To 360 or not to 360, that isn’t the question !

As a leader of a business unit, or as the Talent owner of leadership as a whole, one is often confronted with this question – Should one go for a 360 degree feedback? Sensitivity concerns and logistical nightmares aside, there is always a sense of uncertainty that looms large, when a 360 is deliberated. Would it be taken in the right spirit? Would it reach the right logical conclusion as intended? Essentially, would it get the important message across and ensure changes aligning with the demands of the ecosystem.

Of course, it is not infrequent that a senior executive has tacitly, and not so tacitly, asked if it would help him cut some of his team members to size! With legitimacy. But we ignore this for the rest of this article, and flow with the more benevolent intention shared above.

How does one take a call, if it is indeed being considered?

I am a big fan of feedback. Even bigger fan of Feedforward! In fact, one of the biggest check for how close your organisation is to a feedforward culture, can be the number of associates asking for a 360 for themselves.

One can scale heights of effectiveness in one’s career simply by being open to receiving an honest and straight communication from everyone. From anyone, if one is really listening with an open mind.

At its simplest level, such communication reveals how one is landing on others around and what they think is the reason for certain patterns in one’s interactions. It can also lead to reinforcement or course correction for one’s highest choices in terms of behavior or values, even when the feedback is meant to be negative. especially when the feedback is negative.

At its best, feedback (and feedforward) is the fastest courier for one’s blind spots.  This is the biggest purpose with which Organisations and Leaders seek 360. Beyond the performance, a developmental feedback which can prompt behavioural and attitudinal changes. (Whether there is merit in connecting it with promotion or progress as well, is the topic for a separate discussion).

The power of feedback comes with a huge amount of responsibility and risk. Responsibility from the one at the receiving end as well the one at the giving end of the feedback.

And yet, there are risks over and above these in terms of the biases and incompetence. People in all organisations are used to multiple feedback mechanism, the most important one being the (bi)annual appraisal discussion. The amount of dissatisfaction prevailing in most transparent of organisations is a clear indication of the biases and incompetence hijacking the feedback process. A stray intervention addressing these, though helpful, does not put a meaningful dent at these barriers at the wider organisation level.

Finally, the biggest risk is in terms of psychological security. When I expose myself to a single person, I can deal with the disagreement through my psychological security mechanisms, like assuming the other person and I have a disagreement. But when I expose myself to a disagreement with an entire group, which psychologically, is my entire world, it can be very intimidating. Devastating in extreme cases.

When I subject myself to such a process, I feel extremely cautious and dread the outcome. The internals and external consultants executing the process try to make me feel comfortable before and during the interpretation. And yet, I don’t.

Yes, I know. this is not supposed to happen when done in the good way. Yet it does, even when done in the best way.  

How most people recall their experience of a 360, can be encapsulated in one word: UNTUBU, the syllabic opposite of UBUNTU.

But hold on! I already said before, to 360 or not, is NOT the question. So what is? shortly…

No organisation is ever prepared for feedback. No, this article is not a critique of 360 either. It is asserting a developmental roadmap for organisations to follow.

If the single biggest objective of 360 is uncovering blindspots for people, and self realisation, paving the way for developing leadership competencies fruitful for both the individual and the organisation, then it is more a matter of when to do a 360, rather than whether to do it.

After all, 360, is only method of enquiry. However powerful, it is only 1 out of the 81 or more beautiful flavours of enquiries available:

 Inquiries of 3(past,present,future)x

for 3(1st,2nd,3rd person)x

 through 3(1st,2nd,3rd person)

 with 3(single,double,triple loop)

If the success of 360 process depends upon factors beyond the design and the skill of the implementation agents, and if the critical success factor is the space in which it is executedit would be best to approach the uncovering of blind spots and self awareness too from this vital insight. 

There is ample evidence that one can enquire and uncover hidden aspects of one’s personality and one’s blind spots oneself. When I realise my developmental areas, it’s the safest space there can be for me. Through open ended enquiries, done single or double loop or through role-plays, case studies,etc.

The next logical step would be to move to the more closed ended enquiries providing framework and structures to my insights about myself. Psycometrics like Style(DiSC),Values, Interests, MBTI, Kiersey,etc. are great inventories. These are again best done with self- validation and experientially, rather than as tests and interpretations.

Once these steps have sufficient osmosis, it would have exposed the members of the ecosystem to ample awareness about oneself. and also about how to filter feedback more cognitively. Most important, these two steps build up better “developmental stamina”, easily translatable to “feedback openness and stamina”.

In a nutshell, to generate the best 360 Return on Investment(RoI), start early on for the specific cohort of participants, taking them through: 1st, a series of open-ended, explorative enquiries; 2nd, through a series of self-validated and experiential deep dive through psychometrics; and only then through the 360.

Quite clearly, it can be exasperating even thinking about it. If it is exasperating for you, I would take it as a compliment to this article. Any map which tires the future traveller, is a truer map. And only the one who wishes to actually take the journey would even bother to read the map so thoroughly!

This roadmap is only relevant when someone is committed to an organisational impact, aligned leadership development and succession planning. Because only such a person would resonate with the roll-out challenges and start immediately living with the demands it would eventually have.

If you have read it till here, you surely operate from that spirit.

As surely as I have made you clear: why 360 or not, is not the question…but when definitely, is!    

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