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Avoid Wasting the Rich Opportunity of Developmental 360 Assessments

By Michele Caplette, Ph.D., Senior Consultant, The Piras Group

developmental 360 assessments

First in a series on how to best use 360 assessments.

All too often the rich opportunity of developmental 360 assessments is wasted.   The investment in time, money and effort falls short, with no skill development or meaningful results.  Even worse, there can be a set-back due to the negative or de-motivating experience of the 360 participant and the organization.

Everyone’s heard of 360 assessments—they’re everywhere!  They are fundamental components of many leadership development programs, are used by high potential leaders taking their leadership to the next level, and are even used to identify performance issues. 

360 assessments are primarily used in two situations:

Performance appraisal 360 assessments:

These are 360s used for performance appraisal in which raters are selected by participants, managers and/or HR.  This feedback is typically not anonymous and confidential and is used for evaluating past performance and influencing pay and promotion opportunities.  Often there is confusion between the differences in these two types of 360 assessments.

Developmental 360 assessments:

In these 360 surveys, the leader (or participant in 360 language) identifies the raters (the boss, direct reports and peers, hence 360) who provide feedback on skills and behaviors associated with their level and role in the organization and what is needed from the leader going forward for maximum success. This feedback is anonymously and confidentially summarized in a feedback report seen only by the participant and, ideally, external coach.

In this article, we are talking here about 360s that are used for development to explore how and why they are not used to their fullest potential in leadership development.

When the pieces are in place, developmental 360 assessments become potent instruments for learning, skill development and real behavior change.  When done the right way for the right reasons, 360 surveys can be the starting point for a powerful and life changing experience.

Fortunately in our many years of administering, consulting and coaching of 360 assessments, we have learned how to avoid the all-too-frequent derailers and facilitate an impactful and meaningful 360 journey.  There are must-do’s in the set-up for success, ways to help people handle the very real shock of getting candid feedback and approaches to converting that valuable feedback into actionable—and do-able—development plans.  Last but not least, there are keys in staying on track with the plan and, ultimately, becoming a better and more effective leader.

I participated in a Developmental 360 because I knew I had some things to work on but, wanted to get a better sense of my strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of the people I deal with most at work.  While some of the feedback was painful to receive, the fact that I had chosen the raters and that their responses were anonymous meant that I couldn’t ignore or discount it.  Working with my coach, I was able to focus my improvement efforts on those topics while also leveraging the things I was already doing well.  I can’t imagine that the progress I’ve made would have been possible without this valuable starting point.

                                                                  —Senior Leader, High Tech Industry


What goes wrong with developmental 360 assessments and why:

Let’s explore what goes wrong with developmental 360 assessments and why they don’t realize their potential.  We have encountered several reasons 360 developmental assessments fall short:

  • People don’t want to do it – the participant is not motivated, sees no good reason for it, is not interested in or open to development, is simply distracted and unable to focus, or feels like something is being “done” to them.  Hence resistance or passivity and nothing happens. 
  • People aren’t supported or guided – the participant’s manager or other key stakeholders are not involved and play no supportive role.  When there is no experienced coach to provide guidance from beginning (what purpose, what survey, what raters) to end (feedback interpretation, development planning, coaching), the participant is left on their own and the 360 assessment goes nowhere.
  • The process is misunderstood or misused – the raters’ anonymity and confidentiality is breached when managers, HR and others are privy to rater identities and/or comments.  Similarly, the feedback may be used for performance appraisals when the survey and process is designed for development.  As mentioned earlier, this is the confusion that results when developmental 360 assessments are misused as performance appraisal instruments.
  • The quality of the feedback is poor – sometimes there is insufficient or irrelevant feedback due to a poor or inappropriate survey instrument or too few raters identified.  Most often, the wrong raters are selected resulting in unreliable and invalid feedback.
  • People are defensive and disbelieve the results – people want to defend their perspective, argue how the raters are wrong and are unable or unwilling to listen and learn about themselves. They may focus on the negatives and things to be “fixed,” get overwhelmed and become stuck.
  • People don’t know how to turn insight into action into behavior change – people aren’t able to convert their feedback and insights into do-able action plans.  Often action/development plans are not robust or specific enough to be useful.  Frequently people don’t take action or follow through on commitments, resulting in no real learning and no skill/capability development

How do we put in place the pieces that address these very real barriers to 360 assessment success?  We have distilled our many years of experience—important do’s and don’ts-- into these 5 key topic areas:

  1. Setting up for success:  how does all this work to get the most value
  2. Dealing with feedback shock:  how to handle direct and candid feedback without freaking out
  3. Making sense of the feedback:  how to sort through it all and find a focus area or two
  4. Turning the feedback focus into action:  how to create a development plan that works
  5. Getting results:  how to turn the development plan into real learning and behavior change

We will address each of these topics in follow-on articles:

The second is the series is here: Set Your 360 Assessment Up for Success.

You can find the third article here: Dealing with 360 Assessment Feedback Shock.

The fourth article can be found here: Making Sense of the Feedback:  How To Sort Through It All and Find a Focus Area or Two.

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