Return to site


What happens when 360 feedback knocks you for six?

In my line of work I have seen a number of managers who have gone through 360-degree feedback, and for some— particularly those undergoing it for first time — the results can be a shock. Unlike a traditional performance review, where you get feedback from just your immediate manager or boss, 360-degree feedback involves your performance being evaluated across broad criteria by a range of people — yourself, your manager, staff, coworkers and customers.

When Michael first arrived on my coaching couch he had recently gone through a 360 for the first time. A finance manager working at a financial services company, he had been sent to me via his HR department, which had identified he was struggling with bad news following the process.

A very soft-spoken man, he began by explaining what some of his feedback had been. Although he was very competent technically, the nine staff who reported to him had rated him poorly when it came to communication and leadership. When asked if Michael was a good leader, listened to them, was interested in their development, set goals and shared a vision with them, his staff rated him a low one or two out of a possible five.

As is the nature of our blind spots, Michael was unaware his communication was lacking and had rated himself highly, around a four out of five. So it wasn’t surprising he was pretty rocked by the news.

The interesting thing with Michael — and often others who undergo 360-degree feedback — is how he dealt with the bad news. He had taken it very personally, and in our first sessions was clearly overwhelmed, frantically trying to figure out what he’d done wrong and what he should do. So in these early sessions, our first step was to get him to calm down, take a step back and learn to view the exercise more dispassionately.

We looked at how he’d responded when he’d been given bad news — not even necessarily related to work — in the past. On examination, he realised that he had been able to successfully deal with it and move on. His natural resilience had always won through. So why, I asked, should he deal with this bad news any differently?

This process helped him place the bad news in the past and instead focus on how he was going to respond to the feedback and move forward. To me, that’s what lies at the core of good leadership — that ability to remain calm, clear headed and take positive action.

As the coaching progressed, we were then able to look at the 360 as a learning tool. And that’s when Michael gained a major insight. The feedback from his staff had been a timely reminder of his responsibility to his team. His assumption had been that he just needed to get the work out the door to successfully do his job. But while it was, indeed, his job to deliver a great financial service, he couldn’t do that on his own. He needed an energized, invigorated and enthusiastic team — with a sense of pride in its work — to do that. His thinking about management and leadership began to change, and he could see why good communication was so important — and why his team were asking for it.

At times we’re not always completely aware of what’s expected of us in our roles as leaders and managers, and can sometimes get caught in the groove of simply ‘delivering the goods’. But if you’re a leader, you need to think about the full picture and create an environment in which those you lead can also be successful. And Michael, well his thinking had come around 180 degrees, he could now see that.