360° feedback can make all the difference when paired with development! Learn how…

A general manager I worked closely with confided in me that 360 degree feedback and developmental coaching was the most beneficial development he received and enabled him to move into his general manager role and beyond.  It is too bad more leaders don’t benefit from this developmental experience.

What worked for him?

He had mastered each of his jobs in the company and was being groomed to move up. But in order to move through his next leadership passage, he had to discard some skills that had led to past promotions, and learn new skills to move up.  This is ultimately a test of courage. In his case to rise into executive ranks, he had to learn to put his powerful intellect, can-do attitude, and drive for excellence on hold until after he took the time to build relationships.  He had to learn patience and how to make every individual who spoke with him feel like he was 100% focused on them and their needs; from the lowly new hire and administrator, to the hard charging sales VP.

After he learned to do this, everyone who interacted with him, talked about how they liked meeting with him.  People wanted to work with him, not only because he was smart, strategic, and a winner; they wanted to work with him because he was fun to work with, and he made them feel valued.

How did he do this?  He learned to look everyone in the eye, smile and use active listening.  He took the effort to remember personal and professional details about employees and to later ask them specific follow-up questions. He then conducted his meetings in an engaging thoughtful ways and drove to group conclusions. When he concluded meetings, he always remembered to relate to the attendees, compliment them on their input–and smile.

360 degree feedback much aligned!

Today, 360 degree feedback and performance management is much aligned and for good reason: poor design and implementation. Many performance management systems put too much emphasize on documenting performance and rating employees and not enough on ongoing feedback, coaching and development.

Similarly, 360’s are also poorly implemented. Here is what usually goes wrong:

  1. It links feedback to performance management, merit pay or promotions, so ratings are inflated.[i]
  2. Comments traced back to individuals can cause resentment between workers.
  3. Poor sampling design.  Often 360’s are gathered from only a handful of employees, often direct reports, who may worry about the confidentiality of the report. So the results are skewed.
  4. The feedback tool is often used stand-alone, without follow up conversations or development plans.
  5. Excessive numbers of surveys are required of each worker every year, with few tangible benefits provided to individuals. Workers can become worn out by a useless process.[ii]
  6. Little or no training is given to managers, recipients and raters on the purpose of the feedback, how to give feedback, and how to establish and follow up on developmental actions.[iii]
  7. The process can receive insufficient top management support, which leads to poor implementation.[iv]

360 degree feedback is a critical element of leadership development

In the example of the general manager, he received his 360 degree feedback as part of his leadership development, not part of the performance management system, and it was not a “fixer-upper” project.  A wide spectrum of his superiors, peers, stakeholders and direct reports were asked to provide feedback.  Survey participants were told in advance that this was for development, would be confidential, and would not be used for performance management.  A well-researched and validated 360 degree feedback tool was used. His manager and the GM agreed to receive the feedback and to work on his development.  He and a coach set development and performance goals and tracked his progress over several months.

360 degree feedback and coaching when provided to develop leaders for their current jobs and their next leadership passage is an invaluable tool—provided you follow the above guidelines.

Some executives complain that it takes too much time.  Not so, when used in this focused manner. To any executive who complains that if they invest in the development of their employees and leaders, “they will leave”. I counter, “What if you don’t invest and they stay?”

Have you had success with 360 degree feedback? What made it work? Do you have any stories to share?

Victor Assad is a strategic human resources consultant and coach who works with key decision makers and human resources leaders on talent management, accelerating change, leadership development, and other strategic initiatives such as innovation, mergers and acquisitions, and flexible workplace.  Please e-mail Victor at victorassad6@gmail.com or visit Victor’s website at http://www.victorhrconsultant.com for free articles and white papers.

[i] Marcus Buckingham. (October 17, 2011). “The Fatal Flaw with 360 Surveys.” HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business Review.  Retrieved from blogs.hbr.org./2011/10/the-fatal-flaw-with-360-survey/.

[ii] Terri Linman. (2004) “360-degree Feedback: Weighing the Pros and Cons.” Retrieved from edweb.sdsu.edu/people/arossett/pie/Interventions/360_1.htm.

[iii] John W. Fleenor and Jeffrey Michael Prince. (1997) Using 360-Degree Feedback in Organizations, An Annotated Bibliography. Center for Creative Leadership. Greensboro, North Carolina. Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/Using 360Feedback.pdf.

[iv] Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. (September 7, 2012). “Getting 360-Degree Reviews Right.” HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Blogs.hbr.org/2012/09/getting-360-degree-reviews-right/.

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