What if 360s Weren’t Anonymous?

One of the main purposes of the 360 for leaders is to improve performance and leadership skills. Many companies use this third-party feedback mechanism for getting what’s considered a robust picture of their managers and leaders. But this tool can’t actually fulfill this mission because it lacks the specificity necessary to make feedback actionable.

360 feedback and leadership assessment

When the reporting individual must remain nameless and when specific situations can’t be completely revealed because of the anonymity issue, the outcome is that the receiver spends wasted time trying to figure out what behavior to change with whom.

While useful information may be collected, the interpretation of what the feedback means and therefore what behavior, specifically, the manager or leader can change becomes difficult to discern.

What Ever Happened to Having Real Conversations?

Fear of confrontation, retribution, and a general lack of safety — that’s what.

What if we started on the road to doing things differently?

The “Active Discussion 360″

For leaders and managers to truly engage in continuous improvement of their performance and their leadership skills, they need consistent and specific feedback from peers and direct reports in addition to the feedback they are already receiving from their own bosses. Yet often as leaders we bristle at the thought of feedback from peers and directs. This is not surprising given that most of us don’t have a safe and structured model for non-anonymously soliciting and listening to such feedback.

There is a way for leaders to adopt a non-defensive, open and accepting stance toward feedback, and act from a conviction that advantage comes from actively seeking feedback themselves. It’s the Active Discussion 360. Instead of being subject to an anonymous report whose findings are not always actionable, leaders can use this process.

4 Steps

Organizations often use an internal or external leadership development expert to administer the 360 and deliver the reports. But organizations can instead use that expert to help prepare leaders for the Active Discussion 360.

Step 1
In partnership with the leadership development expert (who might also be called a coach or consultant), the leader decides the type of feedback he or she would benefit from receiving: job-focused, leadership/management style, behavior, etc. The leader and consultant then determine the criteria for choosing potential feedback givers, including the benefits to receiving feedback from each. They also develop the questions to be asked during each active discussion session. They then assess the current relationship with each feedback giver relative to trust level and develop a plan for any trust-building work that needs to be done before the feedback meetings take place.

Step 2
The leader engages in practice sessions with the coach to develop or enhance the following skills: conducting the initial invitational conversation that describes the process to feedback givers in a way that enlists their willing participation, creating a non-defensive environment that enables potential feedback givers to also decline the invitation should they wish to, conducting any foundational work (e.g., trust building) where that is needed with feedback givers, and creating a non-defensive environment for the feedback conversation itself that enables feedback givers to provide honest, clear, and useful feedback. If several leaders are taking part in this Active Discussion 360 process, these practice sessions may be held in small groups.

Step 3
Leaders conduct the interview meetings periodically checking back with the leadership development coach and with each other to discuss how the meetings are going and what may need to be adjusted.

Step 4
The coach works with the leader (or leaders if several are engaged in the process) in reviewing the feedback, surfacing themes, putting together an implementable action plan based on the feedback, and designing how the leader will communicate the elements of the plan, both initially and at specific intervals, over the next 90 days with those who gave feedback. When several leaders are taking part in the Active Discussion 360, small groups are formed for holding three check-in meetings on plan progression, one at 30 days, one at 60 days and one at 90 days.

While there is a significant investment of time as this process gets started, once it gains traction in an organization, leaders themselves become coaches to those who are implementing the process and it becomes part of ongoing discussions between leaders and their directs.

If 360-degree feedback reports for leaders were not anonymous, then the doors for real conversations would be thrown wide open, enabling and supporting true continuous improvement.

Question: What do you think — can anonymity be taken away from the 360 process? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Zorabc

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