Three powerful insights to improve your 360° review experience

While 360° reviews can be done anytime, we believe they are particularly helpful in the first half of the calendar year. People tend to be in a reflective mindset about what worked well in the prior year and where improvements could be made. We also get the benefit of 360° feedback earlier in the year, which allows us to make a positive impact on current year performance.

As you contemplate a 360° review program this year, whether it’s for yourself, your team or your organization, we invite you to consider three breakthrough insights from our recent research:

  • 360° reviews should be made available to all employees
  • Low scores hijack people’s attention
  • 360° review debriefs should emphasize strengths   

360° reviews should be made available to all employees.

Often 360° reviews are reserved for senior executives or people managers. While it is certainly helpful for managers to get 360° feedback, our research shows that the majority of what makes somebody a good senior leader makes them an excellent colleague. Simply put, everybody is a leader. Everybody can benefit from a 360° review and the earlier in their career, the better.

In our experience, one of the biggest benefits of 360° reviews for all employees is an improved awareness of expectations. Our research shows that the same traits that make people a great leader make people a great colleague. While many of the leadership traits in our assessment are typically seen as things ‘senior leaders’ need to do, they are truly ‘everybody’ tasks. Here are some examples:

  • Living organizational values and holding colleagues accountable to do the same
  • Providing people with feedback and recognition
  • Ensuring that you are clear on work expectations
  • Holding people accountable for commitments of support
  • Providing people with the communication they need from you to be successful  
  • Reviewing their goals on a regular basis
  • Fairly assessing the performance of those who help you
  • Respecting other people and listening to what people have to say

Providing a 360° review earlier in somebody’s career helps people realize that they don’t have to wait for their manager to do these things. This is a great way to empower people and prepare future managers. We work with many managers who received no formal leadership training before they were asked to manage a team. That is a challenging situation to be in. As SupportingLines coach Nate Leslie “When people need us to be masterful, it’s too late to start practicing.”

To help everybody to be a leader, offer everybody the benefit of a 360° review. 

Low scores hijack people’s attention.

We recently made two major refinements in the way we report data in our High-Performance Leader 360° review reports

  • We removed numbers entirely. We swapped tables of numbers for coloured icons in our 360° review scoring. 
  • We softened the colour scale. We dropped the traditional ‘red-yellow-green’ stoplight scale in favour of a softer ‘grey-mint-green’ scale. 

While these may seem like pedantics, the results were profound. Debrief conversations without numbers and using the softer colour scale were more productive. The biggest shift is people seemed to be more relaxed and less defensive. There is something about a stark red, low percentage that harkens back to our school days of being graded and judged. The low scores and red colour seem to hijack people’s focus and cause them to be very hard on themselves. 

We started using this approach for individual contributors. When we tested it with senior leaders, surprisingly the results were just as profound. While senior leaders tend to be more accustomed to seeing things in terms of percentages or on a ‘red-yellow-green’ scale they still strongly preferred the no-numbers version. This preference was so strong that most executives said they did not even want to see numbers in an appendix as a point of reference. The new version was instantly more effective.

Let’s get your perspective.

The chart above shows the two versions side by side for the Development category of our High-Performance Leader 360° review. 

  • The top view shows the old version of our reports, with percentages in red to denote lower results. 
  • The bottom view is the new version, without no numbers and a scale that shows light grey for low scores. 

Which version would you prefer to debrief?

We used to show the percentages  and colour low scores red to bring attention to them.  As we conducted more individual contributor 360° reviews, we found that this format encouraged people to focus on the wrong things. It also led to people take the feedback a bit more harshly.

360° review debriefs should emphasize strengths.

The final breakthrough we had last year was around the power of a positive, supportive 360° review experience. Just the thought of a 360° review makes a lot of people nervous. We noticed that leaders consistently look for what they are doing poorly in the results and need to be reminded about their strengths. The new approach outlined above reinforces the power of an appreciative lens. 

Why is this so important? Let’s take the example of respondent scores stratified by their role:

Most leaders immediately gravitate to the scores that are lower, in this case the “Collaborator” column or “Bottom 4” column. But if you draw your attention to the higher scores (the “Top 4” column) there are also good things happening. Clearly there is some variation in the results. Through an appreciative lens, we can focus on the higher scores and have the client reflect on what they think they are doing well and for whom. Understanding who is happy with the support they are getting gives us a better picture of what needs to happen for all employees. 

This is not to say that we ignore lower scores. However, an appreciative lens combined with our new reporting has unlocked something powerful. Recognition creates confidence that some things are working well and inspires leaders to face their most challenging development goals. We want this to be an enriching, supportive exercise rather than a negative experience that identifies weaknesses and ultimately reduces confidence.

If you are a coach who will be debriefing a 360° review in the near future, or a leader who is anticipating feedback from a 360° review, I encourage you to focus your attention on strengths and create inspired development plans. 

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

Leave a Reply