Tips to Help 360 Participants Get Robust Report Data

Personal feedback can be such an uncomfortable subject! We do all we can to avoid being in the hot seat. It’s hard enough to try to break old habits when it comes to myself, but it’s even more difficult to try to convince others to accept feedback. While working with HR to launch a new survey run for their managers, I try to reiterate the important role these feedback participants have in receiving a well-rounded report. The participant loses the opportunity to gain valuable insights into their leadership development when at the end of the process they get an incomplete report. I compared both types of reports with my client and explained some helpful ways that’ll be a win-win situation for them and for the managers about to go through the survey process.

Sample heatmaps with and without all rater categories.

The following two examples show the difference in the robustness of the data when there are enough respondents in every rater category.

A. Report with MISSING Rater Categories

Report A – With the majority of rater categories missing, the participant only sees the Peer’s perspective in comparison to how they rated themselves.

B. Report with All Rater Categories

Report B – The participant received feedback from all categories so they see how their Self ratings compare to the rest of the group as well as their Manager.
Full Heatmap with All Data

Help participants catch the vision.

Before survey launch, we recommend that participants (those receiving feedback) are informed in advance about the benefits of completing a 360. If they receive encouragement from their organization that this will not be used as a performance review but as a way to help them grow professionally, they will more likely make this a priority. One of my clients would remind his employees that their 360s would not affect their performance review at all. He wanted them to know that this tool was strictly for the development of their leaders and the data would only be shared between them and their manager.

The goal is to help participants understand why this process should matter to them. We hope they treat 360 feedback as a forward-looking career development tool with the message that it is about where they want to go next, not about what they have done. It demonstrates a path forward that they can take to achieve their career aspirations. If participants look at feedback as a threat to their compensation overall, they get into the mode of picking raters who will give them more positive feedback. The last thing we want is for these individuals receiving feedback to fight the survey process from the beginning and focus solely on looking good instead of looking for improvement.

Who will be their raters?

We recommend participants determine their own raters, because they will trust the results more than if their respondents are selected for them. Completing the self-survey first can help participants figure out who to add as their raters since their raters will usually be answering the same set of questions.
Below is an example of rater categories displayed in a report and the recommended number of raters:

Rater Categories

Manager (1 recommended)

The person you directly report to.

Peer (5-8 recommended)

Individuals at a similar level with similar responsibilities across the organization.

Direct Reports (All)

All Individuals who report directly to you.

Other (5-8 recommended)

Clients, former colleagues, mentors/collaborators, anyone else you worked closely with in the past.

These categories group individuals they interact with in similar ways. These rater categories can help identify the differences in the way the participant relates to each of these groups. Some participants may not have any direct reports, so we recommend they add former direct reports or leave that category blank.

The recommended number of raters for each category is there so a participant can receive enough feedback. At LearningBridge we take whatever degree of anonymity that was promised very seriously. Thus, in most cases a category with fewer than 3 complete will combine with another rater category to preserve anonymity. To the extent possible, we want to avoid groupings in a report and help participants receive feedback from each category for a more robust report overall.

How should they communicate with their raters?

As a courtesy and to increase the likelihood of a response, we recommend that participants give their respondents a heads-up about the survey. This will avoid any questions that might come up about the legitimacy of the request for feedback. (It’s also a great idea for participants to send a thank-you note to their respondents after the survey is complete.) Here’s an example of an initial heads-up email:

Hello (Respondent Name),

I’m seeking to understand more about my personal strengths and development areas. To do this, I’m asking a number of people that work with me to provide feedback via a short survey (approx. 20 mins) called the Leadership Inventory.

As someone whose point of view I really value, I’d very much appreciate you helping me with this element of my leadership development journey. Let me know in case of any questions. You will receive an email from the survey host, LearningBridge, with the link to complete the survey.

Thanks for your support.

/Name

As you see, taking a few simple steps can go a long way toward achieving a final report with robust data. It is ultimately our hope that each individual will take away a valuable insight from their data and others will follow, because they’ll see feedback as an opportunity to gauge whether or not they are going in the right direction professionally and personally.

What to Look for in a 360

Stressed Business Woman on Phone

I remember an initial call with a client who had no idea where to start in her search for a 360. It’s hard to forget the urgency and uncertainty in her voice–was her request feasible in such a short timeframe? She specified the survey had to launch as soon as possible for her executive leadership team. This was the first time they would be going through the process together, but they were open to a pre-determined leadership model. She did not have any survey items prepared, and just going over the tasks she needed to complete was becoming way too overwhelming to handle.

