There are two kinds of information that motivate us to be better at what we do: statements of personal opinions by ourselves or others; and measurement, metrics or data. The greater the need and desire for self-improvement, the more critical role that data plays in getting us to a better place. Can you imagine the challenges of having a successful diet program without a weigh scale? Or perhaps holding a competitive sports game without a scoreboard and time clock?
As consultants, we are often called on to support, encourage, and sometimes to create a desired behavior change in leadership behavior for an organization. There are always a full range of personal opinions expressed by the CEO, senior leaders, peers and even direct reports on the most important behaviors that need changing. There are still too many organizations that do not use very simple tools to gather actual data on which leadership behaviors are working fine – and which need some special attention. This can often result in all leaders sitting through a leadership training program that may not be suited to their specific needs, which reduces the return on any training investment.
Leadership 360 Feedback Surveys have come a long ways in recent years. Such tools are referred to as 360 surveys because they allow for feedback from all sides of the leader. People completing the survey include the leader as self, the immediate boss or next-higher manager, the employees who report to the leader receiving the feedback, peers of this leader, and an optional category of “other responders”. The survey tools are professionally prepared with all of the science of psychometrics to ensure that results are valid and reliable. There are usually about 60-80 questions about how often a wide range of leadership behaviors are seen being used by an individual leader. A typical survey takes about 15-20 minutes to complete, is delivered electronically, taken on-line, and is sent directly back to a 3rd party scoring and reporting organization. Individual respondent results are never seen within the organization . The external suppliers take great care to ensure that the confidentiality and anonymity of each respondent’s input is protected. Reports are generated and are typically sent back to the leader who is receiving feedback, with a copy to the next higher manager. The responses are reported by category of respondent and usually also include comments by the respondents.
There are three categories of stakeholder in any such leadership survey process. Obviously the leader receiving feedback is very interested in the process and whether it will be fair and developmental rather than punitive in nature. The organization is a stakeholder who wants to know how leadership overall is doing – and where the best return on any training investment would be received. Finally, the people giving the feedback have a great interest in the process to ensure that they will not be at risk for providing feedback to their leader or peer. The implementation process must be carefully managed to ensure that everyone’s needs and interests are addressed as much as possible – and that risks for all concerned are minimized.
A typical implementation involves a pilot project with the senior-most leadership team and the CEO. Employees are much more likely to be comfortable with a well-run 360 feedback process if they have the opportunity to participate as a respondent before they are asked to participate as a leader. Effective assessment programs usually roll out from the top down.
The leader receiving the feedback feels highly vulnerable in this process because of the concern about the use of the results, and the fairness of the respondents’ feedback. For that reason, the leader should receive the report first and have a chance to work with a consultant on de-briefing the results and preparing a developmental plan for becoming more effective. The leader then has the responsibility to meet and review both the results and the plan with the next higher manager. The leader is also required to meet and share a high level review of the feedback with the direct reports, focusing more on the development plan than on any specific results. Leaders are strongly coached not to play detective or otherwise to figure sort out where specific feedback is coming from. Feedback, good or bad, is a gift that enables reflection, learning opportunities and improvement.
When an organization starts measuring the effectiveness of leadership behavior using real data provided by those experiencing the leadership, real progress begins on strengthening overall leadership skills in the organization. Actually, leadership begins to improve as soon as you announce that you are considering a 360 survey process for leaders.
One of our CEO clients has been using our 360 feedback process annually for more than a dozen years throughout his entire leadership ranks. When asked why he is so committed to such a process, his response is quick and direct. Crucial conversations aimed at recognition for or improvement of leadership behaviors are so much easier when he can refer to actual data, rather than simply relying on personal opinion. Data-based coaching conversations are simply more powerful, more effective and fairer for all parties.
360 Feedback processes are worth exploring by all organizations whose success is driven by how effective people are at leading other people in the organization.