Leadership Assessments – Do 360 Degree Feedbacks Work?

Does 360 ° feedback really work? Some organizations decide not to use this process as a leadership assessment, while others support it. I am a fan, and I’ll share tips in this article that will help to increase the effectiveness of 360 ° feedback for you.

First of all, for those who do not know what 360 ° feedback is; it is a leadership assessment that provides feedback about a leader’s behaviors. It is one of many types of assessments that can be used to increase leadership effectiveness.

What’s different about the 360 ° feedback process is that it gathers input from people who work for, above, and side-by-side with the leader (hence, the name 360 ° feedback). The feedback assesses behaviors that a rater can observe. Other than the feedback from the boss, feedback is anonymous, so it increases the likelihood that the raters will participate and give candid feedback.

leadership assessments - does 360 feedback work

The 360 ° feedback assessment may be an online survey version or a more basic survey on Excel. 360 ° feedback can also be in the form of one-on-one interviews that a third party conducts with each rater in person or by phone. Whatever the format, the feedback is collected and compiled by a third party to keep the responses anonymous. A report is produced that provides combined data by the different rater groups (direct reports, peers, boss, customers or clients).

Depending on the level of sophistication of the survey and report, the 360 ° feedback process is one of, if not the most expensive type of leadership assessment. When done well, however, it is very valuable and often very eye-opening relative to a leader’s behaviors.

The following are several tips for ensuring a valuable 360 ° feedback process.

“¢ Know why you are doing it

The first question to answer is why you are choosing the 360 ° feedback process as an assessment tool. When I coach clients, we determine if getting multi-rater feedback is going to be relevant to the leader’s development plan.

For example, if the leader is primarily focusing on increasing his or her international effectiveness, receiving rater feedback in this area is probably not the most effective assessment to use for determining how globally savvy the leader is.

Another example is if the leader wishes to increase his or her effectiveness in the area of finance and financial strategy. Using a 360 ° feedback process would not be as effective as developing through gaining financial acumen and one-on-one mentoring from a CFO or financial expert.

360 ° feedback is great for assessing a leader’s behaviors that deal with relating to direct reports, boss, peers, and customers. Examples of behavioral areas that rater might observe are communication and presentation skills, teamwork and collaboration, interpersonal communications, delegation, action orientation, and customer relationships, just to name a few.

“¢ Determine the behaviors for feedback

The 360 ° assessment process can be very time-consuming for the raters if the assessment contains many behaviors (many questions). It can also become overwhelming for the leader when they receive a thick report containing feedback on a lot of behaviors. This process can be much more focused than many organizations do today.

Determine the top priority behaviors that are important for your role to be successful. This is a point in which you will involve your boss so that the two of you agree on the behaviors that are most important for the role.

Point of caution: when I ask the bosses to do this step, I remind them to consider the behaviors that are most important for the role, not the behaviors that they believe the leader needs to improve. There is a difference here. This is where there is the danger of the boss taking an evaluative approach (performance-based) when they are considering the behaviors to be used for feedback.

“¢ Keep the 360 ° feedback process developmental only

You will hear this frequently from those who have experience with 360 ° feedback – do not use the assessment for performance or evaluative purposes. The assessment should not, in any way, be tied to the your performance evaluation. This assessment is designed to be developmental and is used for developmental purposes, when done correctly.

“¢ Position the boss’s involvement constructively

The 360 ° assessment is for the leader; therefore, you are going to initiate and manage your side of the process. You will initiate the top behaviors that you would like to get feedback around, getting input from your boss but not having your boss decide. You will choose your raters. You will get input from their boss, but they will not decide who your raters will be. You will decide how and what of the feedback results you will provide to your boss once you get your report.

The boss will not receive the 360 ° feedback results in any way unless you initiate providing that feedback. Positioning the boss in the 360 ° feedback process is very important to securing a leader’s confidence and sense of security with going about this assessment. Of all leadership assessments, the 360 ° feedback process is perhaps the most exposed and vulnerable process a leader will go through. The boss is, by default, a rater in the assessment. For the whole process, however, they are a supporter of your development.

