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Elva Ainsworth

Talent Innovations

World-renowed 360 degree specialist, author and consultant

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Managing leadership performance with effective 360

Elva Ainsworth discusses the merits of utilising 360 within management performance – outlining six ways in which leaders can maximise the benefits.

360 is typically used in a developmental context and can be extremely powerful in providing a mirror to feed learning and growth, but it can also be a useful performance tool.

At the same time, a key part of managing performance is understanding an individual’s impact on others – only when you are armed with the perspective from key parties can you be sure you know how someone is doing.

However, using 360 for this purpose needs to be quite different. This article offers six tips on how to use 360 in managing performance.

The leadership-360 equation

Would you drive without looking in your wing mirror from time to time? Even if you were inclined to do so, you would definitely be taking risks. You would, occasionally, end up driving into the path of someone you didn’t know was there, and that could hurt.

It is the same with leadership; you can go through your career looking forwards without taking the time to check your blind-spots, but you might at some point fall foul. If you are managing leaders, then surely this is a useful reminder of what should be in your toolkit to help you manage their performance effectively.

Your view of a leader’s performance is extremely important.

Your view of a leader’s performance is extremely important – it will affect both their future and their career, as well as potentially impacting your own function, department, and/or career.

A leader may be open to your contribution, or they may not, but this approach will only take the development journey so far. 360 is a very powerful developmental tool that can support you further in this management.

It can provide vital information on the broader impact your leader may be having and how they are managing the different relationships around them.

With 360, your personal view and feedback is backed up by the voices of others or, if views are not fully aligned, it may convince you to think differently. Once you build 360 into performance reviews, you will not want to appraise without it.

Problematic, or ‘toxic’ leadership can often go unnoticed or un-managed, so 360 is essential in ensuring your employees can safely and anonymously raise issues they may have. As a manager, you are then fully equipped to coach, direct and improve the situation and the culture.

360 can help with the issue of unnoticed or un-managed toxic leadership.

However, critical in using 360 as part of your performance management process is getting the process right – otherwise it can be less insightful and can destroy the reputation of 360 as a development tool. Here are six tips to help you do this:

  1. Give as much control to the leader as you can. This will ease the discomfort and feeling of being ‘managed’ and will encourage positive engagement in the process. For instance, you can allow them to add their own personal questions to a survey; decide who should review them, and who to share their data with; as well as choosing who to support them in interpreting the data.
  2. Be clear and specific on all the parts of the process. This should include the timings, the confidentiality, the ownership of the data, the personnel involved, and how 360 is used in relation to performance evaluation and salary reviews.
  3. Design your 360 for this purpose. Ensure the content is highly relevant and that the rating scale is different from that used in the key appraisal (or exactly the same if it is used as direct input). Ensure the language in the communications, emails and webpages is aligned in referring to growth and development.
  4. Ensure the manager’s view is prioritised. This should be the primary focus, but your own view should also be informed by the 360. You need to understand all the perspectives and form a new broader view incorporating the complex dynamics there may be.
  5. Choose the language to align with the purpose. Choose a title for the 360 survey and/or programme that works to inspire. Use of language such as ‘insights,’ ‘success factors,’ and ‘perspectives’ can work better than simply describing it as a ‘360 survey’.
  6. Debrief the 360 separately. Make sure to use an experienced, credible and independent coach to debrief the data. This will ensure that your leader has processed their feedback, formed some hypotheses on what is being said, and has a clear understanding as to how they are showing up. They should leave that session clear on their top strengths, their blind-spots and potential areas to focus on in the future.

The benefits of 360

Once your leader has digested their 360, you can step in to use it as part of your management kitbag. Ideally, they will have shared all (or at least some) of their data with you, and you will have a conversation about the patterns and insights emerging.

You may be clear that they need to work on their strategic thought processes and breadth of market knowledge when some may not have seen this. Moreover, others in the company may well have different standards or expectations – these differences can become really clear when reviewing a 360 report.

As long as you know them well, your perspective as a manager will always be the most important and well-formed, and you will definitely ‘know best’ in  areas such as judgement, strategic thinking, and commercial awareness. However, it is crucial to note that there will be some areas where others are best to judge.

For instance, the views of direct reports will potentially be the most valid in revealing how well leaders motivate and energise staff, give direction, and provide constructive feedback. If you have a different view than the reports then this becomes interesting to unpick.

Perhaps they are engaging differently with more senior people? Perhaps they are scaring direct reports and you had not been aware of this?

Therefore, it is key that you explore the 360 with them and allow your view of your leader to expand – perhaps moving to a 3-D view of things, when you previously only had a 2-D perspective?

Your assessment of a leader can be fully informed if you have incorporated the views of all the important people.

Your assessment of a leader can be fully informed if you have incorporated the views of all the important people.

A 360 exercise can be a very useful reason to take stock and explore developmental issues or blocks. It can expand and enhance your working relationship and build the trust between you and your leader.

It can also expose the real views and truth about your leader, and will give you an excuse to talk about ‘the tricky issues’. If implemented well, a 360 will add detailed development data and insights to your performance management process – a management gift!

Enjoy this article? Check out ‘Employee feedback: How to design shorter 360 surveys without losing impact’.

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Elva Ainsworth

World-renowed 360 degree specialist, author and consultant

Read more from Elva Ainsworth

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