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Trainer’s tip: Going through the 360 degree


What do managers really think about 360 degree feedback? David Cooper says responses span the emotional spectrum, from excitement to full-on fear.

Photo of David CooperDavid Cooper of Lumus replies:

We’ve had the privilege of supporting hundreds of managers to convert their 360 degree feedback into positive, forward-looking actions that benefit them and their organisations.

For many managers, receiving in-depth 360 degree feedback for the first time is perceived as a daunting event that raises feelings of anxiety and apprehension. I always start each 360 coaching session by asking: How are you feeling about receiving the feedback? Answers typically cover the full emotional spectrum from inquisitive excitement through to outright fear!

The anxiety people feel frequently drives an intuitive reaction to 'prepare for the worst' that can surface through a range of self-justification and denial-type statements often heard before the report has even been opened.

Other factors that influence how managers perceive and approach their 360 degree feedback report are their level of 'feedback maturity' and that people initially read their reports with an 'emotional eye' where critical feedback can hurt.

Our experience - obtained through working with over a quarter of a million 360 degree participants - confirms that a key differentiator between inconsequential 360 outcomes and positive performance acceleration is recognising that people approach their 360 degree feedback reports from different emotional start points. The first time they go through the process they should be appropriately supported to work with, and where appropriate through, those feelings to draw balanced conclusions from which they can lever their strengths and develop forward-looking and meaningful development actions.

Photo of Mike MorrisonMike Morrison advises:

Unfortunately not all 360s are the same and the process in which they are introduced and managed makes a significant difference to their perceptions. Different 360s include:

  • one-off for development

  • annual as appraisal

  • everyone in an organisation

  • everyone at a given level

  • everyone in a given vertical

Then we have: competence; behavioural; attitudinal; knowledge.

Mix this up and... well... you get the picture.

But the culture of the existing organisation is the overriding factor, not the tool itself.

Will people give honest feedback? Are people trained to manage the process? How will the culture react to negative feedback?

If you are asking questions about 360s without considering the culture in which the tool will be used I can only advise you not to proceed.

360s are powerful tools - equally they can be very destructive of trust and performance.

If you can imagine the reaction - then from a research point of view - double the combinations!

There are three rules to leadership and managing people and I consider them with every intervention:

Rule #1 - People are and react differently
Rule #2 - People are and react differently
Rule #3 - People are and react differently

Photo of Rus SlaterRus Slater adds:

I was working with a client who used 360 at certain levels.

A particular manager had just reached the level where he was going to receive his first ever 360. He had risen up the ranks of this industrial giant and had been a shop steward and was still a union rep.

His own perception was that he was a man of the people, a fearless champion for the good of the workers, a brave leader who made personal sacrifices for the benefit of his colleagues and union members.

The feedback from his peers and staff was diametrically opposed to his self image.

He was devastated. He went through the stereotypical behaviours of the trauma cycle about four times in five minutes. He asked to be excused to go home and think.

The next day he came in and handed in his resignation. During his notice period he changed dramatically from being a firebrand militant to a mini-St-Francis-of-Assisi.

He is now working for a charity. He is as happy and contented as you could want any man to be.

'360 degree feedback worked in this instance. Discuss.'

I know that this doesn't answer the question directly but it might help!

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360 degree feedback

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