360 degrees feedback

From Destructive to Constructive: 360-degree Emotional Intelligence Feedback

Handled poorly, 360-degree feedback can be destructive, particularly in workplaces causing low emotional intelligence. Just how destructive hit home recently when a colleague revealed they used the S.A.R.A.H. mnemonic to help people prepare for what it can be like. S.A.R.A.H. stands for Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance and Help. Similar to the five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”, my colleague would say to participants, “when you receive your feedback some of you might feel initial Shock (from surprises), which may lead to feelings of Anger and Resentment, and once you move past this hopefully most of you will Accept your feedback for what it is and seek input and Help on what to do about it”. For some participants this method certainly helped them verbalise their authentic reactions to their feedback.

Feedback isn’t easy to give or receive at the best of times. Those of you who, like me, spend a good portion of your week delivering 360-degree feedback, know all about it. The victim, the justifier, the defender, the attacker, or one of my personal favourites, the ‘yes-yes’ responder: that type who sets a tone of artificial harmony, driven in part by their desire to get the session over with ASAP. There are a lot of things that can make 360-degree feedback destructive and illicit the type of responses we are familiar with. Fortunately, many of these are avoidable and by using a number of best-practice steps, it’s not too difficult to move 360-degree feedback from destructive to constructive.

At Genos International we measure thousands of individuals’ emotional intelligence via 360-degree assessments every year. Here are a few recommendations based on our experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully you will find it helpful.

From destructive…

The executive coach debriefing the results lacks emotional intelligence themselves. They talk too much and listen too little. They make value-laden interpretations of the data, “…these results suggest you could do better at…” and “what this means is…”. Their style is inflexible and they don’t mirror and pace with the persona of the person they are coaching. Collectively, this approach is most likely to lead to a destructive response to the feedback. People feel uncomfortable, undervalued, or worse still, angry about how their results were conveyed. Their natural response under these emotions is fight or flight.

To constructive:

Make sure emotional intelligence assessment and development is a part of your coach training. A lot of variables influence 360-degree scores, ranging from the nature of interactions participants have with their raters, to their underlying levels of ability and experiences, to their personal motivations to display the skills and behaviours of the model. Low scores don’t always mean people are incompetent. Executive coaches need to facilitate an interpretation of results, not give one. To do this, they should draw on the individuals context, ask questions about relationships and explore underlying abilities and strengths. Sitting square, demonstrating empathy and being mindful to adjust to non-verbal emotional cues related to rapport and participant engagement, make for a great session.

From destructive…

Members of a dysfunctional team (where artificial harmony exists) rate each other as ‘peers’ in a 360-degree process. This is fraught with danger and can result in fracturing peer relationships further rather than fixing them. Don’t start with the 360.

To constructive:

Ask the group to reflect on group behaviours, like the participation in ‘artificial harmony’, rather than rate each other. This softer starting point can be a better way of getting the group reflecting on behaviours that don’t serve them well and what to do about it.

From destructive…

The fly-in, fly-out single session wonder. All too prevalent in today’s businesses, that view that a single debrief session on results is all that’s needed to get people doing and behaving differently in the workplace. These are okay for the top 25% of people, however for the other 75% single session on results is seldom enough to result in needed change or elevated strengths. Most of us need more than just the results and an action plan to make a demonstrable difference.

To constructive:

Give people 3 to 4 sessions. An intro session to explain the approach, how to select raters and what to expect. The next session to understand results and draw up an action plan. The next to go through practical models and tools for doing things differently. And a final session to discuss and refine the application of those models on the job. Having supporting resources for each competency assessed by the 360 that are practical and accessible can also greatly aid development. Pairing participants up to share insights and techniques in a peer-coaching methodology can also work wonders.

From destructive…

360 reports that use complex scoring systems/algorithms, vague, jargon terminology (like Self-Actualizing or Hedonism) and complex models with 10 or more competencies or variables assessed. People spend all session learning the model and how the assessment works and the session is over. This approach is hardly useful for development.

To constructive:

Smaller, more memorable competency models (4-7 competencies at most) work best in development initiatives. Use models and reports with simple scoring and benchmarking, which use accessible language and offer development suggestions. If you find yourself spending more than 5 minutes in a 60-minute session going over the model and scoring, you know you’re on the wrong path.

