The 360-Degree Feedback Tool and How It Benefits Leadership

To appreciate the recent rise of 360-degree feedback in today’s workplaces, we must first understand the factors that led to the decline in its reputation. With roots in the industrial era and often referred to as a multi-rater assessment, 360-degree feedback rose in popularity and became mainstream. It became so mainstream that organizations slowly lost sight of its purpose. Frequently used to evaluate an individual’s professional performance, organizations often missed developmental opportunities for business growth. They also missed an alignment of key leadership behaviors that cultivate a strong organizational culture.

Several factors contribute to the decline in the perceived value of 360-degree feedback, including the impression that the 360s are:

  • Focused on individual performance evaluations rather than ongoing development. Mixing individual performance management with development in a single 360 assessment created distrust and undermined employees’ willingness to respond truthfully.
  • A one-off measurement tool with no monitoring of the development of progress over time
  • A complex and time-consuming process that made data collection and analysis harder to complete promptly
  • Inconsistent and riddled with subjective bias as poorly written questions, lack of benchmarking, and some skewed data undermine efforts to reach objective results
  • “Read-only” – A lack of action in response to data resulted in employee frustration since the process didn’t yield tangible effects beyond a performance evaluation.

Consequently, traditional 360 assessments often suffered reputational damage from misapplication and participant frustration. However, when used correctly, a well-calibrated 360-degree feedback measurement provides a high-definition feedback mirror. Also, it provides an opportunity for continual learning and development. The key is leveraging a well-validated measure of leadership success that predicts real behavior change. And it needs to be supported by a holistic development plan for achieving meaningful insights on individual strengths, overall business performance, and career growth.

Skill Gaps and the Art of Upskilling

In collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, The World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights that technological changes affect almost all jobs. This makes digital literacy and human-centric skills indispensable. There is a need for company-wide investments in employee upskilling, engagement, and retention to overcome technological disruption. The McKinsey Global Survey on the future of workforce needs shows that 87 percent of executives and managers believe their organizations already face skill gaps. Or that they expect such gaps to develop by 2025. Also, less than 50 percent of these leaders know how to address the problem and build their future leadership pipeline.

The sense of urgency to strengthen leadership pipelines across the world is supported by Gallup’s research findings. They conclude that managers account for 70 percent of the variance in their team’s employee engagement. This makes them the linchpin for team effectiveness and retention. Moreover, Gallup found that when managers can drive high employee engagement during times of economic disruption, their teams respond with resilience. Business performance is also strengthened and outpaces their competition.

Despite today’s uncertain business climate, leaders have taken steps to identify vulnerable areas and offer their staff stability and direction to move forward. Thus, developing leaders who are trained to navigate change, difficult circumstances, and continuously build stronger teams is imperative for cultivating future-ready leadership.

The Business Case for Alignment Between Manager and Employees

Leadership development is never easy and never a destination. Recognizing your strengths and opportunities for improvement is a difficult task for individuals. Most of us have heavily biased opinions of ourselves, making it difficult to constructively self-reflect and receive feedback. We struggle to cut through all the “noise” around us that provides clues to our performance and potential.

Proven 360 feedback tools are powerful means for helping leaders reflect on their behavioral tendencies. They also provide insight into leaders’ performance from the lens of their colleagues. The very best feedback tools don’t simply provide insights into leadership behaviors. They also help leaders explore how to use their unique talents and strengths to act on feedback.

A global meta-analysis of 49,495 business units and teams, 1.2 million employees, and 45 countries empirically demonstrates that a strengths-based approach to development leads to substantially better performance and business outcomes, including:

  • 10 to 19 percent greater sales
  • 14 to 29 percent higher profitability
  • 9 to 15 percent higher employee engagement
  • 26 to 72 percent lower turnover in high turnover teams

Simply put, a strengths-based approach to 360-degree feedback is an accelerator for development. It helps participants take an individualized approach to how they can achieve their desired outcomes. In addition, it helps them embrace and maximize their natural talents and apply them to tackle new goals.

This approach is very different from a traditional 360 assessment, designed solely to evaluate employee scores, usually with spectacularly little detail and advice on how to improve. With over 50 years of research, Locke and Latham conclude that significant performance progress is much more likely to transpire when goals and feedback are specific, appropriately challenging, and routinely discussed.

