Brian Houp is an executive coach and the CEO of ReZone Coaching, specializing in helping 1st-time executives thrive at the senior level.
Over the years of building my executive coaching practice, I’ve discovered that the single most powerful resource available to leaders lies in the process of doing 360-degree assessments to receive feedback from your leaders, peers and direct reports. I’ve also learned that it can become an incredibly frustrating experience and a waste of time for everyone involved if not done correctly.
Save the time and frustration of a failed experience and consider the following six keys to a successful 360-degree feedback experience.
1. Unbiased Data Collection From Multiple Perspectives
Who is collecting the feedback and how is it being collected? While 360-degree feedback may be conducted using internal human resources personnel, my experience has shown me that employees provide more honest feedback when working with an external resource due to greater confidence in their anonymity. Additionally, many internal 360-degree feedback processes may prioritize evaluating current performance over developmental opportunities. I recommend combining one-on-one interviews with a proven online assessment tool such as the Leadership Circle Profile, Hogan 360 or the Genos Leadership 360 Assessment.
2. Who To Involve
I’ve found the best feedback comes from people who see an individual in various situations. Build a list of several people incorporating multiple unique perspectives. Before finalizing, have the individual discuss the list with a supervisor or peer familiar with their work routines to ensure they don’t miss anyone. Remember that it’s called a 360 because it involves viewpoints from every angle—not only direct reports and peers but also other departments, higher-level leaders and possibly people outside the organizations like partners, vendors or key customers.
3. Earning The Commitment From Your Team Of Evaluators Up Front
Busy people get lots of requests to participate in surveys and initiatives. Make sure the person connects with each individual being asked to participate (in-person, by phone or by video call is preferred).
Have them explain why they are participating in this process and how it matters to them personally. Encourage them to be humble and honest. It can be presented as a personal favor and an investment in their future development. They should show the benefits others will receive as well. The more honest the feedback, the more everyone involved can benefit.
The evaluators should understand what to expect. How much time will the interview and the online assessment take? When are the deadlines for each item?
4. Fostering Strong Participation
While obvious, it’s often underappreciated that the 360 process is only helpful if a lot of honest feedback is received from those invited to participate. Encourage the individual to follow up with each person invited to ensure the interviews have been scheduled and invitations to online assessments have been received. Even well-intended people are extremely busy and can neglect to follow through. Don’t hesitate to ask the coach or the individual administering the 360 for help.
5. Making Good Use Of The Findings
When initially reviewing the results of the 360, it can be overwhelming. Consider it a two-step process.
First, the individual works with your professional 360 consultant/coach/HR professional to fully digest the findings and decide what to do with this new information. The key to making the most of the process is to isolate a limited number of key strengths and cornerstone improvement priorities. Remember that this process isn’t only about focusing on the negatives. The cornerstone strengths uncovered will become powerful allies in the development efforts. Regarding the development priorities, I recommend identifying “One Big Thing”—a single priority of focus. Individuals can add other secondary items but should zero in on a single focus point.
The second part is reengaging with the evaluators who provided the feedback. Confirming the individual has selected the correct focus area(s) is important. These one-on-one conversations provide another opportunity to maximize the benefits of the process. Encourage individuals to own up to their challenge areas. Apologize for the difficulties they may have created. Demonstrate a genuine commitment to improvement. Have them ask for specific ideas on how, when and where they can begin to make positive changes. Remember that the evaluators took time out of their busy schedules to help. The individual should thank every one of them for participating.
6. Following Up And Following Through
Create a specific action plan based on the insights collected. Set up an ongoing feedback system to gather input on actions. Encourage people to provide continuous feedback. Consider using a pulse-survey feedback system with mini-survey updates along the way. Plan for future interviews and updated feedback.
Making the most of the 360-degree feedback process requires commitment. Without experience, it can be intimidating. However, the payoff can be huge for the participating leader and the organization’s culture. With an ongoing open exchange of feedback as individuals demonstrate their commitment to improvement, everyone can begin to embrace the process.
When utilized correctly, I’ve witnessed the 360-degree feedback process bring significant value to organizations of all sizes. It allows leaders to see themselves from many different angles, make adjustments and grow into the leaders they were meant to be.