360 Degree Feedback: Your Ultimate Guide

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Engaged Leadership

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Giving and receiving feedback is a critical lever for improving executive leadership and assuring your employees have a powerful and impactful voice. Unfortunately, many leaders and their team members end up more overwhelmed and frustrated after they receive feedback than before.

360 degree feedback is different. This approach to feedback provides a unique, safe method for leaders to gain valuable insight - about both their impact on employees, peers and their bosses but also their own effectiveness.

360 degree evaluations impact both leaders and their companies over the long term. When leaders receive this feedback and subsequent leadership coaching to support them, they benefit from increased awareness, a sincere desire to improve their skills, and a desire to interact at their best with those around them. The best 360 feedback systems provide motivation, encouragement and a chance to focus on and leverage strengths as a major portion of their focus.

360 degree feedback systems often play out as follows: 

Select stakeholders - The leader receiving feedback selects an initial list of people they would like to include in their 360. Giving the leader the opportunity to determine the l list of feedback providers allows them to most effectively “own” the messages they hear, because the data comes from a group of people they know to be a fair and representative sample of their key constituents. 

Gather feedback anonymously - All feedback is gathered anonymously, either via a verbal interview with the Coach or an online third party survey. Anonymity does several positive things:

  • It makes it safe and easy for everyone to be more candid than they normally would be. Many people will say “Oh this is exactly what I would have or have said directly to them.” That is actually rarely the case. Their language is more guarded, less direct and almost always far less skillfully framed and delivered. 
  • It forces the leader themselves to simply “hear the feedback” and assume the validity of the impact for others .. regardless of the context. If you start  by assuming that the data you hear IS the actual impact on a person, then you can examine how your behavior and language could have created that outcome.

Expertly deliver feedback - The feedback is then delivered by a deeply experienced Coach who can communicate in a way that ensures that the leader hears and  internalizes the information conveyed. Skilled Coaches are able to balance directness with compassion and support and help the leader internalize the feedback they hear without getting defensive. This is a critical difference from most feedback a person receives as most people are not skilled at blending “what needs to be said” with “how it can best be delivered in a way that it can be fully heard.” 

Create a plan - The Coach and leader will work together to create a focused, specific action plan. Some 360 feedback systems overwhelm leaders with too much data that leaves them unclear about the most critical priorities for action. By creating a focused, highly prioritized action plan removes the data fog and helps pave a clear path to improved impact.

360 degree feedback can be transformative for every level of management. Traditional performance reviews often create fear and anxiety, because they typically feel deeply personal and even threatening. People are often afraid to share their feedback honestly for fear of repercussions (for themselves or for the person who is receiving their feedback). 360 feedback creates a safe environment for everyone to express – and hear – the feedback. When done well, we’ve found that  thoughtfully constructed and delivered 360 feedback is one of the most powerful development tools for building better leaders in your company.

What are the benefits of a 360 degree evaluation for a leader?

The 360 degree evaluation helps your leader hear the feedback and to make thoughtful changes to help them grow in their future leadership. Here are some more ways that 360 feedback can transform your leaders and your company: 

360 degree feedback empowers leaders and their teams. Individual satisfaction and empowerment obviously play a critical role in reducing turnover rates for both employees and leaders alike. Directly investing in a leader's development is a tangible demonstration of a company's loyalty and commitment to growing their people. A lack of this sort of investment is often cited by employees in their exit interviews. They often express that they feel like the company was not invested in them as individually. The company was only invested in the larger corporate goals. Both ARE important. And too often companies ignore or dramatically undervalue the direct investment in the individual and their growth and satisfaction.  

360 degree feedback programs are highly effective. Traditional performance appraisals are typically backwards looking, focus far more on evaluation rather than growth AND everyone knows they are tied to money and promoiton opportunites at the end of the day. When employees know that saying something negative about their boss could seriously impact both of their careers, they struggle to share their honest observations. A 360 degree system flips the script. Employees are empowered to share with the knowledge that their observations will be expertly delivered, focused on growth and learning, and leaders can receive feedback with less fear or even shame. Rather than creating a company culture of fear, skillful and thoughtful 360 feedback can yield teams that are more confident and skilled, which creates better outcomes for everyone involved. 

