360 Leadership Assessments: How to Obtain Meaningful Multi-Source Insights
360 leadership assessments can help you unlock the true potential of your leaders and drive leadership growth like never before.
By gathering feedback from diverse sources – superiors, peers, subordinates, and even self-assessments – you'll unveil a treasure trove of insights into a leader's strengths, areas for improvement, and untapped potential.
Our article will share insights on:
- Designing and executing powerful 360 leadership assessments.
- Crafting impactful leadership assessment questionnaires.
- How leaders can extract and interpret this goldmine of insights through a formal 360 leadership assessment process.
- Fostering an environment of constructive feedback.
Our mission is to help you unlock the true potential of 360 assessments and drive leadership growth like never before.
💼 What are 360 leadership assessments?
360 leadership assessments are a comprehensive assessment tool for evaluating leaders' performance, skills, and behaviors.
These assessments gather feedback from multiple sources, including supervisors, peers, subordinates, the leaders themselves through self-assessments, and sometimes even customers or clients, to provide a holistic understanding of a leader's strengths and areas for improvement.
But 360-degree leadership assessments are more than a performance evaluation tool. They are also a tool for promoting self-reflection and understanding how each leader impacts their team and organization.
Employees are hardwired to remain silent and actively avoid voicing concerns about their manager's performance.
In a study on "An Exploratory Study of Employee Silence," 50% of the workforce admitted discomfort discussing organizational problems with their boss.
But leaders can only fix what they know and must seek guidance from a range of people closest to them to better understand their impact. To illustrate this,
Corey Andrew Powell, who works with the National Society of Leadership and Success, explains how elite commanders in the TV show Star Trek relied on 360 leadership assessments for exceptional decision-making. He told us: "Captain James Kirk and Captain Picard realize they can only be effective leaders with their crews' and advisors' feedback and input. That feedback could sometimes be criticism or disagreement, especially with Kirk's command.
The relationship between Kirk and his leading advisor, Dr. Spock, highlights this dynamic. Spock spared no feelings in his criticism or disapproval of Captain Kirk's actions. The direct reports to Kirk also felt they were in an environment where their civil discourse could be heard — even if Kirk considered their feedback but ultimately stuck to his original decision."
Primary objectives of 360 leadership assessments
Instead of receiving feedback from a single source, this leadership assessment delivers a more comprehensive view of how the leader is doing by:
- Identifying strengths and weaknesses: A breadth of opinions makes it easy to spot where a leader excels or needs support.
- Fostering self-awareness: Carrying out a self-evaluation enables leaders to zoom in on their skill set.
- Promoting professional leadership development: Acting on the feedback supercharges growth and equips leaders for future challenges.
- Measuring leaders' impact on others: Tracking 360 leadership results over time can be instrumental in understanding employee engagement and turnover rates.
🕵️♀️ 4 Key elements of 360-degree leadership assessment strategy
Every organization should have a plan to ensure the process runs smoothly and achieves the desired outcomes. Consider four key elements.
Sources of feedback
A leadership 360 assessment is only effective when a range of reviewers take part in the process, including:
- Peers: including leaders of adjacent departments.
- Direct reports: the leader's team members.
- Supervisors: anyone they report to, for example, a regional manager or C-suite execs.
- Self-assessment: the leader commits to an honest appraisal of their performance.
The reviewee, or leader, may nominate reviewers from each area to complete their assessment. In the case of direct reports, it's best practice for leaders to invite anyone in their charge to participate.
Why? Selecting employees with whom they have a strong relationship and avoiding feedback from those they don't could skew the performance ratings.
Determine the specific leadership qualities and skills you want to evaluate. These should be tailored towards your company values and specific HR strategies but may include the following core competencies for managers:
- strategic planning;
- honesty and integrity;
When's the best time to roll out a 360-degree feedback assessment for leaders, and how long does it last?
While any time of year is suitable, the process usually takes three to four weeks.
This interval provides enough time for participants to give thoughtful feedback and for all responses to be collated and analyzed.
The caveat: If your company is downsizing or going through a merger, it's best to wait until things have settled before undertaking a leadership assessment. Otherwise, you risk receiving feedback on broader company issues rather than achieving a fair evaluation of the leader.
Valuable insights are only possible with well-crafted questions.
So we strongly advise to include a mix of:
- Quantitative questions: Close-ended Yes/No style responses make it easy to assess behaviors. For example, "Does the leader communicate project expectations?"
- Qualitative questions: Free-text questions invite reviewers to provide further context, which will, in turn, deliver more meaningful insights. For example, "Can you provide an example of a time when the leader displayed empathy?"
