There is no doubt about it, managing people is hard! No matter how much aptitude you have for leadership, and despite how much you might enjoy leading a team (or not), aligning employees to contribute in a way that is meaningful to your business is a challenging job. The complexity and difficulty of this grows with the size of the team and the impact of their contribution on the businesses strategy and goals, and ultimately it’s up to you to supervise, guide, coach and develop individuals for high performance in this setting.

Managing their technical contribution is often straightforward, and more and more the modern manager will resource their team understanding and trusting that its members are adequately equipped. This generally means possessing relevant technical and professional knowledge and skills, often not shared by you. However if this was all that you need your teams would be mechanical in their work, with their more dynamic and value adding characteristics, redundant. But the contemporary workplace has well demonstrated that it’s these “soft” skills that make the difference.

And herein lies the real challenge. Like with technical and professional skills, there are expected standards of contribution on the soft competency front. How an employee communicates, their emotional intelligence, their personal effectiveness, and their ability to manage relationships and influence others are just some of the soft skills that are needed to be appropriately demonstrated and optimised for success.

Developing and managing these in employees, when they are where they need to be, seems easy. Giving employees positive and motivational feedback is pleasant, and almost never receives a negative response. However, sharing with employees that a change in their soft skills is needed feels much more treacherous. Such feedback can create upset, denial and/ or anger. Employees will often take this as personal, and to an extent it is personal. And when given on a regular basis, as good practice in feedback recommends it should be, can feel like criticism, the label often and inaccurately used to describe developmental feedback. This can leave you feeling like the lone voice of negativity, especially when the suggested changes are not demonstrated, leading to your own feelings of frustration, anger, and disappointment.

How can you still convey the message, however make the feedback seems less “from you”, without compromising on its importance? A powerful tool in building employee buy into yours (and others) feedback is the now common place, however often clumsily administered, 360 degree feedback approach. This evaluation system provides a forum for soliciting and presenting feedback collated from a selection of feedback providers, surfacing shared perspectives, commonly observed strengths and development needs. And importantly, helpfully for you, represents a weightier and more compelling collection of feedback that you can share with the individual.

In this approach feedback is gathered from a number of feedback providers, representing a cohort of professional contacts, all of whom have current and in-depth professional experience of your direct report. Typically, this includes you, peers, other stakeholders (both internal and external), and the employees own direct reports (where they exist). Generally given anonymously, their feedback is neatly packaged into a feedback report, which can become a springboard for a rich and outcome focused conversation that offers a very balanced and unbiased view of your direct reports contribution and development needs.

The design of the 360 approach is important in its successful delivery and acceptance of feedback by the individual. Where these are flawed, or can be perceived as flawed by the feedback recipient, the content is sometimes doubted or rejected, rendering the exercise as meaningless. In rudimentary manual systems, the effort to administer and deliver is time consuming, open to manipulation, with results potentially inaccurate. Nowadays systemised 360 platforms are plentiful, mitigating these issues, with My360Goals are leading example of what’s available.

Here, the focus becomes the core competencies of the individuals’ roles. During the feedback gathering process feedback contributors rate their impressions of how well the individual is delivering against these competencies, in addition to the qualitative feedback they will provide through written comments. The beauty of a system like My360Goals is that when the final feedback reports are produced it helpfully charts this for the reader, providing a gap analysis that highlights alignment and differenced in perspectives. It’s these gaps that can help reinforce your own feedback, and provide content for a meaningful motivational and developmental conversation, such as the follow up report review discussion that you can have with your direct report.

360 degree gap analysis

This conversation, between you and your direct report, is turnkey in galvanising the feedback and deriving value from the exercise. Remembering the uncomfortable scenario posed at the beginning of this blog, this discussion provides the chance to underline your own perspective and reinforce the changes that are needed to be meet and exceed expectations.

Five recommendations for this conversation:

  1. Contracting – to gain trust, acceptance and the right to deliver feedback

  • What do you want to get out of this session?
  • How can we make this a productive meeting?
  • Do you have a goal? What do you want to have by the end of this session?
  1. Overall Impressions – to set the tone and depth of report content to be discussed in the meeting

  • What overarching themes emerge?
  • Is there anything unexpected or upsetting in the feedback?
  • Are there any nice surprises?
  • What was the recipients reaction to the feedback?
  • What do they take from the summary charts and graphs at the beginning?
  1. Detailed feedback

  • What seems to be their key strengths?
  • What seem to be the main areas for development?
  • Which items stand out?
  • Where are the biggest gaps?
  • What patterns emerge in the way that different groups have responded?
  1. Qualitative feedback – to examine and explore written comments from reviewers to see what insight they might offer and how they might add to the numerical feedback

  • Are there any consistent or repeated messages?
  • How do the comments support (or contradict) your overall impressions, the key strengths or areas for development?
  • Do any of the comments provide a clearer picture as to why particular ratings have been given?
  • Do any of the comments provide suggestions as to things that could be done differently, specific developmental actions, or quick wins?
  • From the comments, what seem to be the key strengths?
  • From the comments provided, what seem to be the main areas for development?
  1. Action Planning – to determine key priorities, resources, stakeholders and specific actions and timeframes

  • What changes be made right now?
  • How can strengths be better made use of?
  • What role could strengths play in developing other areas?
  • How is the feedback best summarised?
  • What are the key messages?
  • What support is needed to build on the positive and respond to developmental feedback?
  • Which organisational resources could help?
  • When will we collect feedback again? From whom, and how?
  • How progress is will be understood/ evaluated?

Finally, we encourage creating a supporting supplementary development plan to create a roadmap for growth and learning that responds to the report content.

If you would like to explore the potential for 360 feedback in your organisation, understand best practice in coaching and developing direct reports off the back of feedback, or even discuss feedback you have received and your own development plan, please contact a member of the Learning Cog team.