There’s a lot of noise out there about the future of work and industry and it tends to fall into one of two camps. A dystopian view where we are all out of jobs or a utopian view where we are all better versions of ourselves, assisted by our AI counterparts. The reality probably lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s my strong belief that people, and the skills of those people, will remain the most important factor that determines a business’s success.
Leaders can make the difference between success and failure
How do we get the most out of our people? John Maxwell’s “Law of the lid” basically tells us that a team’s potential will never exceed that of their leader, so having good leadership seems like a good place to start. Indeed, looking back over my own career, I think about the leaders who have inspired and mentored me, pushing me outside of my comfort zone whilst giving me the support I needed to grow my skills and reach my full potential. Without their leadership, I’m certain my career would not have developed in the way it did!
The power of 360-degree feedback
Organizations have leaders at all levels. Good leaders get the best out of their people, but bad leaders can suppress even the very best talent. Leadership really can be the difference between a business failing or succeeding.
Unfortunately, developing good leaders isn’t always simple or straightforward. Many businesses spend huge amounts of money developing their leaders and yet 50-60% of executives fail within the first 18 months of being promoted or hired. Why is that? Could 360-degree feedback be the tool to help them succeed where others have failed?
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, 360-degree feedback was described as “one of the rare activities that truly does influence careers and change lives”. Sounds great right? But, to fully realize the benefits of 360-degree feedback organizations need to get some basics right. Culture is key here because this is not one size fits all!
What is 360-degree feedback exactly?
360-degree feedback is a way of collecting insights about an individual’s skills and behaviors from a range of people who work with them. This tends to include their manager, some peers and those that report into them. But it isn’t limited to just people inside an organization. It can include people from outside the company such as customers or other key stakeholders.
What’s so good about 360-degree feedback?
Typically, people work with their managers on their career development, yet that manager might not be the best person to help identify areas for development. The advantage of 360-degree feedback is that rather than getting one persons’ view, you get a range of different perspectives. This gives a holistic picture of a person’s capabilities, uncovering hidden strengths and weaknesses that form the foundation of a development plan.
Prerequisites to 360 success
I believe there are certain key things that need to be in place for any 360-degree program to succeed:
1. Top of the list is understanding your company’s culture
For some companies, feedback is something that is embedded in their everyday operations and used productively to help drive innovation, improve performance and productivity, as well as foster a culture of openness and transparency. But this is not true of all companies. Asking for feedback from those that work for you and alongside requires a level of trust, a belief that the exercise will be taken seriously and used as a positive developmental opportunity. It should not be used as a way of assessing and identifying poor performance.
Evaluate your culture honestly, and if you don’t feel that you have a transparent feedback culture in place, then try introducing 360s with a smaller group of senior leaders. By making this serious commitment, they can demonstrate to the business the power of constructive feedback and help to start to transform the culture of your organization. If feedback is already in your company’s DNA, then just get started!
2. Make sure you have senior leadership support
A 360-degree feedback program is not a silver bullet. Simply introducing it will not make it a success. It must be supported by managers and leaders throughout your organization, especially your senior leaders. This shouldn’t be seen as something that is being driven by HR alone. Senior leaders need to communicate the importance of the program to the business and show that they are behind it.
3. Communicate and educate
Communicate, communicate, communicate – lack of, or poor communication can be the downfall of even the most well-planned initiatives. You want your employees to understand why 360s are happening and why they are being involved in the process. In the past, some organizations have used 360s as an assessment tool. This can focus on the negatives in job performance, rather than the opportunities for development, undermining the entire process. It’s important to educate everyone on the purpose of the 360 – this is a developmental tool that will, as Harvard Business Review said, “influence careers and change lives”. It’s also important to stress that the feedback is confidential (and in many cases anonymous).
It’s equally as important to educate on how to give feedback. This isn’t always something that comes naturally to people. It could even be necessary to put in place some basic training that explains how to provide feedback in ways that are constructive and helpful, rather than personal and negative.
4. Ask the right questions in the right language
As with every feedback exercise, 360s can fail if you are not asking the right questions. Be sure to align your questions to your desired end state. In other words, remember what you want to achieve. For example, if your organization is undergoing a transformation and you need to build out new skills and competencies, ask specific questions about these, rather than more generic topics.
Make sure that your questionnaire is easy to understand by those giving feedback. Use simple, everyday language, not business jargon. And finally, when it comes to questions, make sure you are collecting actionable employee insight. That means focusing on things that you can change or improve, such as behaviors and competencies, rather than personality, which is much more fixed.
5. Don’t stop at the feedback stage, follow-up is critical
Don’t expect that by simply gathering some 360-degree feedback you will suddenly have a never-ending supply of great leaders. As with all feedback initiatives, the feedback is only the start of the journey. Putting in place follow-up to ensure that the results are acted on is at the heart of driving real improvement.
Bear in mind that people need to know how to interpret and act on the results. If you don’t have the skills in-house to interpret the results of 360-degree feedback and identify follow-up improvement initiatives, then let technology help you. Look for feedback platforms that have built-in best practice recommendations that are automatically suggested based on results, and that have a clear process around action planning.
You can even use the 360 as a follow-up tool to measure the impact of improvement activities and help ensure that everyone involved is responsible and accountable for supporting improvements. Finally, when interpreting results don’t focus too much on weaknesses. Sometimes these can’t be eliminated, just minimized. Your strengths are what got you where they are today – so focus on these!
6. Be flexible in your approach to 360-degree feedback
In the past, 360 exercises used to be focused on senior levels of management as they were costly, complex and time-consuming to run. As business structures become more flexible, with companies moving away from centralized, command and control models, this flexibility needs to be extended to feedback.
Why not provide the opportunity for individuals to initiate a 360 themselves, on-demand, as well as providing a scheduled program? This empowers employees and encourages the next generation of leaders to start developing themselves before they are even in a management or leadership position. But, remember the results are an individual’s confidential data, so let them decide who they share the results with. For example, they might prefer to share with a mentor, not their manager. The goal of a 360 is not to assess, but to develop, and for your current and future leaders to do this, they need to feel empowered and motivated throughout the process.
Improving the skills of your leaders is central to ensuring that your teams are performing to the best of their abilities. 360-degree feedback delivers vital employee insight to drive improvements, building leaders across the organization and driving the business forward. To find out how Questback can provide the feedback platform to effectively develop your managers read more about our Leadership solution here.