A 360 degree assessment provides powerful, actionable feedback designed to break performance-inhibiting patterns and give leaders and feedback providers a strong sense of empowerment and confidence .

Performance appraisal vs. 360-degree feedback

Performance appraisals or performance reviews are traditionally conducted by an internal HR department or advisor, and often leaves companies wondering why they aren’t seeing the change needed. The nature of these appraisals is likely the reason why. They typically consist of multiple choice questions that don’t provide space for employees to fully express their perspectives, context and feelings. Additionally, they’re often tied to revenue goals, and delivered in a way that leaves the leader feeling frustrated and confused about how to move forward. Performance appraisals may be conducted with the best intentions, but they can leave your company feeling more disjointed than before you began.

360 degree feedback functions as a catalyst for growth. When an independent coach is gathering feedback as a third party, this opens the door for confidential and comprehensive communication. An expertly trained coach knows how to tease out the nuance of team-member’s observations, and brings in the benefit of an outside perspective. A qualified Coach can then communicate that critical information in a way that it is easy to digest and implement.

How does 360 degree feedback help organizations and teams?

1. Reducing friction 

Friction points (whether from communication struggles, unclear processes, poor management, etc.) can hold teams back from the progress they’re striving to achieve. All of the biggest friction points within a company stem from interpersonal relationships. The way that employees operate with one another has a direct impact on the success, or failure, of a company’s goals. 

360 degree feedback helps individuals better understand these points of friction, what caused them, and how they can contribute to reducing them.

2. Increasing retention 

The saying “people take jobs and leave managers” rings true in most businesses. Leadership feedback and coaching is crucial to the success of a company, because employee satisfaction directly correlates with the leadership they’re under.  

But with 360 degree feedback, your managers will get the insights they need so that they can process it well, receive it, and then act on it - for the good of their team members and themselves. 

3. Creating loyalty

Post-360 feedback, companies see better employee performance at-large. Teams develop the skills to work together and build trust and leaders have more clarity and context. As individuals feel heard and valued, their team culture will improve and they’ll feel increased loyalty to leaders and the company as a whole. A healthy team dynamic will always create more camaraderie, loyalty, and trust.

4. Catalyst for growth. 

When an independent coach is gathering feedback as a third party, this opens the door for confidential and comprehensive communication. An expertly trained coach knows how to tease out the nuance of team-member’s observations, and brings in the benefit of an outside perspective. A qualified Coach can then communicate that critical information in a way that it is easy to digest and implement.

5. Fostering communication

It’s empowering for team members to share their observations and know that it’s actually going to be well communicated. This can open up much improved communication loops that would otherwise not exist. Too often the key messages a leader needs to hear start and end with a small group of employees that are impacted by the leader, and never travels to their leader themselves. Skilled 360 degree feedback changes that dynamic so that everyone has a voice and is afforded the opportunity to hear messages that can immediately make them more effective.

How can a third party Coach help with 360 degree feedback?

Using an experienced and skilled third party coach to gather and deliver 360 degree feedback not only guarantees higher quality feedback, it will elicit far more candid and actionable than an internal resource ever could. It is not because the internal staff aren’t necessarily skilled (some have extensive coaching training and experience) but rather because the very nature of being internal means there are obligations and pressures that make the leader and their feedback providers, feel far less safe, more vulnerable and ultimately less candid. 

An experienced executive coach can help you design and implement a process that works for your company because of their outside perspective, not in spite of it. Third party coaches are also skilled in their feedback delivery. Instead of taking the responses at face value, a qualified coach will deliver feedback in a way that’s understandable and behaviorally applicable to the leader. 

A coach will provide thoughtfully constructed and balanced feedback. They consider the most powerful messages that need to be heard, the impacts that need to shift and then blend that with a message that leverages their strengths, assumes their good intentions. All of this is then presented in an open, compassionate and supportive way that helps the leader know that regardless of their current impacts there is a path to more effective results in a way that is authentic for the leader.  

If you’re ready to use 360 degree feedback  for your team, EngagedLeadership is here to walk with you through the process. Our Coaches are committed to helping you provide your leaders with honest and helpful feedback that will deliver improved results for the leaders and their groups delivered with care. 

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