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How can you ensure 360 feedback always offers great value for leaders?

For a leader to maximise the value they get from 360 degree feedback, it’s vital to ask the right questions and to ask them in the right way. So far, so obvious you may think. But what does this really mean in practice?

You need to identify those behaviours that are essential to your leaders’ ability to lead in a changing workplace. This means consistently challenging and, where necessary, evolving the approach taken to gathering feedback. To help, we’ve highlighted three key design considerations for 360 feedback questionnaires.

1. Ask the right questions

It’s clear your questions need to reflect those behaviours that are most critical for achieving the current business strategy. So, with this in mind the behaviours should be future-focussed to help shape the learning and leadership culture.

And, as well as linking to strategy, you should draw on research as it can be useful to gain a different perspective about behaviours. For instance, according to leadership expert John Blakey, there are nine leadership habits that make a leader trustworthy and inspire great results, relationships and reputation. These include:

  • Choosing to be honest
  • Choosing to be open
  • Choosing to be brave.

It’s no coincidence that these are all behaviours reflected in a number of the 360 questions we typically advocate for our clients, such as:

“Is open and honest about how change may impact on others”

“Has the courage and conviction to challenge others (including Partners) if behaviour contradicts the Firm’s values.”

According to Blakey, effective leadership today can be boiled down to two simple words – truth and trust. It’s a worry then that the latest research from the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that countries worldwide are experiencing a “profound crisis in trust”. It found that not even a third of the general population has confidence that the leaders of their country’s institutions are able to meet the challenges they face.

So what should we take from this in respect to 360 feedback programmes? Well, arguably this reinforces the importance of devising questions that will elicit feedback about leaders’ trust-related behaviour that is both accurate and useful (actionable) from a development perspective. This is a foundational step in enabling leaders to build more open and trusting relationships with their stakeholders.

2. Ask questions the right way

But it isn’t just about what you ask; how you ask or phrase a question is also significant. You should continually check and challenge the questions being asked when reprising 360 processes year on year.
To illustrate exactly how and why questions evolve, we’ve explored our question banks for those used in previous years. This exercise sheds light on some of the key issues to consider when designing a 360 questionnaire.

Choose your words carefully

One such change has been in the language used. With the goal of making our questionnaires as user-friendly as possible, we sought to simplify question phrasing. Take the following time-management questions as an example:

360-leaders-evolution

Having clear, simple and to-the-point questions translates into more high-quality feedback for participants.

Focus on observable behaviours

It’s also important that your questions reflect genuinely observable behaviours. You don’t want leaders participating to receive feedback that’s abstract and intangible. Instead, word questions so as to encourage respondents to give concrete examples and specific instances. This makes the feedback both more accurate and more actionable. Here’s an example:

360-leaders-evolution-2

The evolution from the 2014 to 2017 question demonstrates how the vague concept of ‘breaking down silos’ can be presented instead as a tangible and observable behaviour – in this case, ‘encouraging cooperation across teams’ and ‘resolving conflict’.

3. Make questions (and behaviours) stretching

Last but no less important is checking that the questionnaire is, overall, stretching enough. Are the behaviours being measured stretching for leaders?

Positive bias and inflated scores can be a big problem in 360 feedback, sometimes undermining the real value of the feedback. And companies clamouring to instil a high performance culture, you’re missing a trick if your 360 process isn’t geared up to stretch your people. After all, surely a formal feedback process like a 360 is the perfect time to encourage greater development and insight than leaders would ordinarily receive?

To show what we mean, have a look at the set of questions we’ve included below. All reflect self-management behaviours for different organisations but consider the difference in the level of stretch in each of these behaviours:

“Arrives on time and is prepared to contribute to the task/meeting”

“Delivers work to a high standard”

“Welcomes and asks others for feedback to enhance their own performance”

“Acts on feedback they receive, adapts their behaviour to make a positive difference”

So, in order to enable the progression and evolution of your leaders, you must make sure your 360 process is also progressing and evolving too to keep pace with changing organisational needs.

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