360-Degree Feedback Is Powerful Leadership Development Tool

By Joan Lloyd Jul 13, 2009
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A 360-degree feedback process is a great tool for giving leaders clear feedback from their peers, employees and managers. It creates strong motivation and specific focus to improve skills and performance.

Competencies are clearly spelled out expectations for a certain role (a leader) or a job (sales associate). They go far beyond a job description to create a template for “ideal” performance. This tool can then be used for things such as hiring, day-to-day coaching, training and development, and performance reviews.

Once individuals know what the expected competencies are, the next question is, “How am I doing on them now?” Many organizations put these competencies into a format that can be used as a feedback instrument. Then they use the instrument (survey) to gather 360-degree feedback from people all around the person, including the boss, peers and employees.

Gathering feedback from colleagues has many advantages. In addition to receiving valuable feedback from one’s manager, it’s also extremely valuable to know what peers and employees think. Receiving 360-degree feedback is more comprehensive and less prone to individual bias, since there are multiple perspectives.

For example, a manager who may have thought that his boss was just being picky about his communication skills will begin to take it seriously when everyone around him is also suggesting that he needs improvement in that area.

But there are pitfalls to avoid when developing and implementing competencies and a feedback system like this. If it isn’t done well, the damage control will overshadow any good that may have come from it. Some things to consider:

Create a participatory process, where representatives help establish the competencies and how they will be used. If this process is done “to them,” rather than giving them some control, there will be more resistance during implementation.

Make competencies as specific to the job as possible. The more generic they are, the less effective they will be.

Write competencies in behavioral language, so everyone knows what the competency means. For example, instead of “effective sales skills,” include some behaviors, such as “build trust through accountability, honesty and follow-though,” “look for additional ways to help clients solve their business problems before, during and after the sale” and “make realistic commitments for themselves and the team, and do what it takes to keep those commitments.”

Use the feedback for coaching and development rather than for a performance review or to weed out ineffective managers. Although it can eventually be folded into the performance review process, it creates less defensiveness if people have a chance to work on their skill gaps before they are evaluated on them. It isn’t fair to surprise employees with a performance review on expectations they haven't seen before.

Ensure that feedback is given anonymously. No matter how open the organization’s culture, people are reluctant to be honest unless they can give feedback anonymously. Later, if managers are genuinely willing to discuss their feedback openly, individuals will come forward with their personal feedback and advice. For this reason, most 360-degree feedback processes are conducted utilizing an online survey tool, created and administered by an independent third party experienced in 360-degree feedback processes. This experienced consultant will create your customized 360-degree feedback tool and guide you through the process, including gathering and tabulating the feedback for each manager.

Give data and summary reports to the managers, not to their bosses. Hold managers accountable for creating an action plan that they will develop with their manager. The plan should include how they plan to leverage their top strengths and how they plan to improve their weak areas. The plan should include how the boss can help with that development.

An overall report on the organization's strengths and development needs can be used to determine what the training priorities are, what should be included in a core curriculum and where training dollars should be spent.

An independent third party can provide help to a manager who is struggling with his or her feedback and what to do about it. If they are unfavorably surprised by what their peers or employees think, they will probably appreciate guidance in how to approach their colleagues for more clarity.

Managers should meet with their manager at least once a year to go over their action plan and discuss progress. The best career development happens on the job, so it’s important that a manager play an active role by coaching their employee, giving them new and challenging assignments that will play to their strengths and develop weaker areas.

Leaders are realizing that more sophisticated performance management has a bottom-line payoff and that people are demanding more coaching and development on the job. Systems like these can be a win/win for everyone.

Joan Lloyd heads the Milwaukee, Wis.-based management consultancy Joan Lloyd & Associates, which specializes in executive coaching, leader development, culture change and teambuilding.

Adapted with permission fromJoan Lloyd & Associates. © 2009. Joan Lloyd & Associates. All rights reserved.

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