One of the most powerful benefits of 360° feedback is that leaders get a chance to compare their own self-perception directly against the perception of others.
This is of utmost importance. No one is an island unto themselves. Your work impacts others and the work of others impacts you. The strength of your working relationships has a direct impact on your productivity. Even attitudes are contagious: your attitude has a significant impact on how others show up around you: whether they are supportive or hostile, respectful or dismissive, trusting or defensive, transparent or guarded, generous or stingy, gung-ho or merely compliant.
Getting feedback on how you are leading is not only a valuable governance process; it is also a crucial aid to productivity, self-awareness and development.
In 360° feedback, it is very common for someone to rate him or herself much higher or lower than others did on a few of the survey items. There are almost always some variances between self-assessment and the assessments by others; between how the client sees herself and how others see her. These variances can mean very different things.
When self-assessment ratings are lower:
When someone rates herself lower than others rated her (when others rate her much higher than she rated herself), this can mean very different things:
1. The client and observer might both be right but focusing on different aspects of that skill or behavior.
- Action: Help the client explore the truth on both accounts: In what ways are you doing a poor job in this area (what are you seeing) and in what ways are you doing a good job in this area (what are they seeing)?
2. The client may have under-rated himself, i.e., the client might not be recognizing the good work he or she is doing in this area—the observers see it but the client does not.
- Action: If the client is not noticing her good work in this area, help her catalogue and assess her skills and strengths in this area (efforts, process, and results). Being aware of them will help the client do them more consciously, intentionally, proactively, and thus more effectively.
In either case (#1 or 2, above), the client can consider doing more in this area: would it be valuable to do more, relative to his or her other opportunities for improvement?
When self-assessment ratings are higher:
When someone rates herself higher than others rated her (when others rate her much lower than she rated herself), this can mean very different things:
1. The client and observers might both be right but focusing on different aspects of that competency or behavior.
- Action: Help the client explore the truth on both accounts: In what ways are you doing good work in this area (what are you seeing) and in what ways are you not doing enough or not doing a good job in this area (what are they seeing)?
2. The client may have over-rated himself, i.e., he might not be doing as much or as well as he thinks he is in this area. This is called a blind spot: a weakness the client did not know about but that others are seeing.
- Action: Help the client improve this skill (correct the weakness, fill the gap), compensate for the weakness with other strengths, or surround himself with those who excel in his areas of weakness.
3. The observers might not be seeing the skill, good work &/or potential the client has in this area.
- Action: In this case, the client has skills she is not being recognized for. This is a reputation or perception problem: an unfair or undeserved perception; her skills are being under-valued. After confirming that this is in fact the case, discuss how those skills can be re-deployed to generate better results, or deployed more visibly, more often and more appropriately (on more important or more visible projects).
4. The client might be treating different people differently.
- Action: Some variances are acceptable, e.g., if am coaching my employees but collaborating with my colleagues, it makes sense that they will interpret my working style differently—coaching and collaboration are different kinds of practices. However, if I am sucking up to my boss but treating my employees like crap, then there is a big problem here that needs to be corrected. In other words, it is important to consider context, purpose and effect when interpreting leadership behaviour.
The ultimate question is: “Should I make my work here more visible; am I doing enough; can I do more; can I do it better (take my practices up to the next level); would improving this area be worth the effort, relative to all of my other opportunities for improvement?”
Generally, a big variance is not as significant if others rate the client in the mid-range.
The only exception to this is when this area is genuinely mission critical to the job, i.e., the client wants or needs to excel in this area. If world class practice and results are necessary in this area, then mid-range scores are not enough and this becomes a high priority opportunity for improvement. .
Looking forward to 360:
A colleague of mine recently commented that no one looks forward to their 360 review. We should look forward to 360° feedback in exact the same way we look forward to financial statements, customer survey results and employee engagement scores.
Done properly, 360° feedback can serve many purposes and add substantial value, e.g.,
- It is a necessary governance process
- It provides crucial business intelligence
- It can help us validate our ideas and actions as leaders
- It enables us to take ownership for our actions and be accountable for our impact on others
- It provides an important opportunity for us to learn & grow
- It gives us a healthy dose of humility—you can’t know it all, you are not the center of the universe, and you not above policy / core values / the law
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