If you’ve ever had a 360-degree review at work, you may have experienced feelings of anxiety and discomfort as you awaited the feedback from your peers, subordinates, and superiors. What if you have glaring blind spots? What if your employees resent you? What if the strengths you see in yourself aren’t being translated into your work and interactions with the rest of your team?
While the 360 process can surely be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. The ultimate purpose of this type of review is to open up conversations that may be difficult to encourage organically, but have the power to transform how everyone experiences the workplace. With careful attention to the three steps outlined below, you can ensure that your 360 experience is valuable and rewarding for both you and your team.
Processing the Feedback
Before you dive into your 360 report, take a moment to pause and reflect. Even though some things you’re about to read might not constitute glowing praise, every piece of feedback can contribute to a positive outcome if you are open and receptive. Let go of wanting to open the report card and see all A’s, and instead recognize that we all have opportunities to develop and improve. They say that change is the only constant, and that is true of us as people too—are you who you were when you were in high school? I doubt it. So trust that everything that people perceive about you is “workable,” and you have the power to change people’s perceptions of you.
As you reflect, remember that people don’t always have the opportunity to voice feedback. This is particularly true of your subordinates: they may not be used to sharing their thoughts about performance or know how to do so constructively, and they may use the opportunity to dump a bunch of sentiments that have built up over time. Considering this reality before you process the feedback can help you keep your defenses low enough to really listen to what they’ve offered. They’re likely the people most impacted by your behavior at work, so don’t just discard surprising or upsetting “outlier” feedback. Rather, consider what may have led to it and understand that how you respond can have a lasting impact that permeates your organization.
Finally, while you might take individual responses with a grain of salt—no one person’s opinion is necessarily predictive in and of itself—don’t disregard things that appear consistently among your reviewers. Our research shows that people who are perceived positively through this process actually do lead teams with lower turnover and better customer outcomes. Accordingly, if you trust the process, you can walk away with valuable insight.
With all these things in the forefront of your mind, you’re ready to dive into your feedback. Look for themes, both positive and negative. What are you doing really well that you can be sure to continue doing or leverage in other areas of your work? Are there things people shared that run counter to how you see yourself or who you want to be? Organizing how you process the feedback around your personal values can help you determine which things you want to work on, and which things might be worth your time to address.
Closing the Loop
You now have a clearer sense of both your unique strengths and your opportunities for growth—but you can’t stop there. One way to ensure this work is valuable in the long-run is to follow up with the people who took the time to offer feedback and invest in your growth.
Many participants in 360 reviews fail to do this, and instead view their report as the final stage in the process. When they don’t follow up with people, the 360 process becomes a unidirectional channel of information, rather than a genuine dialogue geared at creating positive change. There’s also no accountability to people who are expecting to see certain shifts in behavior.
But how do you follow up with people tactfully, in a way that balances making them feel heard with making them feel that confidentiality was maintained?
For starters, don’t try to respond to every single piece of feedback. As we’ve touched upon, it’s more important to consider common themes and your core values when determining where to direct your efforts. You don’t have time or bandwidth to address everything, so you’ll need to be selective.
Once you’ve decided on a few action items for yourself, make the rounds with your raters and cover the following points:
1) Thank them for taking the time to evaluate you, and remind them that you don’t know who said what.
2) Acknowledge what you learned and areas that the feedback suggested are strengths. Starting on a positive note helps both you and your reviewer feel more at ease, and also demonstrates that you really listened to and considered all feedback. Failing to mention your strengths may give off the impression that you cherry-picked certain bits of feedback and reduce people’s trust in you and in the 360 process.
3) Acknowledge what may not be working about your current approach or behavior at work. Don’t make excuses or get defensive in talking about these areas for improvement. Stick to speaking objectively about what you learned about yourself through the process.
4) Tell them what you plan to do moving forward. Perhaps you need more insight and have some follow up questions to ask, or you’ve determined that it would be helpful for people to remind you to do something they’ve suggested. Take this opportunity to demonstrate that you are interested in keeping the conversation going and are committed to doing better.
Making the Change
The follow up conversations you’ve just had with your reviewers will create a sense of accountability. But how will you hold yourself accountable? Take the time to create a specific action plan that defines what you will work on and how you will determine success. Having clear action items (“I will make room in my calendar to have biweekly conversations with each member of my team to discuss short term and long term goals”) is much more likely to effect change than claiming a vague goal (“I will improve my communication”).
However, bear in mind that behavioral change is hard and will likely take several reminders before you begin making new habits. Be sure to revisit your own action plan periodically and remind others to keep you on track with your goals.
Being thoughtful in the aftermath of a 360-review will lead to personal and professional growth that can transform your career and take you to new heights. But it will also contribute to bigger organizational changes by fostering a positive culture of feedback and listening and reframing the idea that these are tasks that just need to be ticked off once a year. So don’t squander this powerful opportunity by getting bogged down in the negative or failing to follow up on feedback appropriately. While you can’t control what people say, you can control how you respond and demonstrate that you are committed to learning and making meaningful change—for both yourself and your organization.