A note on the authors:

This piece was co-written by Ben Wigert, Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management at Gallup, and Jennifer Balcom, Director of Consulting at Explorance.

Photo: Amy Hirschi

Effective Leaders And Managers – Different Yet Complementary

Every company needs people who can lead and people who can manage. They don’t have to be the same. They are likely not the same.

Some of the best leaders cannot manage very well. Some of the best managers are not even good leaders. Yet both stimulate good-to-great performance. Both generate successful, profitable results. Both contribute to an employee engagement culture.

So how are they alike? How are the different? And when it comes to employee engagement, so what?

Here are three key areas where your leaders should demonstrate specific style and skills. In those same areas, your managers should demonstrate different skills that complement the leaders’ skills. In other words, you want them to be different, yet similar.

Envision or Observe

A leader envisions the big picture, the strategic vista, the long-term success. A leader views the organization and all that impacts it — now and in the future — with more than her mind. She actively sees with business insight, with personal intuition, with professional insight, and with emotional intelligence. That combination provides a leader interactive know-how that gives employees reasons to engage their time, energy, skills and creativity for the success of the organization. The leader’s know-how combines tools such as empathy, personal attention, individual interest alongside corporate commitment, and 20-20 sight that combines macro and micro vision. This power to envision is only as meaningful as the leader’s ability to convey what she sees. Wordy words and corporate communication often don’t cut it. The engaging leader conveys what’s envisioned in words and messages not merely understood but seen and felt and owned by every member of the organization.

A manager observes the issues and actions occurring here and now. He pays day-to-day (if not hour-to-hour) attention to workers’ performance and results. He focuses on seeing that all employees know what is expected in every part of their assignments. After that his focus turns to seeing how much excellence each employee brings from those expectations. The manager observes with knowledge of each worker, awareness of specific tasks, connection of each worker’s role to every other worker’s, and the efficiencies to be derived. How well these lenses are combined determines how eagerly employees engage themselves to their specific jobs. The key to a manager’s success is expressing what’s expected, updating that as situations change, and conversing openly about how much, how well the expectation is met. The engaging manager’s ability to communicate expectations — what, how, why, when, where — gives meaning to what he observes.

Value or Evaluate

The leader generates good business karma by expressing meaningful values to those throughout his organization. Business culture comes from clear and sincere positioning of the company’s values. The company that demonstrates its commitment to customer satisfaction, to community value and to employee well-being — from the executive offices to the service desk — puts its values out for all to see. And appreciate. Employees who clearly identify and accept their company’s values connect themselves to the business, to their teams, and to their assignments. The more often and the more vividly a leader speaks and shows, applauds and acclaims what the company values, the more employee engagement he will generate.

The manager generates good management persona by evaluating her employees fairly, effectively and with concern. Evaluation can happen more often than the usual two times a year; it need not always be formal. The more often and the more conversational a manager’s effort to discuss performance, the better. Discussion may occur in a sit-down meeting or in a brief, off-the-cuff conversation. It may cover whole-job performance or specific issues. The manager is the major reason an employee stays with the company or leaves. The manager’s commitment to successful performance evaluation encourages  the good employee to stay. As the manager provides performance feedback openly and frequently, the employee engages in improving that performance.

Inspire or Motivate

A leader inspires her company’s personnel. She shares a vision so clearly that others see it for themselves. She expresses it so vividly that others desire to achieve it. A leader’s success at inspiring those in the organization is by making the end result so appealing that others are willing and eager to commit to accomplishing the result. As true leaders seek continually to improve themselves, they impel others to similar self-improvement. Inspiration is a pull, a lure, an attraction to something desirable. A leader’s ability communicate to the level of inspiration is her distinguishing feature.

A manager motivates his employees. He gives employees reasons to accomplish results by a certain time with a certain level of quality. Typically these motivators are either carrots or whips, rewards or penalties. However, there are more effective, work-positive motivators. The savvy manager takes advantage of praise and recognition of an employee’s hard work. An open-door policy backed up by a willingness to listen motivates employees to trust their manager. That trust strengthens team engagement. Motivation is a push tactic, encouraging employees to apply their full efforts to the job at hand.

Leaders and managers: different and alike. In different yet complementary ways, both can contribute to the business culture that generates a more fully engaged employee base.