From destructive…

The leaders of your participants (in this case leaders going through the 360), don’t demonstrate the skills and behaviours of the competency model well themselves. Or worse still, see the 360 initiative as something that’s needed for their Direct Reports rather than themselves. What top leaders actually do is a far more powerful force in organisation culture than policies and competency models we expect leaders to demonstrate. If top leaders aren’t willing to go through the process themselves, and coach and promote the demonstration of the competencies down the chain, getting middle-level managers buy-in and engagement in development can be very difficult.

To constructive:

Own, Model, Coach, Promote. This is a very simple but powerful model for 360s. Getting leaders of leaders to Own and Model the skills and behaviours of the competencies assessed by the 360 make it all the more sellable down the line. Once they do, also getting them involved in coaching behaviours that require change and promoting exemplar behaviours will really help drive the development initiative along. Giving a 360-development initiative purpose by linking it to business strategy, a major change initiative or vision-mission can also aid in motivation to participate and develop.

From destructive…

Sharing reports – this ends in pain for some, and that pain can manifest destructive responses. In any group of 10 or 20 people, you are going to roughly have 1/3 who score low, 1/3 who score average and 1/3 that score high. When those who score high willingly start sharing their results, those who score low do so because they feel obligated. Often when they do, raters who scored them low ‘run away’ from their responses (from fear of confrontation) causing confusion and resentment. People with low results can sometimes be unconsciously defensive or justify their results, which can also lead to harm.

To constructive:

Before people go through the 360, set it up as an expectation that people are not to share their results. Rather, get participants to thank their raters for participating and to share the insights they get and the actions they are going to take as a result of going through the process. These conversations should be validation-type conversations that the actions they are going to take are the right ones. This typically leads to more future-focused, action-oriented discussions about results, which tend to keep relationships intact and help them flourish.

From destructive…

Putting raters straight into the web-based assessment system without any context. The first time people find out about the fact they have to rate someone is via email. Ask yourself, how would you feel? Most projects that start this way take a considerable amount of time to complete, and most reports aren’t complete due to one or two raters who vowed simply not to participate.

To constructive:

Ask people if they wouldn’t mind participating prior to the email. Tell raters why it is important to you and what to expect/what is involved. Provide raters with as much information about the initiative as possible. Good 360 systems will explain the competencies clearly and will comprise items that are very clear and easy to rate others on.

In summary, there are a number of things that can derail a 360-degree development initiative, yet there are equally a number of things you can do to help maximise its success. What’s the biggest cause of destructive responding? What’s the single best-practice thing you can do to make a project successful? I invite your answers to these questions and other commentary on what can make 360-degree feedback both destructive and constructive. Personally, I like using the Johari Window model as a way of positioning 360-degree feedback and preparing people to make the best possible response. It simply states that we all have Open, Blind, Hidden and Unknown areas. Often, 360-degree feedback gives us a window into our Blind Spots, things others perceive to be true of us that we don’t know about. These insights help us consider things in our Open areas and in our Hidden areas and through the dialogue we have about our insights and actions we most often move into the Unknown development area. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t know what’s possible from 360-degree feedback until we get into it.

If you’d like to trial our emotionally intelligent leadership 360 with an expert debrief please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.

 

 

Dr. Ben Palmer, BAppSci (Hons) PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Genos International

View posts by Dr. Ben Palmer, BAppSci (Hons) PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Genos International
Ben has a background in psychology having a finished a PhD at Swinburne University in Melbourne Australia where he developed the first Australian model and measure of emotional intelligence. He has an extensive publication list in the area, has been invited to contribute chapters to books and guest edit special issues of journals on the topic. Together with Swinburne University’s commercialization arm Ben founded Genos International in 2002 to bring his model and measure of emotional intelligence to the market. The first major customer of Genos was ANZ Bank where Ben and the Genos team worked together with McKinsey & Company on transforming the culture of the organisation to be more customer centric. The Genos model and measure of emotional intelligence was used as one of the mediums for this transformation that resulted in the Bank doubling its share price in 18 months and winning Bank of the Year 8 times in a row. Genos, and the model and measure of emotional intelligence that forms its core business, is now a national and Australian export success story. Genos has operations in Australia and Europe and distribution partners servicing clients in the USA, India, China, South Africa, South East Asia and New Zealand.
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