The 360-degree feedback – or multi-source assessment – is often used by corporations to plan and map specific paths in leaders’ development as they provide them with empirical data highlighting strengths and weaknesses (or ‘areas for improvement’).
If it dates back to the 1950s, it is even more relevant today as we realise that effective leaders need to have a positive self-awareness but also an appropriate dose of humility, knowing what they are good at, acknowledging they are not great at everything, and realising they can improve, too.
Zenger Folkman have defined a list of 11 components characterising a best-in-class 360° assessment. Some of those really caught my attention:
- Use response scale like “Outstanding Strength, Strength, Competent, Needs Some Improvement, or Needs Significant Improvement” that avoids a false positive. Indeed, classical scales going from « Strongly agree » to « Strongly disagree » often let average performers believe they do well when items such as « Innovates », « Takes initiatives » or « Champions change » are rated « Agree » while they are just OK… and OK being not enough.
- Compare scores to a high standard and not to the average of respondents, as leaders who are the best performers make an enormous difference in the performance of the company. This induces what I call the « look up » attitude.
- Identify the most important competencies, especially if the survey includes many items to rate. This will help people define priorities.
- Emphasize building on strengths, not only on weaknesses. It makes the experience positive, ensuring leaders identify their greatest skills. This includes the need to provide insights on how build strengths.
- Focus written comments on fixing fatal flaws, not minor improvements. Asking « Is there anything this person does that might be considered a significant weakness or fatal flaw? » instead of describing areas for improvement gives a straightforward output and not a long vague list of suggestions.
- Make it an efficient process, i.e. make the survey short, especially when respondents have to supply feedback for many people.
That being said, let’s keep in mind that 360-degree assessments are 100%… subjective per se. The way people evaluate a colleague is implicitely a way to say how they perform or an expression of their own competences. The scores they give reflect their perception, they are not an evaluation made by a sample of experts or by a representative sample of the population. Somehow, I consider a 360-degree evaluation as both a portrait (of the leader) and a self-portrait (of the organisation).
In this context, the coaching which should necessarily be included in the process will link measurement and emotions. Considering scores, statements and reactions from both assessed and assessing parties, it will be used as a springboard to proceed to a honest self-reflection, whatever the scores observed in the assessment could be, whatever the discrepancy between what people think about themselves and what others do.
Sources: ccl.org, HBR.org, zengerfolkman.com