[This post is part of a series on Coaching Highlights from coaching Columbia Business School students. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Before going into the details of looking at a 360-degree feedback report, I want to talk about the structure of the 360-degree feedback process and what it tells you about leadership.
What is a 360-degree feedback?
360-degree feedbacks are usually done in corporate and bureaucratic environments as review processes, both to help evaluate performance and to help people improve their performance. The process is that you or someone (typically in the Human Resources department) gets feedback from all sides — people above, below, and to the side in the corporate hierarchy as well as people outside it, like suppliers and clients. ‘360’ refers to this all-sides perspective. The results are compiled into a report.
My experience with them tells me nearly everyone benefits from having one done at least once. You learn a lot you can’t learn otherwise. I don’t know any other ways to get such quantity and type of information.
Columbia chose to start its Core Leadership class with a 360 feedback for each student for a reason — they are a great starting point for understanding both yourself in a leadership context and a fundamental perspective about leadership many never get — that leadership is about your relationships with other people.
Tomorrow I’ll show an example of the main results of a 360 feedback report to show more detail on them. For now I’ll list some high-level pros and cons for context.
The goal is to give you the most information for you to understand and improve how others perceive you and your work. Improving your leadership skills requires understanding how others see you, so 360 reports give you more and more varied information than most other types of reviews.
They give you an important perspective: in leadership, other people’s perspectives matter. Many people in functional roles like engineering, marketing, IT, and so on often think only completing functional tasks matter. Having played both roles, I see the value in understanding how others perceive you, not just your work. Also, it doesn’t matter to others how great you think you do. How they think you do matters to them.
You can’t do one yourself. Even companies that do them don’t do them that often because of the time, attention, and other resources they take.
If you want anonymous feedback, which tends to make it more candid and valuable, you need someone to collect responses from people, usually someone in a Human Resources department.
Getting information from outsiders adds other types of overhead and can burden relationships.
Many places have to outsource reviews like this, which adds complexity. Columbia Business School did.
All feedback suffers from the problems inherent in feedback — most important, to me, that it only covers the past, which you canâ€™t change, and people donâ€™t like to give or receive feedback that could be hurtful. If I ask you for feedback on my presentation and you say three positive things, I donâ€™t know if you had nothing negative to say or you just avoided saying things you thought I might not want to hear.
An alternative or complementary process is feedforward, a technique developed by top executive coach and author, Marshall Goldsmith (whom Wikipedia also states “was a pioneer in the use of customized 360-degree feedback (confidential feedback from direct reports, peers and managers) as a leadership development tool”) that you can do yourself at no cost.
360 feedbacks can show weaknesses and strengths, thus revealing areas to work on, which can help make coaching more effective. As we’ll see tomorrow, they can show exactly what to work on most and why, which can help motivate.