360 degree feedback can benefit and impact leadership, teams, and the entire organization immediately. When an organization decides to launch a 360 degree feedback program for the first time, some leaders are reluctant to participate. Good leaders may have a bias towards action, and if you want something that can create results starting by the time you finish reading this article, nothing is more tried and true than doing 360 degree feedback with leaders.
Why 360 Degree Feedback is Important?
360 degree feedback benefits leadership, teams, and the entire organization immediately. By providing a safe, confidential, and reliable way for colleagues to provide feedback, a company gains valuable insight into current leadership, teams, and overall health of the organization. 360 feedback provides leaders with powerful knowledge and feedback into what is working and what isn’t. When using this feedback data correctly, organizations can quickly take action, by helping employees improve and become better leaders and contributors in the company.
But even today, when an organization decides to launch a 360 degree feedback program for the first time, some are reluctant to participate. I’ve heard it all: “Why do I need feedback? Can’t I just ask others instead of taking an assessment?” or “I have an open-door policy; I already know everything I need to know” or even “I’m doing just fine without knowing!”
These aren’t bad responses, but they’re not great either. The truth is, feedback is the future. Gone are the days of gut instinct and good feelings. Employee perceptions may not be perfect indicators of truth, but they are one of the most valuable bits of feedback a leader can receive.
But getting honest feedback about performance is difficult. As leaders move up in an organization, candid feedback about their performance or leadership style actually goes down. Others are often afraid of displeasing those in leadership positions. This means they may give weaker feedback on a leader’s performance when asked face to face.
What Is a 360 Degree Feedback Assessment?
A 360 degree feedback offers others an opportunity to give leaders accurate and helpful feedback in a constructive and confidential manner. In a 360 feedback assessment, the leader and a group of other raters answer specific questions about the leader’s performance. Leaders choose raters they frequently interact with and typically include supervisors, direct reports, peers, and customers.
Benefits of 360 Degree Feedback
When done correctly, there are eight clear benefits of 360 degree feedback:
1. Increases self-awareness
Self-awareness means understanding your personality, including your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, motivations, thoughts, and emotions. And self-awareness is especially important when it comes to leadership. Leading people requires a careful balance of competing priorities. Many leaders with good intentions make mistakes because they make ongoing improvements in the wrong direction.
Everyone thinks they have a good handle on how other people see them. But our research shows people generally score themselves lower than their supervisor and their direct reports. Wouldn’t it be nice to know people think higher of you than you think of yourself? Would it give you more confidence in what you are doing?
2. Clarifies behaviors
If I asked you what behaviors went into making a good leader, would you be able to list 62 behaviors off the top of your head? That’s how many behaviors we ask in our standard business leader 360. The very act of asking about them teaches what is important to the organization. Additionally, it allows you to see if you are focusing superfluous effort on a behavior you are doing well, possibly at the expense of shoring up a weaker behavior.
3. Measures “how” things get done as opposed to “what” get’s done
Which is better, doing something the right way even if it might fail or just getting it done no matter how it happened? Or more succinctly – process vs. outcome? Answer: it’s always process. Nothing is ever a guarantee and so by accepting that and focusing on process, you are giving yourself the best probability of creating the desired outcome. And there is the added bonus of repeatability and predictability.
4. Promotes dialogue
Dialogue is the first step in moving from measurement to improvement. Self-awareness, clarified behavior, and process feedback combine to provide a natural opportunity for dialogue. Ideally, that dialogue begins with a warm discussion between the leader and the participant. They highlight strengths and then explore weaknesses. The dialogue should continue with a planning dialogue between the participant and their supervisor. In this dialogue, the two will agree on improvement goals and plans. When appropriate, the dialogue might also include peers and employees.
Whenever people find out I speak Italian, they always ask me to say something in Italian. I always blank, and after some stuttering, go with “In questo momento, parlo Italiano. Le parole che dico sono Italiano. Va bene?” Which translates roughly to “I am speaking Italian in this very moment. The words that I am saying are Italian. Happy?” But if someone were to give me a subject, it would be much easier. Similarly, if you were to ask an employee “How’s my leadership?” your most likely response is some hemming and hawing before a noncommittal “It’s good?” People respond better to guidelines and the behaviors provide enough specificity to induce positive dialogue on whichever subject you most want to dive deeper into.
5. Improves working relationships
One of the vital behaviors in a relationship is reciprocity – a mutually beneficial exchange. Performance feedback is something that is often one-sided (as in a supervisor/direct report relationship) or altogether missing (peers don’t feel it is their place to say anything). By introducing this element into a relationship, we have created another touchpoint of reciprocal support.
6. Encourages personal development
It is unlikely that leaders have reached their positions in an organization by behaving randomly. Leaders typically possess a natural element of drive and ambition or they wouldn’t be where they are. This leads to some level of self-awareness regarding their strengths, weaknesses, and appropriate leadership behavior. But honest and reliable feedback is necessary to test one’s perceptions, recognize previously overlooked strengths, and expose perceptual blind-spots. By providing easy, digestible areas to examine, leaders will naturally grasp onto them in order to continue their improvement.
Personal development turns effective contributors into effective managers. It’s how effective managers become effective executives, and how effective executives become effective board members. Employers who provide personal development opportunities retain talent more than employers who leave employees to their own devices. A 360 leadership assessment provides necessary aspects of personal development.
7. Increases accountability
The enemy of accountability is ambiguity. The more vague something is, the harder it becomes to hold people responsible. Similarly, it’s how coworkers end up talking past each other. Something simple like, “I’ll take care of it” becomes a semantic battle of what “take care” and “it” even means.
You can’t tell someone to “be a better leader” or “demonstrate company values” without providing specifics for what that means. This is exactly what 360 degree feedback assessments do. They clarify behaviors which then allow you to make a legitimate judgment on whether a person demonstrated the behavior or not. Which, in turn, allows you to hold someone accountable for those behaviors. But the best part is, you can take a lot of the burden off of your shoulders. If you made the behaviors clear enough, the individual will actually be able to hold his or herself responsible.
8. Enhances performance
All the previous bullet points lead to this final, and arguably most important, benefit of 360 degree feedback, improving performance. 360 degree feedback is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. It helps you improve relationships, increase accountability, and provide clarity on how to improve performance. It’s not a fix-all, and many organizations roll them out incorrectly which can actually make things worse off than before.
Our internal research shows that a good 360 degree feedback program is related to increased employee engagement and improved performance. Done well, 360 degree feedback assessments can become something employees look forward to instead of dread. When I present on the benefits of 360 degree feedback, employees come up afterward begging me to get their leaders on board. If you frame it right, you get to look like the hero! You’ve just given people this simple tool for dramatic growth and improvement.
Why 360 Feedback is Necessary
It is unlikely that leaders have reached their positions in an organization by behaving in a random way. They likely have some understanding of appropriate leadership behavior. They probably even have a pretty good idea of their own strengths and needs. But honest and reliable feedback is necessary to test one’s own perceptions, recognize previously unseen strengths, and become aware of personal blind spots.