Three Steps to Effectively Using 360 Feedback

May 5, 2017

If you are lucky enough to receive a 360-degree feedback survey to help you grow in your effectiveness within an organization, it’s vitally important that you do something with the results.

Constructive feedback from peers, direct reports, and bosses enable you to confirm and capitalize on your strengths and to neutralize your weaknesses in order to become a more effective leader. When taken seriously, this feedback can be especially instructive and help you reach your potential.

All too often, however, the data collected is read and then promptly put away in a file cabinet where it’s forgotten. This contributes to what is often viewed as a waste in leadership development programs.

A 2012 Study found that American companies spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development. Much of this is wasted because there is too much attention spent on gathering data or delivering information (e.g., classroom settings) and not nearly enough in planning and executing continuous improvement and accountability.

Critics may say 360 feedback surveys are not objective and therefore may not be reliable. While it’s true that the responses are subjective to the person doing the scoring, this doesn’t mean the results are not relevant or reliable. When 15 to 20 of your colleagues agree that you have a difficult time delegating, these subjective opinions are, in fact, a valid indicator of your workplace behavior.

The data collected can sometimes turn out to be contradictory, but this too can be instructive. If, for example, your direct reports all agree you are stellar at influencing and persuading, but your CEO says otherwise, it doesn’t mean you should discount the CEO’s perspective. It means that when presenting in front of the CEO you may not be as confident, comfortable or effective as when you’re presenting to your staff.

Ideally, all of your colleagues and direct reports would voice their perspective on your strengths and weaker areas in a direct and constructive manner. But we don’t live and work in this ideal world. The survey can often be a useful way to begin a conversation.

The information you receive in results of a 360 survey can often confirm what you already know and, more importantly, contradict or surprise what you thought you knew. This should be taken and used instructively to help you to grow. Constructive feedback is not always easy to hear and often requires a coach or manager to help you develop a plan for your learning as well as hold you accountable to it.

In my experience analyzing and delivering feedback from such surveys, most of my clients find the information accurate or at least can find a kernel of truth in the responses they receive. In this way, the individual is often able to see and accept what may have previously been a blind spot for them.

In many cases, the client seeing a behavioral attribute rated particularly low by so many colleagues can help motivate him or her to make changes. This is where the guidance of a coach or manager can be especially useful in helping to navigate a successful path to growth.

The most effective process to build on the feedback is to 1) Create goals specifically around weaker areas; 2) Develop a plan for how to accomplish such goals; 3) Have someone hold you accountable for achieving the goals.

  1. SMART Goals By taking the low scoring areas and building SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals around them, the individual has something to work on. Writing this down and keeping it front and center keeps it actionable.
  2. Development Plan Once the goals are written, the next important step is to develop a plan for how to go about achieving them. Such a plan should document the necessary resources, knowledge and skills, mindsets, settings in which to practice new behaviors, and the specific individuals you will rely on for support and review.
  3. Accountability Few of us are disciplined enough to achieve such behavioral goals without another person holding us accountable. This is where the person’s manager (Chairman of the board in the case of a CEO) comes in. By being completely transparent with a Development Plan, the person’s boss can then encourage, support, direct and, most importantly, hold the individual accountable for the achievement of such goals.

Like any leadership development program, a 360-feedback survey is only helpful when it is combined with follow-up action. And the best way to learn anything new is not simply by reading, but by putting into action what has been learned. This can be especially challenging with regard to behavioral skills and therefore requires the three steps highlighted above.

Know thyself by taking the 360 feedback as a measure of where you are perceived to be today. Then take the appropriate steps to move this learning into actionable steps to implement behavioral changes necessary to become a better leader.

The Value of 360-Degree Feedback

August 4, 2010

Like most employee evaluation programs, the 360-degree feedback process can be effective or ineffective depending on the guidelines, training and implementation accompanying it.

Feedback in this process is typically provided by subordinates, peers and supervisors. It also includes a self-assessment and may include feedback from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Results can be effectively used by the person receiving the feedback to seek training and development for improvement if necessary.

However, there is some controversy regarding whether 360-degree feedback improves employee performance, and it has even been suggested that it may actually decrease shareholder value.

A 2001 Watson Wyatt study found that 360-degree feedback was one of the factors associated with a 10.6 percent decrease in market value of an organization. The study notes that while nothing is inherently wrong with these practices, many organizations implement them in misguided ways.

And a study on the patterns of 360-degree feedback rater accuracy shows that the length of time the rater has known the person being rated has the most significant effect on the accuracy of a 360-degree review. According to the study, the most accurate ratings come from knowing the person long enough to get past first impressions (one to three years), but not so long as to begin to generalize favorably (more than five years).

Organizations having success with 360-degree feedback processes report:

  • Organizational climate fosters individual growth
  • Criticisms are seen as opportunities for improvement
  • Assurance that feedback will be kept confidential
  • Development of feedback tool based on organizational goals and values
  • Feedback tool includes area for comments
  • Brief workers, evaluators and supervisors about purpose, uses of data and methods of survey prior to distribution of tool
  • Train workers in appropriate methods to give and receive feedback
  • Support feedback with back-up services or customized coaching

Organizations using 360-degree feedback without first providing the foundation for success can have negative consequences such as:

  • Feedback too often tied to merit pay or promotions
  • Comments are traced to individuals causing resentment between workers
  • Feedback not linked to organizational goals or values
  • Use of the feedback tool as a stand alone without follow-up
  • Poor implementation of tool negatively affects motivation
  • Excessive number of surveys mean raters provide few tangible results

When a 360-degree feedback process is not properly implemented it can seriously derail its effectiveness. Like any training or development program, this process requires guidelines and oversight to ensure it is implemented properly and fairly throughout the organization.

Since 360-degree feedback processes are typically anonymous, people receiving feedback have no recourse if they want to further understand the feedback. They have no one to ask for clarification of unclear comments or more information about particular ratings and their basis.

Too often the 360-degree feedback process is problem-focused rather than solution-focused. By focusing on the employee’s weaknesses there is less of an opportunity to build on the employee’s strengths. And great leaders are those who build upon employee strengths rather than on their weaknesses.

The best 360-degree feedback provides insight about the skills and behaviors desired to meet the mission, vision and goals of the organization. It enables each individual to understand how his or her effectiveness as an employee is viewed by others. The feedback is based on behaviors that other employees can see. And the process includes a follow-up plan or coaching in order to improve.

As with any performance feedback process, it can be a profoundly supportive, organization-affirming method for promoting employee growth and development. Or the process can reduce morale and motivation, and make things much worse for the individual and the entire organization.