Over the past several months, I have helped many corporate leaders to make meaningful and positive changes, based on candid feedback from others. The most effective leaders today possess a strong combination of good self-awareness and good self-management. Honest feedback is a cornerstone for building these capacities. Why? Because we humans are notoriously poor at really knowing how others see us. Sure, we all believe we know the impact we make, but how really accurate are these unquestioned assumptions? (Alas, “not-very,” according to research.)
A common workplace feedback tool for leaders is the “multi-rater” assessment, or the so-called “360” because they solicit mostly anonymous feedback from all around an individual (i.e. 360-degrees) – bosses, peers, direct reports, customers, and others around an individual’s circle of influence. How the 360 feedback is received can be a mix of reactions – affirming, confirming, surprising, or even a sobering “wake-up call” for the most extreme perception gaps between self and others.
Through Kincaid Associates Coaching & Consulting, we can provide clients with a range of sophisticated, well-tested 360 assessments. Each has its unique strengths and focus. The cost to administer and debrief a 360 varies by the instrument (please contact me if you want to learn more). But did you know that you can gather very useful feedback for yourself by creating your own multi-rater assessment? I call it the Selfie 360, and it can provide very useful insights into how people around your circle of influence actually experience you, and at little or no cost.
There are different approaches to conducting your own multi-rater. For example, you can create your own online survey (check out www.surveymonkey.com), and then invite others from various contexts to provide specific feedback, anonymously or not. Another approach is to go directly to key individuals in your circle, and ask for specific feedback. (Note the emphasis on being specific about your feedback request. “How am I doing?” will render much less useful data than “How am I doing regarding ____.”)
Ask 3 Powerful Questions
To help give your Selfie 360 helpful structure and focus to solicit specific honest feedback, I suggest framing your request with three powerful questions, framed around a classic change management process technique, called Stop-Start-Continue.
Let’s look at an example of how this might work. Let’s say that you want to improve your “leadership effectiveness.” First, identify key individuals from various contexts, to get multiple perspectives on your effectiveness as a leader, and then solicit their honest feedback. Once they’ve agreed, meet with each person to get their opinion. (F2F or video is recommended, although phone or email can be very insightful, too.)
Let them know you want to improve your leadership effectiveness, and have three questions for them. . .
Q1: To improve my leadership effectiveness, what is something you think I should stop doing?
(Now pause. Just listen! Let them think and respond. Don’t defend or try to explain yourself. Ask only clarifying questions. Make note of their response. Acknowledge you heard them, and now tee-up your second question.)
Q2: To improve my leadership effectiveness, what is something you think I should start doing?
(Similar to before, pause and let them respond. Just let their words in. No rebuttals! Only ask clarifying questions. There is nothing you must say or do with this feedback yet. Make note of their responses, and move to the third question.)
Q3: To improve my leadership effectiveness, what is something you think I should continue doing?
(Just as before, just listen, ask only clarifying questions, offer no rebuttals, and take notes.)
I’ve found limiting to one topic at a time yields the best, least-ambiguous results versus to an overly broad approach. If time and interest permit, you can do more than one round of Stop-Start-Continue, each with a different topic (e.g. listening skills, presentation skills, public speaking technique, approachability, listening skills, empathy, etc). Think about an area you want to improve, and ask three powerful questions!
At the end of each feedback engagement, thank them for their honest feedback which gives you some good data to consider. Once you’ve interviewed all from whom you want feedback this round, you are ready to shift modes, from data collection to data analysis. Now, sift through what you’ve heard from around your circle of influence. What similarities or differences do you notice? What is it you’re hearing over and over? What didn’t you hear that you expected to hear? What surprised you most? What are you better at than you thought? Or what did you hear from raters in one context (e.g. peers) that you notice comparisons or contrasts with others (e.g. direct reports)?
After data analysis, time to shift modes again, to the action planning and implementation phases. Based on feedback received, what changes do you want to make? (Use the 5 Helpful Questions in the previous section above.)
Tips for Best Results:
- Do NOT attempt if you are NOT willing to hear feedback! Asking for feedback, then reacting with anger, denial, or defensiveness, or ignoring it completely will undermine trust and damage a relationship.
- Detach. Get curious and stay curious. Keep in mind that opinions are data; it is up to you to turn data into it into useful, actionable information, through reflection and discernment. (Is what they say accurate, or is their feedback “more about them” than about you? Again, you get to decide!)
- Express gratitude! Acknowledge their generosity (even if it stings at first), and also the courage involved. It is a courageous act for you to ask for honest feedback, and likewise it is courageous for them to provide feedback. To make this work, you and your feedback-providers must both make yourself vulnerable – you to solicit and receive feedback, and they to provide it.
- Remember that there is nothing you must do during feedback except listen! You don’t have to make any changes, or make any commitment to act or change right now. You are just gathering data from a variety of sources. You can decide later about any changes in behavior and approach.
- If you do decide to make changes, consider asking for help from your feedback-providers. Let them know you’ve taken feedback to heart, incorporating it for your improvement. If you think their help and support would be useful as you incorporate changes in your approach or behavior, ask!
- Variation – take it online. Stop-Start-Continue can also be done with online or printed survey, and thus more anonymously than F2F.
Like many other self-management tools, feedback can help you become an effective leader. The place to begin is where you are. The time to start is now.