A 360-degree assessment is a tool where an employee's direct reports, peers, supervisor(s), even customers, can provide ratings and commentary around certain capabilities.
After coaching hundreds of people through their individual 360 reports, I have seen clients make real, lasting behavioral changes by leveraging the feedback received. I have also seen people ignore, rationalize, and do nothing with the valuable data they have sitting in front of them.
I’d like to help you make the most of your next 360 feedback assessment, ensure that you don’t underreact or overreact to the news, and, most importantly, take action on the feedback. Here are five tips to help you gain true value from the assessment’s feedback:
1. Review and then Walk Away
360 reports can bring up a lot of unexpected emotions. When our personal perception differs from the perceptions of those providing ratings and comments, we can be thrown for a loop. A common reaction to 360 feedback is to turn defensive and begin developing counter arguments to the feedback.
Recently I was coaching a client through their first experience with 360 feedback. Not only was the assessment not a regular practice in the organization, but candid feedback was not a regular practice in this country’s culture. The client’s reaction to the feedback was not to be offended, it was to unilaterally dismiss it because it didn’t fit with their personal perception. After some circular discussion, I chose to end the coaching call because the individual was not willing to acknowledge any areas for development. I did suggest they put the report in a drawer for a week and then come back to see if they felt any differently.
While this may be an extreme example, if you find unproductive emotions surfacing, I recommend stepping away from the report. Go do something you enjoy, show gratitude to someone, laugh a bit, then come back when you’re in a different state of mind. Invariably the feedback on second glance won’t seem nearly as emotion-inducing and you will be able to make the review a more productive experience.
2. Use the Data to Inform Future Conversations
Remember that a 360 is a snapshot of a moment in time for those providing ratings and comments. Most 360s only give you limited information, so don’t be surprised if you have questions about what a certain comment or rating means. Don’t spend too much time struggling trying to make sense of things—go to your rater group and ask for clarification.
In the 360s that The RBL Group offers, we protect the anonymity of peers, direct reports, and customers. Supervisor feedback is separated out and not held confidential. Even if you aren’t sure who contributed to your report, that shouldn’t limit your ability to ask questions and gain further information and suggestions.
For instance, let’s say you received feedback to be “more innovative”, while you thought you were already pretty innovative. You could go to your supervisor and peers and ask, “If I was trying to be more innovative, what would you suggest as some behaviors I could start, stop, do more of, or less of?” You don’t have to employ every suggestion, but it may give you better insight into the snapshot included in your report.
3. Look for Themes
One of the more memorable 360 assessments I have reviewed came with a very long verbatim comment from a direct report. This individual had recently watched a documentary about the subversive management tactics of the Taliban, and he was sure his boss was employing the same tactics with the team. As I reviewed the remaining comments and other parts of the report, I recognized this as an extreme outlier. Yet I understand as the receiver—such things are difficult to process.
There’s a common tendency in our human nature to:
- Spend time trying to figure out who said what
- Become overly concerned about specific comments
I know it’s difficult to prevent yourself from these types of thoughts, but in the end—they are a waste of time. Instead, look for themes throughout your report pertaining to both strengths and weaknesses. It might be helpful to ask a trusted colleague or coach to share the themes they’ve seen in your results, if you’re having a difficult time avoiding the two tendencies listed above.
4. Focus on One Area
After you’ve reviewed your report, spent some time away, and come back to it—the next step is to consider the needs of your stakeholders. What are the most important things regarding your leadership that matter to them? These could be areas where you are strong, but they are so important to stakeholders that you should strengthen them further. They can also be areas of weakness that need shoring up.
Resist the impulse to select something you’re particularly interested in improving, but may not make a difference to your stakeholders. I have yet to see a 360 without mention of areas an individual can work on that matters to stakeholders, in fact there are usually several.
Your next step is to focus in on one area—only one. Then begin creating an action plan around that one item. Sustainable action plans include:
- Actions that can be accomplished on the job—practicing the area of focus, daily
- Educational development through reading a related book, listening to a podcast, attending a training, working with a mentor or coach, or the like
- Consider how you could develop in that area outside the office. This could be working in the community, on a Board, serving with a religious group, etc.
5. Enlist “Your Team”
Sustaining change is not easy. One suggestion that will increase the likelihood of sustaining change in your focus area is to go public with the item you’re working on. Gather “your team”— a group of trusted individuals from whom you are willing to receive suggestions and honest assessments of where you are, as you seek to develop your focus area.
The team may include your supervisor, peers, direct reports, family members, friends, a coach, mentor, etc. Share with them your area of focus and why you’ve chosen it, and then encourage them to share their perspective and suggestions for behavioral improvements moving forward. You may want to set a reminder for yourself to check in with them every 6-8 weeks.
Once you and “your team” feel like you’re making progress on that one area, you can go back to your 360 to look for the next focus area.
Following these five suggestions should help you get more out of your next 360 experience.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive 360 to help you find your own development areas, The RBL Group offers two very effective 360 Assessments—one for Leadership Competencies and one for HR Competencies. Both are research-based and provide a comprehensive report to work with. We also partner with organizations to create customized leadership 360s for their population. We’d love to help you in your individual or organizational development.