360° feedback is vital to executives, but how should this be done effectively and when does it backfire? The 4 key elements that can make or break a 360 process are:
How the information is gathered: Even in the healthiest of cultures people don’t feel comfortable or safe enough to give feedback that is completely open and authentic. (Who will see what was written? Will this come back to haunt me?) Another reason that people hold back is that they don’t believe that their feedback is going to effect any change. (so what is the point?) Unless we want to just go through the motions of 360’s with no intention of actually improving performance, it is vital to create an environment of trust in this process, collecting feedback using tools that guarantee respondent anonymity.
How the feedback is given to the recipient: The approach to giving feedback– by whom, when and in what format is also vital. It is important to balance positive reinforcement with constructive criticism and to formulate the feedback in a manner that is actionable by the recipient. Be clear and direct with this. People cannot change what they do not know about, so withholding feedback for fear of hurting someone’s feelings will not help them in the long run.
What is done with the feedback once received: The third key to doing this well is to ensure that the executive who is given this feedback is also given the support needed to change and grow in the manner requested through the feedback. Many of the points of feedback will reflect patterns that may have been there for years and that are not easy to change. Often, we have unrealistic expectations thinking “We told him/her what was wrong, but he/she is still doing this! why?” This is because it takes time, effort and a lot of support to change certain aspects of our behavior.
Sharing developmental goals: Lastly, it is important for the executive to share with a few trusted people what he/she will be focusing on improving. These people will help to keep things on track and give authentic feedback along the way.
When done well, feedback can be an invaluable process for executive growth and bottom line results.