I’m sure we can all relate to my client’s struggle with balancing our daily workload while trying to launch a new project. Where do you even begin to find the right 360 for your employees or clients? There are a variety of choices out there depending on how involved you want to be in the process. You have to assess so many different aspects of the plan—from vendor selection, budget, and rollout schedule to prepping participants and respondents, handling report distribution and feedback sessions, all while also doing your day job. Have I exhausted you already with that list? Don’t worry. The process can seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. I’ll share with you what I told my client that day she called.

Professional Development Focused

Although there are a variety of 360s out there, we recommend you avoid those that feel like a formal performance review. Employees participating in the survey process should see this as an opportunity to become better leaders. They may think they know their strengths and weaknesses, but a 360 is a great way to see if the perceptions they have of themselves align with those of their peers, direct reports, and manager. Your communications with the participants before the survey launch will set the tone for what they’ll expect from this process. Our hope is that participants completing the 360 will make the most of this opportunity, rather than treating it as another to-do on their list. You want to make sure your budget is well spent, with long-term results; a reluctant participant can sour the experience for others.

Survey Content & Length

What will a 360 look like, and how many people will be participating? Do you want to embed your organization’s leadership model in the survey? Will you provide the survey in multiple languages or different versions depending on the levels of the organization completing it? This is when it’s important to pin down specific deadlines when you need reports. If there is additional time to design and build a survey with your organization’s survey items, a custom 360 tool would be a good choice to move forward with. Although this option has more costs associated with it, you would ultimately end up with a custom 360 tailored to your company’s needs to help develop current and future leaders.

Limited time and/or budget to get the process rolling with an organizational development program starting soon? An off-the-shelf 360 tool would be recommended in this case since that could typically be launched within a week. A leadership model has already been developed so you can review in advance to see if it fits what your company is looking for. It will also most likely come with a “default” version of survey communications as a starting point, but it would be helpful to check if these can be modified. Typically, these off-the-shelf tools are not customizable, but they are more affordable than a custom project.

When evaluating survey length, we recommend the process not take more than 30 minutes, preferably closer to 20 minutes. If a survey is longer than this, those providing feedback will likely experience survey fatigue and put in less effort toward the end. As a guide, we recommend that the survey not exceed 50 items, is fine at 40, and is great with 30 or fewer.

Anonymity

Many organizations look for third-party vendors to help alleviate anonymity concerns. Raters might be afraid that the participant, most likely their boss or peer, will figure out that they gave them a low rating or a negative comment. This will unfortunately impact the group completion rate and effectiveness of the report the participants receive. It is important you work with the vendor to make sure survey communications state how the data will be collected and what level of confidentiality they will have. This will help raters feel comfortable as they provide honest feedback, and most importantly it gives participants well-rounded reports with varied perspectives.

Completion Rate

What can make or break a survey’s success is completion rate. Keep in mind any upcoming holidays because a large number of employees on break can make it really difficult to gather responses during that time. Data collection can last from 3-4 weeks but with a larger group we recommend that the survey be open for about 4-5 weeks so raters have more than enough time to provide feedback. This will allow more flexibility in case rater lists need to be reviewed or approved beforehand. It will also help to have some leeway between when the survey closes and when you need reports, especially if you want to have a customized report built for your group. Reports can be produced and tested in a timely manner and any feedback provided after the communicated deadline can still be included.

Action Plan

Even after the survey process is completed and reports are distributed, participants are encouraged to continue the feedback loop. The objective for every 360 should be creating feedback conversations between the participants and their manager and/or direct reports about the data received. Participants should not try to figure out who said what but instead should focus on the core messages in their feedback report.

The action plan should capture the participant’s reaction to certain feedback and help them analyze common themes and differences found within the data. Participants need to find and leverage their strengths as well as work on items and competencies that may be a weakness or threat. There will be plenty of opportunities for improvement, but it is up to the participant to decide what to focus on, given their career aspirations. By the end of the action planning process, participants should have development goals in place as well as notes on what resources they’ll need to support their action plan.

Post-Survey Support Options

Are you the only one debriefing participants on their results? Another thing to look for with survey vendors is to see if they offer additional support once reports have been produced. Some offer webinars to help participants understand their report or train-the-trainer seminars to get your team up to speed on how to effectively debrief a report in case it is a 360 tool they are not familiar with. Other options you can look into include one-on-one coaching/executive debriefs as well as group results and analysis.

Relaxed Business Woman on Phone

Conclusion

To circle back to the client I mentioned earlier, I broke down the survey process in smaller parts and focused primarily on what her immediate concerns were. We were basically in constant contact through email and phone until we got her survey successfully launched that same week. She was relieved to have this quickly resolved and have another person working with her to help manage priorities and expectations. Choosing the right 360 does not have to be a burden you carry by yourself. Calling potential vendors would be the first step in the right direction; partnering with the right one will ensure you have a smooth experience from beginning to end so you can focus on what you need to do.

