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How to use 360 feedback for leadership development

10 min read
It’s a disruptive world, and you need leaders who can steer your organisation through uncertain times. 360 feedback can help you develop, support and retain the best leaders.

Employees at every level want to get on in their careers, increase their impact on the business, and become better leaders.

Businesses in turn have critical talent gaps that they need to address. To do this, it’s essential to:

  • gather employee insights that are personalised, rooted in data, and action-oriented
  • develop business strategies to deliver outcomes that are tangible, measurable, and aligned to critical business goals.

A 360 Development system is the ideal mechanism for leadership development – it can help you understand how your employees define leadership, how leadership is working out, as well as identify your future leaders.

Here’s how you can use 360 degree feedback for leadership development.

What is 360-feedback?

360-degree feedback, such as our 360 Development solution, is a multi-dimensional development tool that asks for confidential, anonymous feedback from an employee’s supervisors, peers, vendors, and direct reports, about a range of workplace competencies. It uses robust, real-time analytics and AI to help you develop business strategies, investments, and make talent management decisions across the whole business.

It measures:

  • Behaviours and competencies
  • How co-workers perceive an employee
  • Planning, listening, and goal-setting skills
  • Character, teamwork, and leadership ability

360 feedback is, however, not used for measuring employee performance objectives, basic job requirements, technical skills, absence, or sales targets.

Download our free 360 Feedback Best Practices eBook

Why 360 feedback for leadership development?

360 feedback is a great tool for developing leaders. Leaders’ behaviour generally centres around ‘soft’ skills such as:

  • Communication
  • Decision-Making
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-Solving
  • Empowerment
  • Empathy

These skills have been quite difficult to evaluate and measure with traditional surveys and questionnaires. Misguided insights from those can lead to focusing on the wrong areas for development or encouraging only short-term behaviour change that’s not sustained over time.

For example, a leader may report that their teams don’t follow instructions well. In a traditional top-down assessment, that would be the only feedback filtering down to team members, leading to frustration and resentment.

With 360 feedback, team members also get their say: “Our manager doesn’t communicate well and their instructions are not clear”. Now, the issue is out in the open and it can be addressed. The manager can be coached or trained in better communication, and the whole team, and organisation, is richer for it.

360 feedback is much more comprehensive and less open to individual bias because it’s gathered from multiple perspectives. It helps leaders become better at their roles and go on to inspire the people they manage.

Who benefits from 360 feedback for leadership?

Everyone, really:

  • Organisational leaders need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses to develop professionally, create and lead stronger teams, positively influence workplace culture, and drive organisational impact.
  • Mid-level and frontline managers need to drive operational excellence, help their team work productively, and provide actionable feedback and direction at the right time, place, and scope.  Managers need coaching to make ongoing employee development a critical part of their daily job.
  • Individual employees want actionable, timely, and unbiased feedback to build the skills and behaviours they need to grow their careers, improve their day-to-day performance, and in turn become leaders. Requesting and receiving unbiased, data-driven, and actionable feedback at the right time is challenging – especially when working remotely.
  • Organizations need critical insights, delivered by 360 feedback, to help identify future leaders and development gaps, and effectively deliver programs that address talent gaps and improve organisational performance.

How to carry out 360-degree feedback for leaders

1. Invest in the newest technology solutions

Take a look at your current multi-rater systems. Chances are, the technology is outdated, and comes with expensive consulting services. It may require a lot of manual configuration to set up, launch, collect data and prepare reports, doesn’t tie data to your employee experience analytics platforms, and can be expensive whenever your organisation needs to make changes or tweaks.

The latest generation of 360 solutions are:

  • Scalable: Extending development programs to more employees without additional administrative overheads
  • Customisable: Delivering the employee development experience that best meets your organisation’s unique needs
  • Empowering: Enabling talent at all levels to accelerate their careers, become better leaders, and drive business impact
  • Impactful: Quickly identifying development gaps across the organisation and tracking successful outcomes over time

2. Define leadership

Some organizations don’t define clearly who their leaders are, or their areas of responsibility. If yours is one of these, or there are conflicting views, why not put the question to your employees using 360 feedback?

