360 Assessments: How To Use Them To Take Your Career To The Next Level

360 Assessments: How To Use Them To Take Your Career To The Next Level

I recently read an article in The New York Times, “360 Reviews Often Lead to Cruel, Not Constructive, Criticism,” that concluded the best way to get feedback is to just ask for it.

While it is great in theory to “just ask for [feedback],” in reality, most people don’t; and when they do, most people aren’t honest. Rather, what I observe is that the shortest distance between two points is through a third person. That is, people talk about each other more than to each other. Hence, a 360 assessment is an opportunity for a third person to give you feedback. This assessment tool collects feedback from a sample of all the people in your work world: bosses, peers, direct reports, clients, etc. The data is collected via 1:1 interviews by a neutral third party (e.g., coach) or an online questionnaire. After all the data is collected, it is presented as themes, thereby ensuring confidentiality of participants. This process enables candid, honest feedback.

As to receiving “cruel, not constructive, criticism,” the reality is people have good, and sometimes bad, opinions about you. 360s are not creative writing. The information is already out there. You are the only person who doesn’t have it. Having the information is the first step to growth.

Further, the information unto itself doesn’t get you promoted. Rather, it’s what you do with it. You control how you hear and act upon the feedback, even negative feedback. As I discussed in a recent blog, you can change your mindset to make the most out of both positive and negative situations.

360 assessments are given as either a standalone computerized assessment or part of leadership training or coaching. If it is as a standalone, ask a trusted colleague, human resource, or learning and development professional to help you interpret the data. Ideally, recommendations are part of the report. Consider them carefully. Seek out training or support to help you grow. In contrast, if the 360 assessment is part of training or coaching, interviews with your stakeholders will ideally be included.

Here are some tips to ensure you get thorough feedback that you can use to grow:

1. Start with a well-thought-out list of participants.Consider stakeholders who have negative or positive input to offer. This is important so you understand where you are effective and where you are not, as well as how. In addition, if you include someone you have clashed with, chances are the mere gesture of including them in your 360 will help foster movement toward a better relationship.

2. Review your list with your sponsor, boss, HR business partner, and/or learning and development professional.This is important because they know who can provide valuable feedback. Also, in order to effectively manage up, you want to know who they think could impact your future and facilitate meeting coaching goals.

3. Ask your coach to conduct the interviews as neutrally as possible. I have found some coaches like to “test hypotheses.” Dating back to doing research for my doctoral dissertation, I learned if you want good data, it is important not to lead the witness. That being said, you may want your coach to look into specific things. Let them know. It is then up to the coach to collect that data in a neutral, confidential manner.

4. Ask the coach to share patterns as they emerge, rather than waiting until the end. I recommend this because, as a psychologist, I understand the complex emotional and cognitive processes involved in hearing feedback. Hearing honest feedback is challenging for everyone. Hearing a lot of feedback at once can be overwhelming as your brain works to process diverse and highly personal information. It will be difficult for you to absorb it all.

5. Request your coach to ask participants for their specific recommendations for your development. This will help you know what stakeholders expect and will notice. These recommendations could potentially be a roadmap toward a promotion. A report that includes the implications for the future is essential.

6. Prepare yourself for your feedback session. Keep an open mind and try not to get defensive. Remember, right or wrong, these are the perceptions of people you work with. And, as has been said many times, “perception is reality.” It will probably be a taxing and potentially emotional meeting. It’s best not schedule another meeting right after your feedback session.

7. Discuss with the coach how the feedback will be used. I recommend it be used throughout the engagement. Be proactive in asking the coach to help you connect the feedback to your current behavior or challenges.

8. Use the feedback as a compass to drive your growth.  And I encourage you not to forget it.

In closing, asking for someone for feedback rarely works, but you can obtain honest feedback from your stakeholders via an in-depth 360. It can provide an accurate starting point of your strengths, and where you need to grow. I recommend you assume responsibility for getting a 360: Be proactive in how you use it to enhance your leadership, development, and take yourself to the next level.

Source: Forbes.com / Julie Kantor

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