Making 360° feedback work for you – Our Top Tips!
By Ian Hirst, Greenbank CEO
360° feedback is a vital leadership tool. If your goal is to make your organisation more successful, you first need to make your people more effective, but of course the million-dollar question is how do we do that?
From our experience, a big part of the answer is helping people, especially anyone in a leadership role, to develop high quality relationships – with their boss, direct reports, peers and key stakeholders. This might seem obvious, but what may be less clear is how to assess your current relationship with each of these groups of people.
This is fundamentally important – just as the best sales organisations are concerned about the quality of their relationships with their external customers, top leaders seek feedback—both positive and negative—about how they’re doing in all their relationships, internal or external.
How the right approach can help
Research shows that only by collecting feedback from a variety of perspectives, can leaders truly understand how they are doing. It can give them uniquely balanced data to identify what is working and what needs to change. 360° feedback surveys, when done well, help leaders to grasp these different perspectives and give them the power to be more successful!
So, what are the key elements of a good 360° survey process?
We have identified 5 key elements:
- A good, easy to analyse personal report allows them to identify patterns and messages in the feedback which will help them identify strengths and help them prioritise their development efforts.
- The right processes and communication during the 360 project, ensure everybody feels comfortable providing feedback, resulting in higher quality and honest feedback.
- The right technology makes it easy to provide feedback, in the language they want to use on their choice of device.
- Excellent follow-up coaching avoids messages being mis-interpreted and helps leaders prioritise actionable development plans.
- Simple administration, to allow new projects to be easily set up and then monitored
Having worked with 360° surveys from many different companies and business schools over the years we have distilled some of the tips and hints that we think will help you to make sure that your next 360° feedback project delivers the best possible results for everyone.
Before you start…
It is easy to focus solely on the 360° survey itself; the questions to be asked, rating system and reporting. But what you do before, during and after the survey has been completed is just as important! Here are our top tips!
1. Be clear (really clear), on the purpose – and who sees the report!
What is the purpose of the survey? Is it purely for individual development or is it part of your performance appraisal, talent management or assessment process? And do all the decision-makers share a similar understanding of this purpose?
A key question that is worth asking early on is “Who gets to see an individual’s report. If the answer includes the participant’s manager or HR, then that’s fine – but it needs to be explicit during all communication, with both participants and feedback-givers.
2. Clearly define the process and outcomes – for all your stakeholders
As well as being clear on who gets copies of reports, also get clarity on exactly how the feedback will be used. For instance:
- Will there be coaching support to help individuals make sense of the feedback and start to put together action plans for development?
- Is this a one-off survey or will it be repeated in the future with comparison reports?
- Will there be an overall organisation report available to summarise feedback from the group as a whole? This can be useful in providing HR and senior management with an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of a group of managers, whilst keeping individual reports confidential.
3. Communicate effectively to both participants and feedback givers
Whilst some people are very familiar with the concept of 360 feedback surveys, for others this might still be a mystery! If the process is unfamiliar there may need to be more time spent upfront explaining and communicating the process both to individuals and their feedback givers. This should include being clear about levels of confidentiality and anonymity for feedback givers who might be concerned that their feedback could be ‘used against them’.
Our top tips are…
- Don’t assume that people fully understand about 360° feedback
- Try and get face to face communication with participants before the survey is launched, to explain the process and answer any questions. If this is not possible, then a webinar can work well.
- Give guidance on how to select feedback givers. If reports are going to go to HR or their manager, there may be a tendency to only choose positive feedback-givers, in which case we normally suggest that their line manager signs off the list of feedback-givers.
- Make sure that communication reinforces the aims and goals of the project – how will it be used and why?
4. Decide whether a standard or tailored survey is the best fit for your needs
There are pros and cons to both approaches which need to be carefully considered
Standard ‘One-size-fits-all’ surveys
✔ These can effectively reinforce existing competency frameworks and produce excellent data to compare different groups within the business.
✔ If the survey is based on an external competency model it may also enable benchmarking with similar groups in different organisations.
✗ Buying in a standard survey can save time and money as there are no development costs – although some providers of externally benchmarked surveys may charge a higher premium for their product and services.
✗ They may not fully reflect the role of the participant or style of the organisation.
✔ Allow you to focus on the behaviours and competences important at this exact point in time. For instance, an organisation may well have an overall set of management competencies yet still want to offer something more specific to smaller groups with specialist skills e.g. lawyers, project managers or sales executives.
✔ Understanding # 1 – your purpose – should help you decide. For us one of the key tests is whether the behaviours and competences being used will provide relevant, credible, useful and usable feedback for individuals and the organisation.
✗ Lack of external benchmarking
✗ Can take more resource and effort to put together the right questions
5. Ask the right questions!
This may seem obvious, but we have seen 360 surveys that are very confusing and make it both difficult for feedback givers and for participants to make sense of their feedback.
