By: Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.
It has been well established, and documented, that “feedback” is a vital component to professional and personal development1. Feedback provides data that allows an individual or a team to self-analyze their performance and assess whether they are meeting individual and organizational goals.
While the idea of feedback sounds simple and easy, in practice, it can be quite difficult to elicit honest and constructive observations. Sometimes managers and executives are reluctant to provide feedback to employees, especially if the feedback is negative, for fear of inciting conflict. Conversely, individuals or members of teams may be hesitant to provide honest constructive feedback to a supervisor for fear of being retaliated against.
As executive coaches, one of our goals is to raise the emotional IQ (or emotional quotient EQ), and self-awareness of our clients. Clients who participate in a thoughtful, professional and confidential 360-degree feedback process have the unique opportunity to get a look through the lens of others as to how they are perceived and viewed in their organizational role.
A proper 360-degree feedback exercise requires the client to select a broad range of stakeholders in the organization, which typically include those that report to the client, peers of the client, are managers of the client, and can sometimes include executives of the organization. Typically, the number of stakeholders in a 360-degree exercise range from seven to ten individuals.
The executive coach conducts in-person or telephonic interviews with the stakeholders that last approximately thirty to forty-five minutes. It is critical that this process be conducted with the highest level of ethics and confidentiality. A successful 360-degree feedback process hinges on the coach’s ability to establish a trusting relationship with the stakeholder to elicit an honest and frank assessment.
According to Dr. Michael Frisch2,“it is the human condition that there is always a gap between our intentions and the impact we have on others.” Dr. Frisch’s observation of a “gap” in our intentions and actions can have a negative impact on a team or department when it goes unidentified. If a manager or executive lacks self-awareness, their behaviors can have a corrosive effect on their team, even though their intent was to make their team better. Dr. Frisch explains this dynamic, “because there are several opportunities for slippage as intentions are channeled into behaviors and then those behaviors are experienced by others, depending on their individual perceptions. The size of the gap between intentions and impact varies depending on many factors but leaders need to monitor this gap and keep it as small as possible.” To properly monitor this “gap,” leaders must be able to rely on honest, genuine and thoughtful feedback.
Sometimes, participants in a 360-degree interview session are reluctant to be critical or honest for fear of retaliation, while others may use this opportunity to settle a score and be overly critical of a subject. A good coach will be able to analyze the feedback to ensure that a sufficient sample of stakeholders are utilized to address outliers and evaluate the validity of the feedback.
Honest and constructive feedback is necessary for anyone who wants to lead a team or organization, as it provides an objective assessment as to whether your actions are creating a response that aligns with your leadership intentions. “A leader who is intending to be firm and clear about certain performance goals yet is perceived by others as judgmental or angry will be disappointed about results if he or she doesn't discover the gap so that it can be corrected,” stated Dr. Frisch. He continues, “this makes both informal and formal feedback essential for leaders to find out how intentions are coming across to others so that adjustments can be made.”
Once the executive coach completes the stakeholder interviews, the coach will then compile all the feedback and analyze it for consistent themes, examples of behavior and feedback that is particularly constructive. The coach will then prepare a 360-degree Report for the client that delineates the areas of strength to continue leveraging and suggestions for improvement. The coach will meet with their client to review and discuss the feedback.
It is important for the coach to present the feedback in the spirit of growth and development, and not to focus or dwell on negative comments. The client will then have the opportunity to review and absorb the feedback and, in consultation with their executive coach, draft a development plan. This plan allows the client to apply the feedback and work it into a plan of action to raise performance, self-awareness, enhance and build relationships, and be an all-around more productive, energized and focused employee and leader.
Dr. Frisch in sum says, “making the sharing of feedback usual and safe and then using it to adjust leadership behaviors to better align intentions with impact, should be standard operating procedure for leaders even though it requires ongoing effort.” The development plan provides a road map for the client, which can be amended to address concerns or behaviors that may arise at any given time.
At the end of the day, 360-degree feedback is a rich resource to assist employees at all levels of an organization, to increase their awareness and become more productive leaders. It is invaluable to learn whether the “behavior intentions” of a leader are having a positive impact on their team, or vice versa. Once there is an acknowledgement and awareness how others perceive you, there is a unique opportunity to either reinforce behavior that is having the desired effect, or an opportunity to adjust and change behavior that may be unproductive or damaging.
While a 360-degree feedback process can be challenging, an experienced and skilled executive coach can navigate the process and provide a customized and career elevating experience.
Information About the Authors:
David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Coach of Loeb Leadership. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-987- 4111 or www.loebleadership.com