360 feedback, also known as multi-rater feedback, 360-degree assessments, or 360-degree surveys, have been around for over 60 years, and are enjoying increased popularity. Organizations today are using these results for a number of purposes, ranging from employee development to talent assessment (and a myriad of uses across that spectrum). Why might you want to consider this a tool in your organizational or personal tool kit? There are a number of reasons. But, before we tackle the issue of “why 360-degree feedback?” let’s first set the stage by addressing the question, “What is 360-degree feedback?”
360-degree feedback is a unique development tool. With an individual figuratively in the center of a 360-degree circle, feedback is gathered—typically online through a 360 assessment tool or platform—from key stakeholders in that individual’s success. This allows an individual to receive influential feedback from peers, coworkers, managers, and anyone else who works closely with them.
Why 360-Degree Feedback?
The “what” behind 360 feedback is fairly simple, and there are various tools that allow us to gather that feedback. So, what about the “why?” Why use 360-degree feedback in your organization, or as an individual?
Consider this. Imagine looking in a mirror. What does the mirror help you do?
- The mirror helps you to see what you cannot see on your own.
- You get a picture of what others will see when they encounter you.
- You want to know if something is amiss; you can fix it or be aware of it.
- A mirror can be used to help you view yourself from a different perspective.
Without other perspectives, we tend to invent our own reality. We think we see the world as others see it—we create a picture of what is “real”. A mirror provides us with a different perspective.
360-degree feedback is your workplace mirror. It allows you to see characteristics, attributes, and behaviors that you might not be able to perceive on your own (for more information around this concept, you may want to explore the notion of the Johari Window!). You gain a better idea of what others think of or see in you, both in terms of successes and areas for improvement. You can better identify when something is wrong, or not up to your personal standards, and rectify it. In short, by taking into account the feedback of the people you work with, and making goals to improve, you can become your best self. Does what we see in that mirror mean we need to act on it? Not necessarily. But it gives us choices that may not have been available to us without a more complete picture.
When 360-degree feedback is targeted to improve performance or to develop specific competencies essential to your organization or leadership, it provides insights that assist in development and growth. 360-degree feedback is designed to highlight strengths, as well as opportunities for development. We often find that individuals have shrugged off the value of their strengths, focusing instead on addressing areas for development. However, using an established strength to lead change in a weaker area is typically more effective than merely focusing on a weakness on its own. The saying “play to your strengths” rings true in the workplace as we strive to create a high-performing, highly efficient organization. Multi-rater feedback is an excellent way to identify not only what isn’t working, but what is working.
360 Feedback is a Tool For Change
As we become more comfortable considering the mirrors shown to us by our peers, supervisor, direct reports, and others, we gain confidence in using feedback as a tool. As confidence grows, we naturally begin to ask for feedback, rather than soliciting it solely from a tool or instrument. This information acts as a navigation tool, helping us to understand where we are, relative to where we want to (or should) be. Feedback becomes a great way to chart progress on selected goals.
Just as no one changes lanes on the freeway without checking their mirrors first (ok, we’ll just assume we are all decent drivers), we should learn to check our personal mirrors before we strive to make changes as leaders in our organizations. We must learn to value and trust the information given to us and use it to our benefit.
As we get to know ourselves better through feedback mechanisms, we start to see some powerful benefits:
- We become more effective in our communication with others.
- We use more efficient conflict resolution strategies.
- We are more accountable.
- We navigate change more efficiently.
- We build better working relationships and create stronger teams.
- Our Emotional Intelligence improves.
At first, feedback can be difficult to hear for many of us. In fact, when we provide coaching on 360 feedback we typically step feedback recipients through the “SARA model,” which stands for Shock, Anger, Resistance, and Acceptance. It is not always easy to have people close to us say that we are misaligned, misunderstood, or misbehaving. But who doesn’t want to know that they have spinach in their teeth after lunch, or that their clothing is not in order after a visit to the restroom? This is delicate information to give someone, and sometimes startling information to receive. However, if it is given with the intent to assist rather than harm, the feedback is valuable information that may also prevent further problems. Getting to the point where one sees 360 feedback as positive information is not always graceful, but can be used as a powerful tool for change.
Receiving Feedback Can Be a Delicate Process
A 360-degree feedback assessment does not generally address spinach-in-the-teeth types of delicate or sensitive issues. It addresses issues that may feel delicate in the beginning, like trust, openness, dependability, vision, energy, concern for others, conflict management, problem-solving ability, expertise, or teamwork. They may feel delicate because feedback is an emotional process (and here is my blatant plug for 360 feedback coaching!). But feedback, done right, points to opportunities. When opportunities are embraced and action is taken, additional feedback is solicited and progress is noted. As an individual, you feel the satisfaction that comes from growing, which then acts as a catalyst to stimulate further growth. As an organization, you begin to build a feedback culture. Feedback becomes more objective and informational, and less emotional and sensitive.
Does it hurt your feelings to see a car in the lane next to you when you check the side-view mirror before changing lanes? No! The car may surprise or startle you, but you are glad you checked your mirror before you moved over. As we get more experience with feedback, we learn to use it, rather than personalize it, just as we use our side-view mirrors.
So why 360-degree feedback? Essentially, 360-degree feedback is a way of asking others to tell you what you are doing well and what you can be doing better. It is a mirror that can assist you in seeing above, below, and around you. It is a tool that can accelerate your development as a leader. This process that can mature your perspective of yourself and others. It is a way to get out of your own box. It is a refiner’s fire that may burn a little at first but will leave you with a better shine.