As a leadership team, you’ll know your company’s strategy and vision – but it’s your employees who can tell you how you are achieving it. They can tell you whether your strategy is being implemented effectively on the ‘shop floor’, and whether managers are doing what they say they are.

As part of a 360-feedback system, you can also ask employees about the behaviours they admire in their leaders and managers. Advanced AI language analysis technology identifies trends in how people are talking about leadership or, more specifically, leaders.

And management buy-in is one of the biggest hurdles to changing culture and delivering on a strategic vision. 360 feedback can help you uncover any issues that are making your people hesitant.

3. Identify the next leaders

It’s not enough simply to review your current leaders to ensure they are exhibiting good leadership qualities. It’s also essential to identify potential leaders of the future. It is, of course, much cheaper to recruit from within, and you’ll want to retain the top talent you have already recruited and invested in.

When you’re identifying new leaders, it’s helpful to determine your brand vision – where your company wants to be in the future. Knowing this will help you focus on the qualities and competencies you’ll need in your leadership to help you achieve the vision.

Then, you can include questions about those qualities and competencies in 360-feedback surveys, asking reviewers to comment on whether the person they’re reviewing exhibits the necessary qualities. The AI technology and natural language processing of the latest 360 feedback systems will reveal which employees are being talked about in ways that suggest they have leadership potential.

Using results from your 360 Development program you can create a personalised development program for employees identified as having leadership potential, and maybe start it early in their career. Or perhaps tailor an existing program to fill the gaps in future leaders’ skills and competencies.

4. Monitor progress and growth

Leaders, by their very nature, don’t really like to be micromanaged. In fact, autonomy is well known as one of the biggest drivers for job satisfaction among leaders. The challenge is to measure performance while allowing your leaders to do their own thing.

For that reason, 360 feedback offers a regular, but less intrusive way of monitoring leaders. The results can be more useful to leaders as well, as it lets them see how they’re perceived by others in the organisation, versus having one-to-one appraisals with a manager or simply hitting targets.

It shows them how they’re actually perceived as leaders in the truest sense – how much they inspire, motivate and develop team members, or how their attempts to drive change and improvements are being perceived.

Survey question examples

There are several competencies of leaders you can ask about in your 360 feedback surveys. Here are some examples of the type of question you could use for each one:

  • Authority and empowerment: Do they make quick, confident, clear decisions, even if faced with limited information, and empower others to do the same?
  • Communication: Do they communicate clearly, openly, and honestly, and encourage open dialogue?
  • Respect: Do they treat everyone with respect, irrespective of who they are or the situation in which they find themselves?
  • Training: Do they promote other people’s learning and development to help them achieve their goals and fulfil their potential?
  • Recognition: Do they recognise others’ efforts and share credit appropriately?
  • Performance and accountability: Do they take accountability and maintain a strong sense of focus on results, driving tasks and projects to completion?
  • Work process: Do they continually improve the way work gets done and drive process efficiencies?
  • Innovation: Do they generate new ideas, try new things, and challenge the status quo?
  • Managing change: Do they adapt and act as a champion of change?
  • Strategic alignment: Do they focus on the future and take a strategic perspective on issues and challenges?

You can add further competencies to your 360-feedback surveys to dive deeper:

  • Ethics: Do they do what is right?
  • Growth and development: Do they seek growth opportunities?
  • Resilience: Do they persevere through challenges?
  • Collaboration: Do they work well with others?
  • Psychological safety: Do they take social risks?
  • Trust: Do they keep their commitments?
  • Customer focus: Do they manage customer problems effectively?
  • Safety: Do they show commitment to safety through actions?
  • Corporate social responsibility: Are they socially responsible?
  • Living the values: Do they behave consistently with company values?

eBook: 360° Feedback Best Practices