360-Degree Feedback Questions Answered

Multi-rater, or 360-degree feedback is a tool used by many coaches when they work with their clients.  Especially in Executive Coaching where the idea is to help an individual improve in leadership effectiveness, feedback from peers, bosses, clients, subordinates, vendors, etc. can be a critical part of a developmental plan.

Q: Why is 360 feedback so important?

A: 360s provide info from multiple perspectives demonstrating how effectiveness may vary across situations/groups.  The comprehensive nature of multi-rate feedback adds credibility and is more likely to get the learner’s attention.  Rater confidentiality enhances accuracy and some 360s offer verbatim comments and suggestions that the learner would not otherwise receive.  It is also important to note that using a 360-degree instrument often raises both the raters’ and the learner’s awareness of the importance of feedback generally and offers the chance to see how information in the form of feedback can add to personal development.  Feedback is also a reminder to learners to assume responsibility for their own ongoing development.  Perhaps most important, 360s provide valuable information that might propel one’s career or prevent career derailment.

Q: What is the best short-term benefit to an individual receiving 360 feedback? What is the best long-term benefit?

A: Best short-term benefit: 360 feedback shines a light on blind spots.

A: Long-term: Shifts learner into pro-active mode in managing his/her career and the necessary development effort.

Q: I’m not sure I really want to know what other people think about me. How can I prepare to face the data?

A: Ask yourself, “If you’re doing something that is ineffective or causing others problems, would you rather know about it or stay in blissful ignorance?”  Most people answer that they would rather know and be able to fix it.  Of course none of us like to hear when we are doing something ineffective, but it is naive to think that there are absolutely no areas for improvement.  So, give yourself the choice of knowing what those improvement points are and you can make a choice about what to do about it.  And remember, feedback isn’t just about weaknesses.  It is also about strengths.  You will hear all the great things that people appreciate about you and your leadership style.  That’s a good thing too!

Q: There’s so much information in a 360. How do I begin to process and prioritize the information.

A: There is a lot of information when you take on 360 feedback.  Before diving into the results, take a minute to frame where you are in your development goals.  Here are some suggested questions to ask yourself:

  1. What challenges are facing me in my job in the next 9-12 months?
  2. What do I need to be good at to meet these challenges successfully?
  3. What do I need to be good at to be ready for my next position?

Zero in on the feedback that speaks to those competencies and create an action plan around those areas that you want to develop.

Q: Do I tell my boss or other coworkers about my 360 results?

A: After thanking them for their participation in your 360, share with what is relevant with your boss or peers.  Don’t overwhelm them and keep in mind the parts that make sense for them to know.  For example:

  • highlights of what you learned in terms of strengths and development needs
  • what you plan to work on, and
  • how they can support you in this effort (for example being a learning partner, a source of feedback, being a cheerleader).

Just make sure to be totally comfortable with what you are sharing and be authentic about the kind of help you want to receive.

Q: What if I have to share my 360 with my boss? It’s now part of our annual review process. Any suggestions?

A: Some organizations want to cultivate a learning organization and one that tries to take any “embarrassment” out of the need for leadership development.  In organizations such as these, the idea is that the need for development is an accepted part of organizational life and that none of us comes to the table with a fully formed and relevant set of skills for every situation.  To be always learning, growing, and adapting to changing circumstances is accepted.  So, come to the meeting with your boss prepared.  Summarize what you’ve learned about your strengths and development needs. Raise any questions you have for your boss that arose from your 360 feedback. Review which competencies you think are your best opportunities for development (given your deliverables, goals and objectives, or above-mentioned challenges) and get your boss’s input. Then present a tentative development plan built around those competencies you originally identified, again for your boss to provide input and support.

Q: What if I get a lot of negative feedback? What can I do?

A: First, remember no one gets all top scores.

Second, balance your focus by paying attention to the positive as well as the negative.

Third, ask yourself if you’re really surprised by the feedback. And if so, ask yourself how you might have picked up on it sooner. Then realize that at least now you know about it and can do something about it.

Fourth, and most important, make sure you understand it. If you don’t, choose one or two people whom you respect and trust and with whom you feel comfortable to discuss what you’ve learned and what behaviors might have triggered the feedback. Ask them if they can elaborate on the feedback to help you better understand it. Ask for suggestions on what you can do differently in order to improve in the areas needing development. Get a clear picture of how you will be behaving differently in the new and improved version of you.

Q: What are the first concerns participants have when you meet with them to review their feedback? How do you address those concerns?

A: Participants are typically concerned about how comfortable they’re going to be with their feedback coaches.  And the time that it will take to comb through the feedback reports (usually close to 4 hours).  Interest in the quality of their performance ratings (if this is their first exposure to them) and the confidentiality of their feedback are often the first things mentioned by recipients. Once a cursory view of the numbers is completed, the focus then shifts to  establishing rapport, setting and managing expectations and then reminding them of the confidential nature of their data and our discussions.

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Yes! You may use this article by Executive and Career Coach Pamela Corbett in your blog, newsletter or website as long as you include the following bio box:

Pamela Corbett is an executive coach, career and outplacement counselor, organizational consultant and psychotherapist with her own practice, Spectrum Psychological Services based in Winston-Salem, NC. Licensed in North Carolina and trained in clinical psychology (Penn State and Indiana University of Pennsylvania), Pam is a certified Master Practitioner of NLP and is certified in the entire suite of Career, Leadership, and Organizational Architect Tools. Pamela has been providing executive assessment, development planning, coaching, and training through her own business and as adjunct faculty with the Center for Creative Leadership since 1986. Pam’s earlier work experience includes a veterinary hospital start-up, television production, insurance claims negotiation, inpatient and outpatient psychotherapy, and teaching at Wake Forest University. Her coaching profile can be found at TheCoachingAssociation.com.

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