“¢ Choose the best raters possible

When you are choosing the people who are going to provide you with the 360 ° feedback, think about the people who have worked most closely with you. Identify people who have observed you on the specific behaviors that you have identified. You don’t want a rater to be taking the assessment and feel that they just have not observed you enough in certain behaviors. You want raters who know you well and who will be very honest in their feedback.

360 ° feedback will not be valuable if the only raters you think about are the people who speak most highly about you all the time. You will certainly have raters like that – and as a result, you will receive some great comments in the assessment results. Where true growth is going to occur, however, is the feedback you receive from people who observe your behaviors and may not be your greatest “fans”.

You will typically be asked to choose at least 8 to 10 raters – three or four in a category, which will keep the feedback anonymous. Categories may be direct reports, peers, a special team, and a customer or client group. You decide which raters go into which group. The more people you can put into a group, the better the data that you will receive. Be prepared that not everyone is going to respond, so you will want to select a higher number of people versus a lower number.

“¢ Prepare for the negative feedback

The 360 ° feedback process, as I said earlier, requires a leader to become vulnerable. You will receive some feedback that may come as a surprise or not be what you expected (good or bad). The biggest fear that leaders have when it comes to 360 ° feedback is the fear of receiving negative feedback. So be prepared for it. And understand that you are receiving feedback about how your behaviors are perceived by others. And perception is reality.

“¢ When reviewing your results, focus as much on the strengths as on the development areas

A common reaction when reviewing feedback is to only focus on the negative comments and to try and figure out where that feedback came from. Coaches who sit down with the leader and provide feedback do not expect that the leader is going to review their feedback, digest all the results, accept all the results, and be ready to move forward. Expect that you will probably experience several emotions during the feedback session – surprise, pleasure, anger, denial, acceptance – to name a few.

The feedback session (which is done with a neutral third party) is only the first step in understanding how you are perceived by others. You will need some time after that session to reflect on the report and what it means to you. Half of the session will help you to understand areas for development, and the other half will focus on your key strengths that you need to continue doing.

“¢ Focus your development on no more than three areas

This goes back to my tip in the beginning about identifying the key behaviors on which you are going to get feedback. You will not end up focusing development on all the behaviors you identified; that would be too overwhelming a task. Rather, from the assessment results, you will select 2 to 3 areas that you will work on.

“¢ Go back to your raters, thank them, and ask for more

Thank your raters for the valuable feedback they have given you, and share your findings. Then, step out of your comfort zone by asking them for more feedback verbally. Some of them will not be comfortable talking with you in person, and others will. But try it.

You may be amazed at how willing and supportive your raters will be. And who better can monitor your progress and help you along the way and your raters? Believe that they want you to be successful and help you to grow.

As a supporter of the 360 ° feedback process, I recommend this leadership assessment as a great way to get feedback from people all around you. But as you consider it, know why you are doing it and follow the process deliberately.

Susan CucuzzaAbout The Guest Author: Susan Cucuzza is executive coach and founder of Live Forward LLC. She coaches executives in leadership style and effectiveness. Susan has led HR programs nationally and internationally in Fortune 500 companies for over 15 years, with special focus on leadership and talent development.


4 Comments Leadership Assessments – Do 360 Degree Feedbacks Work?

  1. Karen Madson

    Great article,this strikes very close to home as my husband works for a very large company. This company makes a big process out of saying they are looking for and getting feedback from every level of the organization. Unfortunately they are facing sever challenges in todays economy because they really only want to hear that what they are doing is wonderful so they can report to their bosses and shareholders that they are now on the right track and there is a great future ahead. Any organization that does not have true two way communication is missing a great opportunity to take advantage of all of the assets they have.

  2. Shilpi Singha Roy

    Great post. I loved what you have done here. The design is elegant, your stuff classy. Yet, you have got an edginess to what you’re offering here. Ill definitely come back for more.

  3. David Cooper

    Susan, this is excellent and the best 360 article I’ve read for a while – to add an additional tip to your list – ‘follow through’ – monitoring development progress and measuring success is a great way of making those areas you intend to develop, a reality


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