🏆 5 Top benefits of 360 leadership assessments
Leaders who take part in 360 assessments can recognize their weaknesses better and understand how they should act in the future.
Uncovering blind spots
360-degree feedback can identify areas of leadership that are hard to recognize without an outside perspective, such as the leader's communication style or ability to motivate team members.
Promoting a culture of continuous improvement
Leadership assessments set the tone for development across the entire organization. When individual contributors see leaders held to the same standards, it encourages everyone to strive for higher performance.
As a result, it fosters a growth mindset that embraces constructive feedback.
Encouraging open dialogue
"The 360 is not a substitute for regular performance feedback," says Jimmy Rose, VP of Employee Experience at Cotiviti, Inc. But it does open the doors to more meaningful conversations between leaders and their teams during 1:1s and team meetings.
Leaders aren't typically fans of micromanagement. So, 360 assessments are a way to monitor growth without being intrusive.
Riley Beam, Managing Attorney at Douglas R. Beam, P.A.. recommends:
"The best approach is to concentrate on fine-tuning the workings of your leadership team and avoid overhauls. Leaders are highly influential, and even fine-tuning their behavioral traits and leadership styles can bring about considerable impact."
🆚 Competitive advantages of 360 leadership assessments over more traditional methods
360-degree feedback isn't the only way to analyze the impact of your leadership team. Alternatives include traditional downward feedback in an annual performance review or evaluating leaders on metrics like customer satisfaction or profits.
But leadership 360 assessments offer a few key advantages.
Multi-source feedback provides more comprehensive insights than the feedback of just one person.
It's hard to argue with trending opinions from several reviewers.
For example, suppose a team member, managerial colleague, and business partner address a leader's abrupt communication style. In that case, this is a clear point to work on.
Alternatively, suppose a leader had only received this feedback from a single reviewer in a traditional performance review. They may dismiss that person as overly sensitive or ill-informed.
Boosting employee engagement
Involving employees at all levels in the feedback process can increase engagement, motivation, and job satisfaction. Ranks and positions are meaningless, as the weight given to feedback from a direct report is the same as from an executive leader.
The impact? Salesforce data reveals that employees who feel their leader values their opinions and perspectives are 4.6x more likely to perform well.
Pinpointing training and development opportunities
360 assessments make it easier to identify development opportunities and encourage employees to learn new skills.
For example, if a leader gets consistent feedback that their team members don't trust them, they might work on their empathy and trust-building skills.
Connecting leadership behaviors with business outcomes
360-degree feedback builds a direct connection between the behaviors and performance of an individual leader and the success (or failure) of their team.
Tip #1: Use the insights to understand which behaviors contribute positively or negatively.
Tip #2: Prioritize reinforcing the behaviors and developing the skills that benefit their organization most.
💡 6 Best practices for implementing 360 leadership assessments
Follow these expert-backed tips for honing effective leadership skills in your organization.
Consider transparency vs. anonymity
Before rolling out your 360 assessment program, always clarify whether reviewers should deliver anonymous or transparent feedback.
Your anonymity settings will influence how they approach the questions and can contribute to your overall feedback culture. There are pros and cons to each.
Reviewers may provide candid feedback without fear of repercussions. As Jefferson McCall, Co-founder and HR Head at TechBullish, puts it,
"It's essential to create a safe space for employees to provide constructive criticism that can aid in the leader's development being assessed. Confidentiality shows that the organization values each employee's opinions and takes them seriously, which can help foster a positive work culture and improve employee engagement."
The downside of anonymity is that leaders won't be able to follow up with the reviewer for clarification. Additionally, offering confidential feedback can suggest that employees shouldn't feel safe voicing their concerns in public.
Reviewers may feel nervous speaking freely about their manager's shortcomings. As a result, they could provide biased answers swayed by the fact that their boss is the feedback recipient.
However, transparency also encourages open dialogue and collaboration. Leaders can thank reviewers for their honest feedback and use the conversation to create actionable improvement plans in partnership with the team members that suggested them.
Netflix offers a great example of making the choice most aligned with your feedback culture.
As is often the case with performance reviews, Netflix started with anonymous feedback. However, to their great surprise, people were signing their anonymized feedback surveys.
Why? Because sharing candid feedback is a pillar of Netflix's culture.
🎥 Discover the ins and outs of Netflix's feedback and performance management.
