360-degree feedback is a learning and development tool usually used by organizational leaders who wish to know more about their strengths and areas for improvement. People who surround an individual (hence 360-degree) are asked to describe their perceptions of the recipient’s effectiveness and provide insight on ways they can improve their leadership abilities. This data, collected either through interviews or surveys, can be a valuable mine of feedback information.
But, shame on me, even though I sang the praises of this process, I had never received 360-degree feedback myself. So this past Spring, I jumped over the fence to the client side, hired a consultant like myself, and had her interview my circle of clients and colleagues to provide me with developmental insight.
Hence the title of this newsletter which I have shamelessly stolen from my famous namesake, Alice in Wonderland. Through the Looking Glass is an apt title for my personal journey receiving feedback from so many different sources. A “looking glass” or mirror reflects our outward image back to us, allowing us to see ourselves as others see us. Good feedback not only acts as a mirror, showing us our observed behavior, it also provides us with others’ perceptions of how that behavior impacts them. I continue to learn from the feedback I received this Spring . Read on to see my journey through the looking glass of 360-degree feedback.
ALICE’S ADVENTURES THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
By Alice Waagen
When my literary progenitor Alice went through the looking glass, she found a world similar to her own yet altered in ways that made her think and act differently. Yet her internal fiber, her core courage and beliefs still compelled her to act and succeed. My 360 journey felt much the same. I was not shocked or surprised by the feedback I received, yet the nuances of some of the comments make me think about my work and my effectiveness differently.
When I share my story of my feedback journey with others, the first question they ask is “Why?” “Why undertake what could be a stressful endeavor. Why open yourself up to criticism or negative information?” My main reason for asking others their perception of my effectiveness was to determine the value that I bring to my professional relationships. I am a professional services provider, helping managers and leaders be more effective at directing the work of others. While I may think that what I do is unique and desired, what matters more is what my clients and colleagues perceive as my value. A traditional, organization-based 360 process searches for leadership strengths and areas of improvement. I was more focused on identifying the strength of the relationship between myself and my clients. When the relationship is positive and strong, I am able to successfully help others. It is imperative that I know if there is anything I do or fail to do that impedes the relationship. Thus the focus of my interview queries was on the value that I bring to what I do rather than on questions about leadership attributes.
My feedback providers not only gave me good insight into the value that they see in our relationship, they also communicated how they believed that I can add more value. We all view our work through our own understanding of what we bring to the engagement. For example, I discovered that I, at times, narrow my focus to a smaller set of services. If I do not see myself providing expertise in a certain area, I will not offer it to clients and colleagues.
As much as I learned from the feedback, my greater learning was from participating in the process itself. Planning, contracting, and experiencing 360 feedback caused me to undergo a role-reversal and to function for once as a client-recipient rather than as a consultant-facilitator. My learning from this experience was enormous.
Here are a few of my life-lessons:
• When working with Tory (see sidebar interview), I kept speaking the words that I’ve heard from clients that drive me nuts. “When can I see my report?” “Why will it take so long?” “Why can’t you talk with 20 or 30 clients and not have it cost a fortune.” I experienced first-hand the impatience and anxiety this process can produce. In the future I will be much more patient and compassionate when clients express their emotional reactions to exposing themselves to feedback.
• The rich value in feedback is much more in hearing about your strengths than in identifying areas of improvement. How often I have said this to others yet there I was, skimming my report to see what I was doing wrong! Once I had time to digest and process the report, I could see that much of the constructive feedback was on minor issues and the quality of the feedback on my strengths was of much greater impact on my future growth.
• We all have amazing powers to compensate for that which is a challenge for us. For my entire life I’ve been plagued with inattentiveness to detail. When I diminish my vigilance about updating calendars or writing down commitments, I mess up badly. I am hyper-routinized on the minutiae of my daily activities. In reading my feedback report, I laughed out loud at the numerous references to how well-organized I am. Vigilance pays off. No one knows of the many times I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Consultant 360 feedback is somewhat different from the traditional 360 process, yet at heart shares the same goals. We all need a better understanding of the value we provide to those around us. Whether I am a CEO of a large organization or an individual contributor in a company of one, knowing my value to others and growing it to foster deep and sound relationships is the ultimate goal for achieving success in our personal and professional endeavors. I have been asked whether I would undergo this process again and my answer is absolutely yes. The feedback that I received is of immeasurable value and will guide my development for years to come.