Many organisations and individuals invest heavily in 360 degree feedback and coaching. Once the feedback has been understood and development areas identified the next step is to decide what to do about it. It’s often the trickiest part of the whole process… how to achieve sustainable change and improvement? Some thoughts from my experience on ways to encourage action plans which are positive, motivating and most importantly achievable.
As well as working personally with people to help them understand their 360 degree feedback and develop actionable plans I also work with in-house coaches and managers. One of the most frequent questions they ask me is ‘How can I help individuals to build meaningful personal action plans that will result in real change rather than ‘New Year Resolutions’ which quickly fade and die?’
My heart sinks when I see action plans with statements such as:
‘Increase communication with my team’
‘Become a better listener’
‘Develop my internal and external network’
Don’t get me wrong, all of these are admirable aspirations but if this is the end product of a person’s action planning the chances of a successful outcome are probably quite slim.
So based on personal experience – and that of many colleagues and clients with whom I have worked over recent years I offer a range of ideas and coaching questions that I’ve found to help encourage action planning which is positive, motivating; and most of all will lead to sustainable outcomes…
Make Success Measurable
The problem I have with goals like ‘Delegate more’ is that they focus on activity rather than the outcomes we want to achieve. Delegation is not valuable in its own right but because of what it helps us to achieve; such as developing team members, increasing accountability, reducing fire fighting and giving more time for other strategic activities etc.
The ‘goals’ above are a great starting point – they just need to be refined so that they focus on an outcome that can be used to track, monitor progress and measure success.
- Why is this goal important to you/others? What tangible difference will it make?
- How will you know that you have been successful/what will success look like?
- What will be the benefits to you/others when you are successful?
- How will you measure your progress along the way?
- How specifically will you measure how successful you have been?
What could get in the way?
Optimism and positive thinking can be a great source of energy. At the same time it’s useful to think about the potential blocks to success at an early stage in action planning. This will provide both a sense of realism and also help develop plans that will minimise their impact. For instance, a block might be that our manager does not support our plan and therefore we need to influence them and bring them on board, or that we do not currently have all the skills needed to be successful and therefore need some additional training or coaching to help us to be successful.
- What could get in the way – stop you being successful?
- How might you block yourself?
- Based on your past experience, what has got in the way of you making these sorts of changes?
- How could you increase your likelihood of success?
Keep it Positive – Leveraging Strengths
It is far more motivating to move towards something we want to achieve – a positive aspiration rather that pursuing a goal focussed on fixing a fault. Research from organisations such as Zenger & Folkman have proposed that the biggest impact on performance can be achieved by identifying and developing 3-4 exceptional strengths rather than focusing on neutralising weaknesses.
So what were the key strengths identified in the 360o feedback? How could they be leveraged in order to make them ‘World Class’?
- What do you see as the top 3 strengths emerging from your feedback?
- Which of these strengths is key to your current and future success?
- How could you make this strength more visible to others?
- How could you apply this strength…
- in more – possibly more complex situations?
- with different groups or individuals?
- to coach or mentor someone else?
Big Bang versus Baby Steps
Even with the best of intentions personal change is tough. It’s hard work and takes time and considerable energy. New approaches don’t usually work perfectly first time around and when they don’t it can be all too easy to become dispirited and return to our normal, habitual ways of working. So lets keep action plans both relevant and realistic.
For instance; I worked recently with someone who was working every evening until late and most weekends and they felt stressed at the impact it was having on their work, their health and their relationships. This had grown over many years so any big change felt far too risky for him to make. The first step he finally decided on was that one evening a week he would leave the office by 6 o’clock and not take work home with him and that he would not keep his Blackberry by the side of his bed at night. Small baby steps but working in the right direction. Even these felt quite risky and uncomfortable –they were a stretch but a stretch that he felt able to do and be successful. After a few weeks he had built the confidence to take the next step towards his overall goal.
- Are there any quick wins that would make an immediate impact for you and others?
- What one change would make the biggest, positive difference to your reputation?
- What one small change would make the biggest positive difference to you personally?
- On a scale of 1-10 where would you rate your current performance? What has helped you achieve that level so far? How could you use that experience to move that rating up just one point?
Share goals and plans with others
If we fail to put our private plans into action – if we let our goals slip off our ‘to do’ list it can be easy to forget about it and carry on. After all, who will be the wiser? But, if we have made our plans more public it is a very different matter. A large body of evidence from social psychology shows that consistency is an important component of human decision-making. People want to be and appear consistent, and they prefer to be around people who behave consistently.
So sharing development goals and action plans with others – whether with a selected, trusted few or more widely – can be a vital element in assuring success.
- Who could help you in achieving this goal?
- Whose support and advice would you value/find useful?
- Who will you ask for feedback to track how you are progressing with your goal?
- How will you involve your manager/others in your development action planning?
Development Options for the Time Poor
There just never seems to be enough hours in the day to do everything – both in terms of work and the demands on our time that we have outside of work. All too often personal development (important but seemingly not urgent) is the first thing to be squeezed out of the schedule. So we need to be realistic about what can be achieved. It’s linked to the Baby Steps mentioned earlier.
So what development activities can fit into an already crammed schedule? How can development be linked so closely to our day job that it compliments rather than competes for our attention?
When this is not possible can we at least look for activities that can fit into a busy schedule more easily. Such as using commuting time to bring yourself up to speed with reading using e-books or audio.
- How can you build your development actions into your day-to-day work schedule?
- How and when will you review your progress? When can you realistically take 10-15 minutes each week to review your personal development goals and track your progress-what has worked well? What has not worked so well?
- When successful what action on your plan will actually save you time and energy in the future?
No doubt there are many other ideas that can help avoid those ‘New Year Resolution ‘ action plans and help turn all the energy often stimulated by 360 degree feedback into an actionable plan which will encourage on-going development and help people to grow and succeed.
This is a topic dear to my own heart and I would love to hear from others about their experience of how to help build motivating and sustainable action plans for development. So how do you make sure that the learning form 360 degree feedback is translated into action?