You are at the top of your organisation – how do you know you are doing a good job as a leader? It is a reality that the higher up you go in your career, there are often less people ready to give you honest and objective feedback. Aside from your seniority, which potentially wards off others to keep opinions politely to themselves, the culture of the organisation might not be conducive for such feedback to be shared.
This is where a 360-degree feedback process could come in helpful. In the same way that a GPS tracker needs multiple points to zone onto an exact location, a 360-degree appraisal uses those around you to provide the 'coordinates' of your leadership acumen. The size of the organisation and the type of role performed typically dictates the number of people involved in the feedback process. Typically, this ranges from 3 to 6 individuals who work with you in different capacities - shareholders, fellow directors/ partners, subordinates, junior employees, even ex-employees if relevant.
There are a number of ways how a 360-degree appraisal can take place. An efficient method would be for the reviewers to answer a series of questions in a survey format. An example of such questions would be – "Our CEO/Director shows respect and listens to views different from his/her own" or "Our CEO/Director communicates the vision in an engaging manner". These questions would tap different aspects of leadership. Whilst this method is efficient and results could be summarised statistically, it does have disadvantages. A key issue is that results vary depending on what was asked and how it was asked. Questions to such surveys have to be carefully selected to reflect the complex and diverse aspects of leadership, being careful that the wording is not ambiguous and the survey not too long. Surveys are also notorious for lacking depth and the results might leave you with more questions than answers.
Crucially, any 360-degree process relies heavily on anonymity. Very few employees would be ready to be open and candid about their opinion of their senior leaders, especially if there was the possibility for their identity to be disclosed. Whilst online surveys can be anonymous, employees may distrust the process – e.g. who would be receiving the results? Why was I picked to give the feedback? What happens if I don't reply?
A way to mitigate these difficulties is by appointing an independent HR professional to coordinate the 360-degree feedback process. The survey method can still be used but with an expert on board, you can ensure that the right questions are asked. Respondents would also have their mind at rest that replies are received by a party external to the organisation who would take care of collating all data and presenting them to the business leader/s as one complete report.
The survey method for 360-degree feedback would offer top management fruitful insight, however, many comment that this still does not address the issue of depth. This is where an interview format for 360-degree feedback is ideal.
After careful selection of the main questions to guide the 'interview', the independent professional would sit with each person selected for the exercise and gather all impressions and feedback. The advantage is that the employees providing the feedback can go in as much detail as they like without being confined to the way the question was asked. People tend to provide more information verbally than if they had to write it in a tidy box in a survey – particularly if the person sitting at the other end is a trained professional who knows how to listen, gather feedback, ask the right follow-up questions and can guarantee anonymity to the interviewee. Such interviews typically run for 30-45 minutes and the amount of data collected can be voluminous. However, trained professionals know how to disentangle pieces of feedback and group them in themes in a manner that is insightful to the business leader/s being reviewed. The juice of all these interviews is written in a report that is composed of the overall impressions gathered by the professional supported by the feedback of those involved in the exercise.
Carried out well, a 360-degree feedback process is a powerful exercise that can provide valuable insight to business leaders on the way those around them perceive their leadership skills. Sadly, numerous companies adopt a 360-review process among their workforce, yet fail to involve the more senior members of the organisation.
As a business leader, it is in your interest to ensure that your organisation has a culture of open feedback and this can only take place if you and the other members of your top management team are involved in the same 360-degree feedback exercise. This gives the message that those leading the organisation welcome feedback and are interested to know how they are perceived in order to improve and have a path for their own personal and professional development.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.