The Last 360

The Last 360

      Scene One:  Hotel bar after a day long business meeting with a Near-Retirement Executive:  “You caught me.  I thought I had my last 360 and then you launched that new leadership program with the feedback survey last month.  Now I guess I have to go through one more.”

      Scene Two:  Coffee shop near the office with a Mid-Career Executive:  “That feedback wasn’t half bad.  I picked up a few pointers.  I hope my team feels the same when they go through it.”

      Scene Three:  At my desk the next day, reflecting how differently these two leaders reacted to the same thing.

 It was too easy to dismiss the feedback adverse Nearly-Done Old-timer as developmentally arrested and on-the-job retired.  Now, I’ve bumped into similar attitudes with leaders of nearly all age groups and levels. 

Yet, the coffee shop conversation reminded me of the value of helping leaders stay on track with perspective-building information.  Research points out that many leaders develop a blind spot on how they are coming across with their team and peers as they move up.  That gap in insight a leading cause of talent derailment.  And ‘mostly formed’ later career leaders can be re-enengized and reminded they are in the legacy and senior mentoring phases of a career.  So maybe it’s worth taking the heat and subjecting our talent to these surveys.


So Cool Back In The Day


I remember when 360s were the hot new management tool.  The technique of gathering feedback on a leader from peers, reports and boss had escaped the confines of select training program – such as the Benchmark 360 in Center for Creative Leadership classes – and was rapidly spreading in companies across the land as the leading edge in innovation. 

CEOs publically proclaimed its virtues and whole conferences where devoted to its nuances.  Soon consulting firms of all shapes and sizes discovered a new billable service and launched an arms race of more sophisticated feedback models, flashy online sites and somewhat questionable proprietary research.  Up-to-the-minute studies pointed out that firms using 360s created more shareholder value.  Eventually, internal training managers figured out they could whip out their own tool and earnestly applied it to all manner of talent management challenge. 

 New manager training? Give ‘em a 360.  Performance appraisal? Let 360 scores determine rating and pay.  Executive needs a bit of coaching? Throw a 360 in.  Everyone wants self-service?  Offer on-demand 360.  How’s our 360 program doing?  Let’s get some survey feedback.  Overdone?  Not quite yet.  Mom or Dad exec not doing so well with the home team?  Let’s gather 360 from family members!

 Enter the consultants announcing cutting edge research that firms using 360 produce less shareholder value.   The whole journey of the 360 followed the typical, overdone arch of talent management innovation and abuse:  from concept to commercial to comical.  No wonder managers are counting backwards from retirement to determine their last 360 indignity.


So Is 360 Worth Saving?


More or less.

Less of assuming everything is a feedback opportunity nor does everyone constantly seek it.   More of finding the right time to offer a 360, such as transition points in job changes.  Less of slamming 360 into annual appraisals and using mathematical calculations to judge performance.  Repeated studies have shown 360 become less effective in appraisals as rating becomes too political and raters play it safe, providing bland, safe ratings and comments.   More of managers gathering  informal opinions from key stakeholders as input to an appraisal, and then form their own judgment of performance.

More of providing a balance in the message.  I find that only about a third of leaders need to focus on the negative or “developmental opportunities” found in a report.  Most of us obsess on any “feedback” as threatening criticism.  While some would benefit by addressing the low scores and comments in a report, most would benefit by looking for good, relevant behaviors to strengthen.  Good 360 practices reinforce that approach and provide useful tools and support to easily translate “strength-building” to practical actions.

 Less of complexity and redundancy.  I’ve seen 360s grow to well over 100 items and 50 plus page reports to digest.  That’s just too much information.  And getting the same feedback annually is overkill and leads to feedback fatigue.  More of short surveys with the most relevant items and brief feedback reports that highlight key messages and more action oriented formats.  More of rejuvenating the method and content from time to time.  For example, I’ve recently been combining a shorter 360 with a valid personality instrument as something new for my leaders.


Coming Full Circle on Feedback


 As with much of talent development practice, fresh new ideas can be overused and grow stale.  Three sixty feedback has gone that route in many place and we need to bring it back in balance as one among many good ways to help stars develop. 

© Kevin D. Wilde