the questions for your team or role. Or arrange for your coach to do a custom 360, either via an emailed survey or confidential 1:1 interviews. (Make sure you’re working with someone who is experienced in 360s and is able to design a valid survey instrument or interview guide.) An interview-based approach can reveal helpful examples and suggestions with rich context from raters – a true advantage for understanding and applying the feedback. If your raters recommend that you increase your ability to handle conflict, for example, the interview data can provide examples of when you’ve done this well, and how you could do it more effectively.

4. Recognize the value of perceptions… and then make your own assessment.
You may feel defensive about some of the feedback, but remember that even if your raters have a limited view of the demands and constraints you face in your role, they still perceive your behavior as more or less skillful. And they act on those perceptions. Ask yourself, “What am I doing that causes people to see me differently than I see myself?”

Parts of the feedback will be more useful and relevant to you than others, depending on your current situation and objectives. Regardless, accept all feedback graciously… and then make your own decision about whether and how to use it.

5. Focus on just 2-3 areas for development and make a plan.
Ask yourself two questions for each specific behavior you’re considering for improvement:

What’s the relative value of increasing my skill in this area? What will it bring me?
How easy or difficult will it be to develop this area? Take a look at your motivation to invest in that area, whether it corresponds to your preferences and talents, and how easily you can put together a plan and some support to make progress on it.
Pay attention to what others perceive as your strengths. Elevating one of your strengths is often a more useful investment of time and energy than developing an area of weakness.

Finally, create a plan. At a minimum, jot down the specific behavior you’re doing now and the specific behavior you want to do instead (or if you don’t know the behavior yet, write what result you want to create with new behaviors). Map how you’ll get from what you’re doing now to what you want to do, and any support to get there (e.g., training, coaching, reading, mentoring). Consider what obstacles might occur and what you’ll do to get back on track.

6. Respond to your raters and involve them in your continued success.
Before finalizing your plan, talk with your raters (especially direct reports) to acknowledge what you’ve heard, clarify any areas of varied feedback, get their suggestions for your action plan and express your commitment to doing your best. You may want to involve a coach in preparing to be clear, confident, and objective in these meetings.

Use the 360 process to start generating more real-time feedback. One of the primary benefits my clients have experienced from our 360 programs is that participants tend to give more useful “in the moment” feedback more often after the program than they did before. If you want to get more feedback from your customers, peers, and directs, involve them as described above… the more they see you appreciate and consider their feedback, the more likely they are to offer real-time suggestions.

Also, consider a follow-up survey process in six to nine months to check your progress. An abbreviated version of the original 360 process often works well, focusing just on areas you identified in your plan. Clients say that committing to this follow up survey has them put more “skin in the game.” It also prompts their raters to identify the results they’ve noticed — a potent way to impact their perceptions.

Recommended Resources:

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, by Marshall Goldsmith, 2007
— Straightforward advice on gathering feedback and determining which behaviors to change.

For Your Improvement, A Guide for Development and Coaching, by Lombardo and Eichinger 2004
— An in-depth resource for creating targeted development plans

The Art & Science of 360 Feedback, by Lepsinger & Lucia, 1997
— An introduction to 360 programs. Ideal for those leading a program for their team or organization.

If you’re interested in further resources for designing 360s or leading a 360 process in your organization, contact us.

As always, we welcome your comments. Join us on facebook to share your experiences or email us at [email protected].

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