Leaders are made, not born. To become a good leader we need to have a willingness to periodically look at ourselves in a more objective fashion rather than through the (generally slightly deluded) mirror of our own brain.
For over a decade we have been coaching leaders to develop their flexibility, effectiveness and productivity. One element of this is how they observe their direct reports, give clear, relevant and pragmatic feedback; and learn how to become a coach and mentor to their team members.
Managers at every level find this aspect of their role uncomfortable. As a result:
- Employees looking for feedback feel starved of information and can become disengaged
- Feedback is often minimal and based only on technical skills and work deliverables – so people only develop as technical specialists and not as managers/leaders
- Inappropriate or unproductive behaviours are ignored and become entrenched
- High achievers become disillusioned as they see no difference in how good and poor performers are managed
These are just a few of the effects of insufficient or poor quality feedback.
Similarly, an assumption that we find ourselves addressing more and more is the perceived lack of development opportunities in a company. As organisations become flatter employees believe there is nowhere to go if their manager has no intention of leaving. As a result they have become disengaged and often slip into marking time – which they reproach themselves about. When we introduce the Well-Rounder Leader model to them they see that they still have a lot to learn which, in turn, triggers re-engagement, increased work satisfaction and improved productivity.
If employees can’t see professional development opportunities or they are unaware that their behaviour is having a negative impact on people around them, they likely slip into their comfort zone and stop asking the questions that could reignite the development process.
This is where 360 degree feedback is valuable. It was conceived to address some of the shortcomings of the traditional manager-to-subordinate model. Through canvassing peers/colleagues and direct reports the feedback base can be broadened and reliability improves by canvassing people who interact with the person on a daily basis.
The other great advantage of 360 degree feedback is that it formalises the process, broadens the range of behaviours under consideration, prompts reflection on specific behaviours and compares the self-assessment with the assessment by the observers in an objective fashion.
Provided there is anonymity of the feedback, direct reports will typically be much more candid when asked to contribute to 360 degree feedback than they would be in an open forum or even a 1-on-1 conversation.
As long as it is clear that feedback is to be used for developmental purposes only, subjects typically show a significant level of curiosity around the feedback process and are mostly willing to take feedback on board. Giving participants the right to select their own observers has also been shown to enhance trust in the process and does not seem to diminish the quality of the results (e.g. through only selecting ‘favourable’ observers).
Over the years we have come across and have debriefed a great number of 360 degree feedback tools. A consistent problem has been that many tools are too abstract, personality focussed or make it too hard for participants to translate the results into day-to-day workplace behaviour – what does it actually look like, sound like and feel like in the moment.
For several years clients have been telling us we should create our own 360 feedback tool, given our ability to clearly describe workplace behaviour and its impact. In the middle of 2011 we bit the bullet and finally started developing our own tool based on the Well-Rounded Leader model. The tool offers organisations a means of refocusing managers away from the next level up mindset and into developing, more broadly, a whole of organisation approach, commercial acumen, influencing skills; and ability to deal with complexity and uncertainty in the workplace.
We called this tool 360 Insight and after 12 months of development and rigorous testing it is now available for use. You can find the website at www.360insight.com.au. Our design principles were really quite simple:
- Make the feedback easily accessible to the participant
- Provide the most insightful and balanced feedback
- Make the feedback actionable
- Zero administration overhead
From the testing we know that we have been able to achieve our design objectives.
The 360 Insight tool measures the frequency of behaviour in 10 or 12 categories. 3 categories look at technical/commercial skills, 4 at business/management skills and 5 at interpersonal/leadership skills. In addition to collecting quantitative information we also collect written comments for each category. The 360 Insight report also includes a 4 page guide on how to interpret the results and a guided action plan. It aims to strike a balance between solid content and keeping it easy to digest.