5 Questions That Will Set Your Leadership 360 Up for Success

Kyla Holcombe, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational Psychologist and Alicia Thomas, Client and Project Support Specialist360 Surveys, Leadership1 Comment

When done well, 360 surveys can be a powerful catalyst for building self-awareness and developing one’s leadership skills. Here are five important questions to consider as you design your 360 program.

  1. Which leaders should participate in the 360 process?
  • Leaders who want to participate and are committed to developing self-awareness. Leaders who aren’t willing to receive feedback or take ownership of the 360 process are not likely to get much out of this opportunity.
  • Leaders who want to start an open a dialogue with their teams and improve working relationships that are critical to success.
  • Often leaders can benefit from going through a 360 process in a cohort where other leaders are giving and receiving feedback as well because it allows them to share experiences, process the feedback and discuss best practices. It can also be beneficial for one leader to go through the process on their own, as long as he or she has support from a supervisor or a coach.
  • High potentials can benefit from the insight gained from a 360 survey, which may help springboard to the next level of their leadership.
  • Front-line, mid-level, or executive leaders. Leaders at any level may be the right choice for a 360 survey, but you will want to ensure that the content of the 360 is appropriate for whatever level you include in the process.
  1. Who should leaders invite to provide feedback?
  • The best raters are those most familiar with leaders’ performance. Good raters have had many opportunities to observe the leader in action. Feedback should be based on raters’ own specific experiences with the leader, not based on stories heard from others.
  • The best raters are willing to be honest and candid.
  • The best raters are willing to give positive and constructive feedback. All leaders have something to celebrate and something to improve.
  • The best raters, combined, provide a holistic perspective. Leaders should invite their direct manager/s, all direct reports, 3-10 peers with whom they work closely, and 3-5 other individuals who may have unique and important perspectives (if applicable).
  1.  What will ensure the 360 survey administration goes smoothly?
  • Having a solid communication strategy is critical. An internal project manager should kick-off the 360 process by 1) sending a heads-up communication to leaders and raters one week prior to the survey start, or 2) conducting an internal meeting to discuss the 360 process from the perspectives of the leader and rater. Share the purpose of the 360 feedback process and a timeline so people allocate time in their schedules to participate.
  • Develop detailed survey invite and reminder messages that allow leaders and raters to seamlessly access the survey. Include information about why they are being invited to participate in the feedback process.
  • Determine how often you want to remind participants to complete the 360 survey. Automatic reminders every other day can be effective to keep the survey at the top of raters’ inboxes. Send reminders only to raters who have not yet completed their evaluations. It is important to maintain confidentiality; avoid sharing direct names of raters who have or have not completed their surveys.
  • Plan to administer the survey over two weeks with an option for a one-week extension. This time-frame typically works well even with very busy leaders and raters.
  • During survey administration, encourage leaders to reach out to their raters. It can go a long way when leaders send an email to everyone, thanking all who have participated and requesting that those who have not participate at their earliest convenience.
  • Provide coaching support and resources to help leaders understand their 360 feedback. This may include a report guide, post-360 workshop, or working with a coach.
  • Clearly communicate expectations of leaders after the 360. Determine an action planning process and timeline. What leaders do with the results is even more important than participating in the 360 survey.
  • Encourage leaders to thank all their raters after reviewing the 360 feedback. Even better, leaders can share their key findings from the feedback, including strengths and opportunities and what they plan to work on. Better yet, leaders can also identify what they plan to focus on as a result of the 360 process.
  1. What should 360 feedback look like?
  • A mix of quantitative feedback (e.g., raters’ scores) and qualitative feedback (e.g., comments and detailed examples) is important in 360 feedback.
  • Feedback should reflect leaders’ behaviors, which are often grouped into critical competencies.
  • There should be variability in leaders’ feedback so they can distinguish areas of strength from areas of opportunity. This is primarily accomplished through a reliable and valid tool that has strong measurement properties. Leaders may have to recalibrate their expectations for what a ‘good’ score looks like; many leaders are high achieving and want the best scores across the board, but this isn’t particularly helpful. Having a scale that encourages raters to distinguish leaders’ strengths from opportunities will provide actionable feedback.
  1. What helps leaders get the most out of the 360 feedback?
  • Encourage the right mindset. When reviewing 360 feedback, remind leaders to begin with an open mindset, be curious and compassionate, and slow down to process the feedback.
  • Remind leaders that emotions are at play. Feedback can lead to an emotional reaction. Help leaders prepare for this and discuss productive ways to acknowledge and manage their feelings effectively.
  • Share feedback with others. It can be especially helpful for leaders to share feedback with “loving critics” – i.e., people who have leaders’ best interest in mind but are willing to be honest. Additionally, leaders who share key learnings with their manager/s, peers, and direct reports tend to get more about of the feedback and are more likely to hold themselves accountable, Encourage leaders to share key take aways such as a few strengths, opportunities, and where they will focus.
  • Remind leaders not to dismiss or discredit “outlier” feedback. Some feedback can take leaders by surprise. Keep in mind that it may be the first time someone was able or felt comfortable sharing the feedback. Perception is reality for people, so reflect on what might be contributing to surprising feedback or initiate follow up conversations to learn more.
  • Encourage leaders to create a specific action plan that defines what they will work on, the steps to get there, what success will look like, and how they will hold themselves accountable.
  • Help leaders understand how to use triggers to form new habits. Leadership takes practice, and practice is more likely when we have reminders in place.

What suggestions do you have to create an impactful 360 survey program?

  • Oliver Ray says:

    I liked how you mentioned how we can get a 360 survey to run smoothly in the company. Not everyone likes to talk or give open feedback right that moment what they might be thinking about and often times don’t want to open up to the company that needs their feedback because they haven’t had time to prepare a good feedback response. I think preparing a company manager for the feedback will increase the chances of actual useful tips for the company leaders and teams.