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By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., President & Co-Founder
Imagine you are speaking to a room of 200 colleagues on a topic they should all be highly engaged in. After about ten minutes you make a particularly important point that should generate strong diverging opinions. You are hoping to generate friction to set up your next points and highlight your brilliant solution. Nothing happens. No response. Then you notice no one is smiling or frowning. You see nothing but blank stares. You have zero directional feedback. How would you know what to do to get things on track? At least if someone was nodding off, you would know to speed up, talk louder, or turn down the heat in the room!
At varying points in time, all leaders are required to inspire, motivate, and challenge employees, colleagues, customers and stakeholders. At other times, leaders need to monitor performance, hold people accountable for results, and negotiate areas of conflict.
In all these situations, leaders rely on feedback from other people to gauge their effectiveness. In particular, leaders need employee feedback. Without it they have little hope of inspiring or motivating.
While no feedback is difficult, inauthentic feedback can be even more difficult. For example, senior leaders (particularly C-level leaders) often feel like they are speaking to a room full of people nodding approval. They are told nothing but “yes, that’s a great idea,” or “I’ll get right on that.” High-level leaders can find themselves thinking they are the most insightful people on the planet when the truth is they may be missing some important detail, but no one wants to give them “bad” news. This kind of seemingly positive feedback is misleading, which makes it as bad or worse than hearing nothing at all. False positive feedback feels good, but it won’t help a leader make better decisions.
What leaders need to make good decisions and motivate people is honest, direct feedback. Feedback-poor environments make it nearly impossible for leaders to motivate top performance, drive results in an organization, and inspire teams toward excellence.
How do leaders get honest feedback from employees? Ideally, they organically create a culture of trust where their staff can tell them the good, the bad, and the ugly without a second thought. In truth, this kind of environment is rare in corporate America. Without an already open, trusting culture, a well-conceived and regularly implemented 360 Feedback process is the only reasonable approach to break through the façade most leaders need to survive. 360 Feedback is an optimal tool for starting teams on conversations they have longed for but couldn’t ever quite initiate. It is essential, however, that the 360 Feedback process is implemented well. Poorly implemented 360s can be far worse than no feedback at all. For example, only 41% of companies that have a 360 Feedback process make it available to all managers, and fewer than half give managers feedback at least annually (see Reference below). Too many companies take short cuts when designing 360 Feedback processes and the results are predictable: Resentment, distrust and disengagement by leaders and employees.
So, how can a company realize the potential of a 360 Feedback process? There are four necessary ingredients:
1) All leaders (at least 3 levels of leadership including the top) receives feedback from all direct reports, their direct manager, and a small subset of business partners/peers,
2) Feedback is collected using an anonymous survey-based tool with numeric and open-ended questions that fit the company’s culture and strategy,
3) Each leader reviews the results in a 1-on-1 session with a neutral third party who can help them courageously confront the feedback and identify constructive actions in response to the results, and
4) After action planning, leaders follow up with their feedback providers to thank them for feedback and share the development priorities they identified from the feedback.
Given these pre-conditions, I have seen countless cases where an executive team has radically changed company culture and opened critical conversations that had limited the team’s effectiveness for years. When 360 Feedback is done right, individual leaders uncover hidden insights about themselves that had been pushing against them like an invisible headwind. Leaders literally describe it as a feeling that fresh air has been infused into their leadership. And when the process is used with a group of leaders, they can unlock countless opportunities to excel together built on a culture of accountability, honesty, and a commitment to improvement.
Effective leaders do one thing well: They help others achieve greatness. They literally pave the way for success of their direct reports and their organization. Without feedback about what direct reports need and what is (and isn’t) working well, leaders don’t have a chance. With open, honest feedback, leaders thrive.
Rose, D.S. & Biringer, J.C. (2020). Current Practices in 360 Feedback (6th ed.), Emeryville, CA: 3D Group.Request a complimentary copy at: https://3dgroup.net/360-degree-feedback-benchmark-study/