Our basic guidelines would be to:
- Focus questions on examples of positive behaviour. This is more likely to get an honest response and make feedback more digestible. It is easier to consider what you could do more of rather being told what you have done badly.
- Make sure the language will be clear to your feedback givers. So, avoid HR speak – this might mean translating ‘competency’ language in to more conversational language. This is especially true if feedback givers have different home languages.
- Keep questions focused on one area – rather than including two different aspects in one question; for instance, ‘reports are easy to understand and delivered on time’ could be confusing – is the question about clarity or timeliness?
- Focus questions on observable behaviour and actions.
- Check them out with a sample of participants – ‘Do these questions make sense to you? Would you be able to see this in others who you work with?
- Would feedback on this question be useful to you?’
6. Select the right feedback givers
People may need to be given guidance on who to ask for feedback. This may vary but generally we would suggest considering the following
- Whose view of you would be useful to understand better so that you can work more effectively with them?
- Who has a working knowledge of you which will have given them the chance to build a good understanding of your style and ways of working?
- Whose feedback would you value?
Choose a cross-section of feedback givers – not only your biggest fans or those with whom you have a frosty relationship.
7. Encourage openness and maximise participation from feedback givers
This can be a tough one – yet vital in gathering the quality and quantity of feedback needed by participants. We have found it helpful for individuals to send a personal note out to their feedback givers – for two reasons:
- A personal approach is more likely to build commitment and lead to action rather than a note from HR or an external provider.
- They will be expecting a note – potentially from an external organisation which they might otherwise bin as junk mail.
8. Be realistic on timescales
This is a big investment of time and energy, so you want to maximise the response rate. We would recommend that you need to allow three weeks for feedback givers to respond – be chased – and finally respond.
Longer than this could mean it gets forgotten – less than this might mean you lose people on holiday, travelling or on sick leave. Also, be aware of big dates in the diary e.g. a lot of mainland European countries have a long summer break which needs to be considered within your project plan.
If you are surveying an entire team it may well be that some individuals are inundated by requests for feedback from their colleagues – again you might need to allow a little more time to accommodate this or plan to stagger your survey.
Before you start…
This is probably our top tip and can be the quickest ‘win’. With more people involved in a buying decision and face-to-face contact difficult, the emails and proposals your sales teams send to their main contact will be sent to others – many of whom may not know your organisation or the services you offer – and can be a major influencing tool.
Unfortunately, many salespeople who are great at face-to-face conversations are not natural ‘wordsmiths’ and don’t make use of what is now an increasingly vital part of their sales armoury…
So, we encourage salespeople to read the email or proposal through the eyes of their contacts C Level boss – Does it explain the context? Does it show a real understanding of the client’s needs? Are the financial benefits clear? Is there a definite ROI? We know this works – clients following this guidance have won back bids they had lost by resubmitting proposals.
They avoid the temptation to send generic sales decks
Your sales deck is vital and it might be tempting to try and use this even more in this new virtual world– but sending them a generic sales deck (or using it as part of introductory virtual call) simply says that you either don’t understand the client’s needs – or worse, you are not interested in finding them out! Frankly, they won’t be interested in your wonderful company or services until you have first shown you are sincerely interested in them…
So – top salespeople have the discipline and confidence to save the generic deck for a marketing event and use any PowerPoints sparingly to demonstrate that they DO understand the client’s marketplace, have listened to them and can solve their specific business problem…
Summary - practicing skills in a virtual environment
In the current environment, sales leaders need to instil calm and confidence so that their sales teams can focus on the right things. Salespeople need to instil calm and confidence especially now when customers may be working hard to help their own businesses to return to full strength. To do this, they need a game plan, confidence, and the skills to fully embrace and execute a virtual selling strategy
The only way to gain confidence and skill of course, is to practice in a virtual environment. Just as in sports, the team which is best trained and prepared is the one that typically comes out on top. Arming salespeople with an understanding of the unique challenges, a set of best practices, and lots of practice is what will help them to continue to engage in meaningful conversations and embedding the confidence and trust needed for customers to make purchase decisions in these difficult times.
Greenbank are an innovative, ‘boutique’ consultancy delivering completely tailored leadership, negotiation and sales development programmes to clients ranging from top 5 global firms to tech start-ups.
We are now delighted to be running truly blended programmes, which make the most of both virtual platforms and interactive face-to-face workshops, to deliver motivational, cost-effective development.
We also have our own industry-leading, multi-lingual, 360° assessment platform, Navigator360 which provides our clients and other training providers with a completely flexible approach to gathering powerful confidential feedback.
If you would like to discuss how we can help your own sales or leadership teams, then we would be delighted to have a relaxed conversation – please contact Ian Hirst or (+44) 7812 074359.