Multi-Rater (or 360-degree) surveys are one of the most common tools for self-development in the talent assessment industry, particularly for managers and executives. In many organizations, as the level of leadership increases, there is a tendency to become isolated from honest performance feedback from others. Without honest feedback, managers can become overly confident that others share their opinions and perceptions. This is a particularly dangerous phenomenon given that self-awareness is one of the most overlooked qualities of effective leadership. While only a small number of people (roughly 10-15%) are considered to have high self-awareness, research shows that the higher we climb within an organization, the less self-aware we tend to be. Leaders who lack self-awareness, particularly around their own management behaviors, can have a detrimental effect on team performance, productivity, and morale. Therefore, a 360 degree survey can be a highly impactful investment for creating self-awareness and defining a path for self-development.
Bridging the gap between self-perception and the perception of others begins with a well-designed 360 that measures key competencies necessary for success using behavioral statements appropriate for that level of leadership. Soliciting feedback regarding behaviors from key stakeholders including peers, direct reports, customers, and a boss can illuminate both unrealized strengths/potential and critical development opportunities for 360 feedback participants. Once the data has been analyzed and leaders process the major highlights and themes from their results, they must decide what happens next. For many leaders, the “now what?” aspect of 360 feedback can be a bit challenging without some additional context.
The 360 feedback report itself answers the “What” question directly. What do my peers, colleagues, boss, and direct reports see as my strengths? What do they believe I need to improve? These answers lie in the average rating giving for each competency, the rank order of the competencies, as well as the free-form text responses. To build an action plan for self-development, leaders should first examine the lower ranked competencies and identify which ones they would like to improve.
To dig deeper into the 360 feedback results, the behavioral statements provide additional detail worth analyzing. For example, when a leader is surprised to see Collaboration as one of their lower-ranked competencies, they can gain additional context by looking at which behavioral statements from the Collaboration competency were ranked the lowest. The behavioral statements could indicate the individuals fails to leverage existing networks and interact with diverse cultures or across geographies to achieve objectives. The behavioral statements provide clear behavioral examples to answer the “what” question (i.e. What strengths and challenges are my colleagues observing) of self-development. Certainly, from here an individual could develop an action plan to modify their specific behaviors related to Collaboration. But, without understanding why we behave the way we do, the self-awareness we’ve generated so far, though valuable. is potentially superficial.
When considering How our natural behavioral styles play into our leadership behavior, and why we’re motivated to behave the way we do, it’s necessary to examine the key work styles and motivational drivers that are innate in personality. Combining a 360 feedback survey with a personality assessment such as the PAPI connects the dots between what we do and why we do them. When the assessments measure the same competencies and use the same language, the common thread between what, how, and why becomes clear. In the example above, when considering why the individual struggles with collaboration, it’s helpful to know that his PAPI results show he places a low priority on developing deep relationships at work. Specifically, while he’s seen as friendly, he tends to place a greater emphasis on achieving objectives over building, nurturing, and maintaining relationships. Suddenly, when adding the work styles and motivational drivers context to the equation, we can move from “I don’t know why I’m not seen as collaborative, I’m a friendly guy!” to “While I’m friendly to everyone, when it comes to getting the job done, if it takes too much time/effort to involve others, I’ll just do it myself.”
But it’s not enough to know why we act the way we do. Self-awareness of our work styles and motivational drivers is not a license to justify negative/destructive behaviors. The development tips from the PAPI report can become a key component of the individual’s 360 feedback action plan. For example, taking more time to get to know others on a deeper level could significantly improve the individual’s likelihood of collaborating to achieve objectives.
Finally, when deciding where we should focus our self-development efforts to maximize the outcome, we can turn back to the 360 to see if one particular group feels more strongly than others regarding the low-rated competency. In the example we’ve been using, the individual was ranked lowest for Collaboration by his direct reports. Now, the 360 feedback participant knows which behaviors need the most improvement, why he is motivated to behave the way he does, how to make improvements, and which colleagues would benefit the most from additional effort in that area.
Combining a 360-degree feedback with the PAPI assessment provides a more holistic approach to improving self-awareness. Using a common language across assessment tools saves the leader from having to perform mental math to make connections and gain insight into the root cause of their leadership behaviors and where they should direct their energy to maximize the results.
It is important to note that self-awareness is not practice as much as it is a state of mind. It takes purposeful effort to become more self-aware, and it is an ever-evolving process as teams change, we gain new experiences, and our organizational climate shifts. Continuing to receive honest feedback from others begins by being open to accepting constructive feedback, being willing to own our strengths and weaknesses, and committing to improving the competencies that matter the most.
Breanne Harris is a talent assessment expert with a background in Industrial‐Organizational Psychology and 12 years of experience consulting with organizations on assessment and training solutions. As a Principal Consultant at Cubiks US, Breanne supports organizations by leveraging the Cubiks assessment portfolio for candidate selection and leadership development. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, two young daughters and two dogs.