In this, our third and final installment in our series examining the growing use of 360 surveys, we'll take a look at the trend lines we see from the ever increasing volume of our Polaris® 360 survey used for leadership development. It seems the timeless idea that it is difficult to improve (and also become an authentic, self-objective leader) without feedback has bolstered the use of 360s in the past decade.
Our first observation is that the increasing use of 360s has had the cumulative impact of validating the best practice of a
strict focus on development
(versus administrative use) as the primary purpose of a 360 assessment. As organizations have settled into second, third, and even fourth iterations of 360s for their leadership population, the firewall they have enforced between development (i.e., training and growth) versus evaluation (i.e., appraisal, selection, succession management, etc.) has allowed more trust and transparency in the process to develop. This acceptance has cemented the 360 process as integral to leadership learning and growth. And a noticed side benefit of multiple 360 iterations has been an influence on organizational culture. No matter what the advertised culture of an organization (the "espoused" culture), the ACTUAL culture is really an emulation of leadership behavior and practices (the "actual" culture). Robust 360s can hold a leadership team accountable to a specific set of ideal behaviors. Over time, that accountability can help shift "espoused" culture to "actual" culture.
Another trend we've observed is a greater sophistication around the use of 360s as only a part of a more holistic look at a larger survey guided development system and process. As noted in a previous
, the worst use of 360s has been those organizations that jumped on the 360 bandwagon and began administering them without appropriate preparation and discipline (i.e., measuring from robust criteria/competency model, not providing coaching and follow up, etc.). But, over time, organizations have recognized that the 360 is really just the beginning step. They are merely a diagnosis, and that without appropriate feedback, action planning, coaching support, and follow-up, doing only a 360 is equivalent to just doing an X-ray, MRI or CAT scan without expert help in interpretation and action. The persistent use of 360s has now given us time to examine the ROI from the 360 process. It's clear that to realize ALL the value from the process, the 360 must be seen as just the beginning phase in a one to two year development cycle.
Another trend we've noticed, especially as the external coaching community has embraced 360s as part of an expanded tool kit, is that the development phase of the cycle has become much better. Coaches and coaching organizations (e.g., Hudson and ICF) have offered many improvements to a survey guided system. For example, coaches have introduced more sophisticated development "contracts" that test essential assumptions before beginning an action plan. Does the participant truly want to change? Have participants identified a good reason to change? Have they identified a support community to rely on? Do actions to improve match learning styles and the need for experience (not just knowledge gain) to truly build skill in the deficient competency?
Vetting participants to ensure they are motivated to change and have identified a reason to change is underscored in this observation from one of OSI's most seasoned consultants and 360 feedback coaches, Rhonda Weyer of Midland, Michigan. She notes:
"Truly wanting to change is the key. Time and again, I've delivered feedback to individuals who appear interested, but simply file the information away in the back of their mind. They don't reflect, they don't meet with their Respondents to learn about their ratings from the Respondents' perspectives. What happens is that their scores during the next round of 360s - usually 2 years later - haven't changed. In contrast, those who do reflect on their scores and have meaningful dialogue with others about their results often see significant improvements. I'm often asked by the participant's manager, "Do you think they can change?" and the most honest response I can offer is, "if they want to."
While the notion of 360 survey guided development has been around for decades, the accelerated contemporary use of the process has provided a wider improved understanding, acceptance and validation of the process. It's truly become a staple in leadership development and we see continued evolution and advancement.