10 Ways to Get the Most from a 360 Degree Leadership Assessment

A 360 degree leadership assessment is one of the most effective ways to get feedback from your employees, peers, and managers against a set of pre-defined leadership competencies.

Having debriefed these for hundreds of managers, and taken a number of different 360s myself, I’ve discovered some best practices that have worked for me and others.

Here are 10 tips for getting the most value from a 360 degree leadership assessment:

1. Mentally prepare yourself.You have to go into these things with the right frame of mind. Don’t get all worked up dreading the results and hoping no one says anything bad about you. Instead, go into it with the objective of unlocking the secrets of what you need to do to become a better leader.

2. Don’t try to figure it out yourself.This is critical. Any responsible program or organization wouldn’t implement a 360 degree feedback process without offering assistance with making sense of the data. Even though I may know the instrument inside and out, I still will sit down with a coach, a colleague, or my manager to review it with me. When you’re too close to the data it’s way too easy to miss something. It’s human nature – we sometimes see what we want to see, are too hard on ourselves, or make assumptions that others would not make. If anything, having someone to talk through it with just provides emotional support.

3. Don’t play detective.Don’t waste time trying to figure out who made a comment or who rated you high or low. Unless it’s your manager’s rating, the reports are designed to protect the raters. Too managers make assumptions – and I’ve done it myself – and have been wrong. Just take each comment and rating for what it is – data – and focus your energy on what you’re going to do about it.

4. Holistically of systematically?There’s two ways to sort through all of the ratings and comments. Some managers take a more holistic approach – they take it all in, let it marinate, and come up with themes, patterns, connections, and trends. It’s like an art to them. Other managers prefer to take a more analytical, systematic approach. They focus on the statistically significant differences (and I can barely explain what that even means) and their own complex algorithms in order to make sense of it all. There is no right way – they both work. Use whatever method works for you, and don’t let someone force you to use a method that doesn’t fit your style.
Also – while comments are important – don’t get too hung up on a single comment, especially if the ratings and rest of the report don’t support the comment. It’s this tendency to overreact to a single comment that has caused some 360 providers not to use them. Personally, I find value in them, when taken for what they are – a single data point.

5. Pay attention to and celebrate your strengths!No, really, this is not just a cliché. I’ve had managers completely dismiss what I thought were some awesome strengths. That’s another reason why it’s better to have someone go through the results with you. Unfortunately, leaders don’t always get to hear about what they are doing right. These strengths can also play a part in figuring out how to overcome or work around weaknesses.

6. Look for blind spots and differences.Blind spots are areas where you’ve rated yourself higher than others have. This could either be due to lack of self-awareness, or a marketing problem. Either way, they may need to be addressed. Differences in ratings between rater groups may mean you’re showing up differently depending on the situation. Perhaps your manager sees you as a great listener and your employees don’t. In this example, it’s not an issue of not knowing how to listen – you’re just choosing who you listen too. It could be more of a respect issue.

7. Absolute vs. relative scores?If a “4” on a seven point scale is defined as “good”, and your lowest score is a 5.5, does that mean you don’t have any development needs? No, not unless every single one of your scores is a perfect 7. Anything less means there’s room for improvement. Some organizations or groups of employees tend to rate their manager’s higher. Focus on your own relative strengths and weaknesses, not what the rating scale says.

8. Find 2-3 things to improve.When all is said and done, the objective is to find 2-3 leadership behaviors:
A. Where you have opportunity to get better
B. That are important to improve, i.e., they will make a difference in your success
C. You are motivated to improve.
Why 2-3? Actually, there’s no science behind that number. If something is really going to be hard for you to improve, than one is enough. Other times, you can improve more than 2-3 things if they are related or easy to learn. But for simplicity, people seem to buy-in to 2-3.

9. Make a plan and take action.360s are great input to an individual development plan. However, don’t just keep the plan to yourself – share it with others. These two steps – having a written plan and sharing it with others – have proved through research to be the single biggest differentiators of those who have taken a 360 and improved and those that have not improved. Follow-up and thank those that have provided you feedback and let them know what you’re going to work on to improve your ability as a leader.

10. Follow-up.If possible, take another assessment 12-18 months later. That’s about how long it’s going to take for people to notice any improvement in behavior. You don’t have to take the entire assessment again – just the questions relevant to the areas you are trying to improve.

Asking for feedback takes a lot of courage, and it’s a big investment of a lot of people’s time. Follow these tips and you’ll get the most ROI for the effort.