September 24, 2020

Do a 360 of Yourself, and Do It With a Coach. Giddy-up!

I have had the pleasure of doing 360 reviews of leaders as a coach and an ally. A 360 review is an evaluation of an individual’s strengths and growth opportunities offered by an individual’s superiors, peers, and direct reports. 360s may be initiated by a company for a certain set of leaders or they may be requested by an individual leader.

I think doing a solid 360 and garnering broad feedback is an invaluable opportunity for learning for a leader. It is also a rare chance, if one chooses, to get executive coaching based upon real, timely data. Thinking of a 360 review and leadership coaching together is an unrivaled opportunity for personal growth and the development of a feedback-focused culture.

When I’m leading 360s, I either gather data myself or leverage a tool like CultureAmp. Either way, the mission is to get excellent, authentic feedback from a broad swath of people who have varying perspectives on a given leader. I’m going to speak to the process I use when I run the process myself.

First, I want to know WHY the leader or the company wants to do 360 reviews. I want to be sure the requestor’s goals are aligned with my views on this process. Often people do 360 reviews just because they think they should. If the goal is anything other than providing important growth opportunities to leaders, I’m not terribly interested and this post isn’t especially applicable.

Second, I want to agree on WHO will provide input on a given leader. I generally recommend that a 360 incorporate feedback from that leader’s supervisor(s), a set of peers, a set of direct reports, and a set of skip level reports.

Third, I lay out a plan for the HOW. As a prerequisite, I ask the leader I’m working with to email their group of feedback providers and inform them of the process. I ask that they cc me on this email and that they assure the participants that all feedback will be supplied exclusively to me (the coach conducting the 360) and that the leader will not see any personally identifiable content in the process. I review the data; I create a thematic summary; I review that summary verbally with my client; I frequently create a plan for my client to address identified growth areas; I often follow-up on progress three and six months after I share the feedback.

I usually keep the process fairly simple. I’d rather get narrative feedback and assemble themes than work toward a highly metrics-based data set. In general, I think that as long as there is a coach on the assignment, this approach provides the most textured and truthful input. In order to optimize for candor, psychological safety, and efficiency, I draft a quick survey that I run in Google Forms. I ask every person who is an included stakeholder in the 360 to take 30 minutes to complete this form. I generally do 30-minute phone conversations as a follow-up to the written feedback with the most senior 50% of the population included in the process.

Photo by Shyam on Unsplash

Why You Should Do a 360 of You

In my experience, doing a solid and detailed 360 is a game-changer for most leaders. It provides an opportunity to see themes -- both personality features and business behaviors -- in a context that is concrete and addressable. Done well and with an intermediary that distills to themes and protects anonymity, a 360 is a rare opportunity to see how one is viewed from all directions in work (and for that matter, life).

In addition to the benefits to the leader, I find that the humility and vulnerability shown by the mere act of soliciting 360 degree feedback radically increases a sense of inclusion on a team or at a company. People like being asked. They like the tenor of a leader asking for input from subordinates. They like hearing from the leader after a 360 and learning what plans the leader has for acting on the feedback.

360s offer value across a leader’s life. At the pattern level, the behavior happening at work usually mirrors the behaviors happening in life. If you were to ask your friends for this level of deep feedback, it might seem indulgent. If you ask your colleagues, it feels responsible and gracious. It reinforces a culture of candor, feedback, and growth.

Why You Should Do a 360 of You With a Coach

I feel strongly about this. Do a 360 with a seasoned executive coach. Here’s why:

  • People at your organization may be more open to a process led by an outsider than by an insider in your organization.
  • You have the ability with an outsider to set reliable confidentiality guardrails (for your participants and for your coach). This will lay a foundation for more honest feedback.
  • If you get high-quality feedback, as you or your company say you want, you will want to process this input with a trained professional coach. Themes will be delivered with an eye toward growth strategies instead of just an eye to downloading content.
  • If you get high-quality feedback, a good chunk of it will be hard for you to hear. I have found this to reliably be the case. You want a partner in this process to provide context, remind you of the perils of feedback (defensiveness, blame, rationalization, case-making). You want a real-time partner who stands with you in service of your learning and growth.
  • If you work with a coach who uses the lens of Conscious Leadership, as I do, you will have an opportunity to look at your part of the dynamics, to avoid drama in the process of receiving feedback, to be reminded that the purpose of a 360 is your development and potential. You will be reminded that we generally play out similar personality patterns across our lives. That our work is not to completely change, but to grow by developing more choice and space around our default patterns.
  • If you choose to respond to a 360 with an action and accountability plan, structuring this with an outside perspective of a coach will increase your commitment and accountability. It will also increase your team’s sense of your commitment and accountability. Both matter.

Exercise

Before I do a 360 with a leader, I have a few questions I ask. Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why would I want 360 degree feedback on my leadership?
  2. What would I expect to hear in such a process (we often know what we’re going to hear)?
  3. What feedback do I imagine would hurt most if I heard it?
  4. What is one concrete, measurable step I can take right now in my leadership to avoid hearing feedback like the kind I mentioned I fear the most? It’s likely you already know that feedback, so take one step right now.
  5. Learn how to promote the free flow of feedback in your organization right now.

If you would like to learn my favorite 360 questions or consider a 360 degree review of you or your leadership team, reach out to  me on twitter @tellsue or contact me here.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is the CEO of MergeLane and a Conscious Leadership executive coach and consultant.

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