Six Guiding Principles for Receiving Feedback

Two Business Women Talking

A lot of attention is given on how to provide feedback to other people, but less attention is given to how we should receive the feedback to help us improve. The following are six guiding principles that can help us receive feedback given to us. These principles can be applied to most situations in which you receive feedback.

  1. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to accept and act on feedback by sharing with others.
  2. Don’t take it personally, make it useful.
  3. Keep in mind your current responsibilities and career objectives as you consider what feedback matters most.
  4. Pay attention to what stands out, surprises you, or is different from what you expected and why.
  5. The feedback can tell you as much about your respondents as it does about yourself.
  6. Find strengths that you can build on.

We will address each of these points in more detail.

1. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to accept and act on feedback by sharing with others.

Which individual would you most prefer to work with?

  1. A person who says they will change something but doesn’t.
  2. A person who says they won’t change but then does.
  3. A person who says they will change and does.

For most of us, the first person would start out with our appreciation and end up with less respect. The second person would initially be frustrating, but we would be glad they made the change. The third person would be most appreciated, because they not only made a change, they also did what they said they would do.

As you receive professional feedback, share that feedback with somebody else, such as a manager or trusted peer, depending on who gave you the feedback. Don’t just share the feedback but share your thoughts and plans for acting on it. This may include the decision not to take specific actions, but they will see your reasoning as to why not. Do find something you can and will act on. You will then improve, and others will see the improvements you are making and gain confidence in your ability to learn and grow.

2. Don’t take it personally, make it useful.

“You’re amazing!” or “You’re an idiot!” One of these statements makes you feel good and one hurts. In general, you want to work with people who are more inclined to share the positive than the negative, but you want to manage both. Hopefully, you work in an environment of professionalism where calling names is not the norm. Even better if you and the people you work with are more inclined to build each other up.

Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative, don’t take it personally. Let positive feedback boost your confidence but not make you arrogant. Let negative feedback give you pause but not paralyze you. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative points and want to move into a fight or flight mode. Take a moment to breathe and consider whether there is merit to the negative feedback. Whether or not there is, it becomes an opportunity to better understand the feedback provider, which will be further discussed in point #5 below.

3. Keep in mind your current responsibilities and career objectives as you consider what feedback matters most.

When we debrief 360 results for an individual or engagement survey results for an organization, we often have to remind them: “Here is what we are seeing and what the data seem to show. Now you have the more complete context of your life or organization and need to bring that to bear on results for better insight.” There may be something that looks more urgent based on the data than what the context would suggest, or given your goals and objectives, addressing certain points might have a greater benefit. Remember, you get to decide what you ultimately want to focus on.

4. Pay attention to what stands out, surprises you, or is different from what you expected and why.

People generally have a sense of what their feedback will look like. They might say, “I know I will get high scores from my manager and low scores from my direct reports, because I have to push my direct reports really hard to get the results needed to move up in this company.” Regardless, it is likely that something in the feedback will be different from what you expected. That doesn’t mean it is good or bad, but it does represent a disconnect between your perception and others’. You may be surprised at how positive the feedback was. This can be a great opportunity to close the gap in your behavior, whether that’s leaning into a strength or modifying a weakness.

5. The feedback can tell you as much about your respondents as it does about yourself.

My daughter has noticed that I often comment about dishes piling up in the kitchen sink and how the dishwasher is loaded, but I don’t typically say much about the kitchen floor being swept—unless it really needs it. This may have more to do with what I value in terms of kitchen tidiness than in the quality of the floor sweeping or dish cleaning. Another reason for this is that I normally unload the dishwasher, thus, whether or not it is loaded and how it is loaded directly impacts me.

Likewise, there might be aspects of your work that are of particular importance to your manager, which may cause her to be more “critical” or discerning in that area when providing feedback. On the flip side, high marks in another aspect of your work could mean that it is a strength for you or that you simply meet the needs and expectations of those providing feedback.

6. Find strengths that you can build on.

As mentioned previously, our brains are wired to focus on perceived threats. Human nature is inclined to focus on the negative feedback and move into fight or flight mode, in which your vision narrows and your ability to think clearly decreases. However, we recommend that as you approach feedback look for strengths you can leverage to be more effective at what you do. You are more likely to be more effective recognizing and leveraging strengths, taking a skill from good to great than from trying to move a skill from poor to good.

Conclusion

Again, these points are most applicable to professional feedback, especially in 360 form; however, they have applicability to some degree or another with most feedback that we receive. Regardless of the context, use these principles to help you demonstrate that you have a learning mindset and are open to growth as you accept and act on the feedback others give.

Why Does Feedback Matter?

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

A woman with spinach in her teeth

Have you ever looked in the mirror and discovered a little piece of spinach stuck in your teeth and then thought, “Has that been there since lunch? I’ve been talking to people all afternoon. Why didn’t anybody tell me about it?”

