Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

360 Assessments—A springboard for leadership development

In today’s business environment, we understand that our level of effectiveness as a leader significantly impacts the teams we lead, the colleagues we work with and our ability to reach individual, departmental and organizational goals. Whether we’re effective leaders looking to become stronger, or we’re hearing that others are challenged with our leadership style, one of the most powerful steps towards becoming a better leader is our ability to step up to the mirror.

A 360 degree assessment will serve as a mirror and an opportunity, through interviews and/or surveys, to gather the perspectives of the people who interact with you at work about your leadership, management, and communication style. Gathering this feedback will provide a springboard for how you might leverage your strengths, focus on your improvement opportunities and provide a foundation for a meaningful development plan.

The results from a 360 degree survey can range from a two to three-page summary reflecting the common denominators among a dozen interviews, to a 30-page report, depending on the depth of a survey and the purpose of the outreach. Comprehensive 360s might gather and breakdown responses to as many as 100 questions according to established leadership competencies as they relate to employee groups (i.e., primary manager, peers, direct reports). Others are simple questionnaires (25-30 questions with a few essays) that gather all responses to be included in an on-line summary. If you’re creating a survey, several online survey hosts provide ease in creating and customizing surveys and offer anonymity to survey respondents.

Many larger organizations provide the opportunity, technology and tools for 360 assessments, aligning the questions with established leadership competencies. Ask your
manager or HR department if 360 degree assessments are available through your
organization, and if so, request a sample and learn about the process.

Other than an internal or external 360 debriefer and coach who might help an individual facilitate the 360 outreach, review the results of the assessment, and apply them to a development plan, the results are often kept confidential to the receiver as a personal development resource. This may not be the case if the 360s are tied into a formal  performance review process.

Tactical Guidelines that may help as you administer and make the most of a simple or comprehensive 360 degree assessment:

– Identify a mix of relationships—successful and challenging—and if applicable, a full circle of individuals—peers, direct reports, and managers—to participate as respondents.

– Position your outreach. When soliciting feedback from your chosen respondents,
you’ll want to e-mail a brief statement about why you’re asking them to participate. This may include your desire to receive candid feedback as part of your own professional development plan. If you’re working with a coach/consultant who will facilitate interviews, offer his/her name and offer a heads up that the 360 facilitator will contact the participants personally within the next few days to schedule an appointment.

– If utilizing a survey, assure respondents that the survey results will be anonymous. Choose survey systems that are built to provide anonymity. If you’re working with someone who is facilitating 360 interviews for you, respondents should be assured that he/she will only provide you with a summary of common themes, not individual feedback.

– Request a specific date for completion of the survey (within 4-5 days of the request). On the day before the target date for completion, you may want to send out a quick thank you/reminder.

– As personal as the feedback may be or feel, make an effort to view the feedback as data that will help you identify trends and common themes, validate your successes and identify and prioritize your development opportunities.

– If possible, identify an internal or external coach who will help you debrief the 360 and work with you over time to help you learn, apply and debrief new skills and approaches that will increase your leadership effectiveness.

– Send out a follow-up note/e-mail to your respondents thanking them for their time and candor. Some leaders might even share a component of development that they’re personally working on as a result of the feedback.

The most effective 360 assessment results are provided to those individuals who are
genuinely ready to see their reflection, celebrate their successes, and who are willing to listen to and apply the data to their on-going leadership development.


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