Why 360o 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. 360o 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 360o 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 360o 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 allows new projects to be easily set up and then monitored
Before you start…
Having worked with 360o 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 360o feedback project delivers the best possible results for everyone.
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
- 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 360o 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 360o 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 360o 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.
A checklist for choosing the best Survey Tool
All the latest 360o survey tools are now web-based. However, there are a lot of options to choose from. We have seen – and worked with many and they are very varied. Sometimes you may not even know what you need – or indeed what is available. So here is our checklist for selecting the right 360o survey for you:
Does the survey….
✓ Give you complete flexibility – unlimited feedback-givers, categories, questions etc?
✓ Give you the option to use your own competencies or choose from a library of questions as your starting-point?
✓ Allow users to give feedback ‘on the go’ via lap-top, mobile and tablet?
✓ Allow for multi-lingual options?
✓ Allow people to identify behaviours that are considered most important as well as having a numeric rating for a behaviour. This can be crucial in prioritising development actions.
✓ Provide regular reporting to highlight feedback progress?
✓ Allow you to brand the materials for your organisation or programme?
✓ Allow reports to be easily understood – with easy-to-read graphs?
✓ Summarise an individual’s top strengths and likely development areas to help turn the feedback into actionable development plans?
✓ Actively encourage valuable text feedback as well as numeric ratings?
✓ Provide an overall organisational report – top strengths and development areas for a group?
A lot to consider, we know but your choice of 360o survey and the way that you set it up before the launch will be vital to the success of the project and being able to deliver tangible results to both individuals and the business as a whole.
In our next 360o blog article we will focus on how to help your people understand their feedback, identify areas for action and build an achievable, realistic but challenging plan to turn their feedback into a recipe for success…
Find out how we can help develop your leadership ability, drive sales growth and achieve your business goals.Get in touch