If somebody had told you earlier that there was spinach in your teeth, it would have been an embarrassing moment; however, it would have been less painful than the thought that the spinach had been there during all of your conversations and meetings. Ultimately you would be grateful that the person cared enough to let you know, because it can be awkward for them too. And even if the spinach went away before you saw it, that doesn’t change the fact that everybody else experienced you with it.

Feedback Saves Us from Embarrassment

As in the example above, there might be something in our conduct, behavior or mannerisms that is distracting, annoying or even offensive. It might be something as simple as the heavy use of filler words in our speech, such as, “like”, “um” or “you know”. However, it might be more serious like believing that you are a topic expert when in reality those around you find your knowledge and skills lacking.

These potential embarrassments might be caused by a lack of awareness. Or in some instances, there might be a cultural gap. Regardless we need feedback from others to help us improve. Just like working on your throwing technique or learning another language, feedback is key to helping us improve, which makes us look better.

Feedback Helps Us Focus on What Matters Most

In a Harvard Business Review article, the authors noted that in a survey conducted by VitalSmarts, “Eighty percent of the 1,335 respondents said their boss has a significant weakness that everyone knows and discusses covertly with each other, but not directly with their manager.” Regardless of whether you know or want to know what others think, they still have their thoughts and opinions. You can choose to learn about others’ perspectives or try to move forward with little guidance on what might matter most.

Most of us will admit that we have room to grow, and we often even have a sense of where we should grow. We also tend to have a sense of what our strengths are; however, we sometimes think we are stronger in an area than others do, or that strength may actually be holding us back in some way.

Because we all have areas where we could improve, it helps to get the perspective of others to make sure we focus on the areas that will have the biggest impact. In particular, getting your manager’s view on what your next best development action should be will likely serve you better than going with your gut. Your manager’s broader perspective and deep experience could save you from spending time in an area with little return.

Conclusion

Ultimately feedback matters. When it comes to our growth and development as professionals, ignorance is not bliss. It is a roadblock. Feedback matters because without knowing the perspectives of those around us, we could be walking around with metaphorical spinach in our teeth or blindly pursuing what we think might most help us succeed but is actually of little consequence. Feedback matters because it puts you in the driver’s seat with a view of the road conditions and your destination. You still choose your path, you just do so from a much better vantage point, with a much greater likelihood of quickly reaching your destination.

How to Accept Difficult Feedback

We all know we need feedback to grow and improve, but when negative feedback is on its way, we are likely to duck and cover or worse, stand and fight. So why do we avoid the very feedback that we may need to achieve our own aspirations?

The simple answer is, negative feedback hurts. The same regions in the brain that light up when we have physical pain also light up when we receive negative feedback. The “pain” primes us for an immediate instinctive fight or flight response. The thoughtful, rational consideration the feedback deserves is nowhere to be found.

So, what can we do?

Worried man in a business conversation

First, know that negative feedback does not require a quick response or any response at all. Unlike physical pain, your hand is not really burning so you don’t need to remove it from the flame.

Second, listen, listen, listen. Let the feedback come out until it has run out. Resist the temptation to formulate a response or judge the validity of the feedback. Your mind is not in the best state to do this. You need time to let the pain response subside, then you will have access to your higher brain where reasoning and judgment reside. Of course, if you have the skills, active listening where you restate and seek clarity is encouraged. Keep it about understanding the feedback, not evaluating it or defending yourself in any way.

Third, say thank you and smile if you can. Try saying something like “Thank you, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I appreciate your taking the time to share that with me.” This will keep the feedback channel open. Who knows what you could learn in the future.

Fourth, step back and reflect. This is where the real work begins. To unpack the meaning buried in the words, you will need to use your higher brain functions. Metaphorically step back and away from yourself. From your higher, more objective vantage point, can you see the perspective of the individual who gave you the feedback? Assume for a moment that what they say is true or at least true for them from their viewpoint. Now consider what you would do if it were true. Would those actions be helpful to you even if the feedback was off the mark?

Fifth, take a “rent to own” approach with the feedback. Try it on and walk outside the shop for a day or two. Most of us dismiss the feedback before we even take a look in the mirror.

If it really doesn’t fit after a few days, feel free to chalk it up to a misunderstanding or just an off day for you or the feedback giver. But more likely you will find that while the whole message may not resonate, at least a kernel does; that kernel may just be the piece of feedback you need to grow and develop to achieve your aspirations.

So the next time a rough piece of feedback comes your way, remember:

  • No immediate response required
  • Listen, listen, listen (no judging nor defending)
  • Say “thank you” to keep the feedback channel open
  • Step back and away, then reflect – engage your higher brain
  • Take a “rent to own” approach – don’t dismiss it too early
  • Find the kernel and act accordingly