Create goal-oriented assessment questions
Align your questions with your leadership development goals. Executive Country Manager Lorien Strydom describes how this practice has been impactful at Financer:
"In my experience, posing questions based on how to improve competence, performance, and collaboration within a team helps to create deeper conversations. This provides more meaningful insights from multiple perspectives and allows for growth opportunities both on a personal and organizational level."
- Ask, "How do you think this leader responds to pressure?" if you aim to speed up production time.
- Ask, "How do you think this leader makes team members feel valued and included?" if your goal is to reduce employee turnover.
- Ask, "Does the leader encourage team members to learn new skills and develop their abilities?" if your goal is to bridge skill gaps in your team.
➡️ Check out these 360 feedback questions for leadership for further inspiration.
Clarify your process
Before you ask leaders to nominate reviewers or start answering questions, take the time to set expectations with everyone involved.
All stakeholders, including reviewers and reviewees, must understand the philosophy of 360 leadership assessments, why they're effective, and how the company will use any data.
Typically, HR should lead this process.
Luciano Colos, Founder and CEO of PitchGrade, explains:
"When implementing 360 assessments, it's crucial to communicate with your stakeholders and make them part of the process. You and your leadership team should meet with the stakeholders at least once and explain the process, goals, and method.
They can then give their input and ideas on how the assessment can be done best. Plus, it will ensure that the stakeholders are on board with the results (no matter what they may be)."
Offer resources for both raters and leaders
Everyone should feel supported throughout the assessment and know their feedback is valued. Provide any resources or support required, such as:
- Example answers of redirecting and reinforcing feedback.
- Guidance for leaders on how to act on the results of their assessment.
- Information on how you will handle anonymous data.
- How you will link the assessment to training and development.
Always provide a means for raters and leaders to ask questions about the process.
Tip #1: You can set up an FAQ page or designate a contact person for queries.
Tip #2: Zavvy users use training journeys to instruct all participants about the objectives and tasks in the process, collect feedback or open questions, and document rating instructions.
Establish a timeline
If your organization is new to 360 leadership assessments, set a timeline to decide how long the process should take and how frequently you plan to run them.
Joe Li, Managing Director at CheckYa, believes regularity is vital.
"I think that pulsing your way to success is the ideal strategy. The traditional method of conducting 360-degree evaluations is to launch them periodically (e.g., every 12 to 24 months) and cover a wide variety of pertinent behaviors.
On the other hand, 360 data can be obtained more frequently and deliberately for tremendous insight into where efforts are paying off and where additional attention may be required, with a focus on "moving the needle" on certain outcomes."
Incorporate leadership coaching
Take care that the assessment recipient feels supported during a 360-degree assessment. It can feel daunting to receive feedback from multiple sources.
Leaders may not know how to act on the results without proper guidance. Cathy Liska, CEO of the Center for Coaching Certification, explains why the focus must always be on professional development and personal growth:
"The key to 360s being helpful and effective is ensuring they are viewed and used positively. The research is clear: 360s without follow-up coaching have a negative impact because people focus on the criticisms and feel attacked.
Use 360s for leadership development instead of performance reviews."
📊 How to interpret and use the results of your 360 leadership assessments
The rating phase is step one of your leadership assessment. Combing through the data and acting on it is step two, and it's crucial to get it right.
Compare self-assessment with others' feedback
Is there a mismatch between how the leader rates their performance and how their peers, subordinates, and supervisors rate it?
These can be illuminating, even uncomfortable, and point to a need for more self-awareness in the leader.
Identify patterns and trends
Focus on finding overarching themes and patterns across a range of feedback. It's easy to get bogged down in individual remarks, but try to zoom out and see the bigger picture.
For example, If five out of ten raters said they found the leader "unapproachable," this could suggest a need for better interpersonal and relationship-building skills.
Set goals for leadership improvement
Translate the feedback into actionable Next Steps that leaders can use to improve. We recommend using the SMART method:
- Specific: Set clear and unambiguous goals.
- Measurable: Identify how you'll measure progress.
- Achievable: Ensure the goal is realistic.
- Relevant: Ensure the goal is in line with overall organizational objectives.
- Time-bound: Establish a timeline for goal completion.
➡️ Learn more about setting actionable goals for leadership improvement and get inspired by our thoughtfully curated SMART leadership goals examples.
Create L&D action plans
Your feedback should uncover development opportunities, so ensure you use the data to seek out relevant training programs or mentoring relationships. This could be in-house programs or external ones such as executive coaching.
Your leadership development plan should outline the goals and steps required to achieve them.
Monitor progress and course-correct
As HR, your role is to support development and create an environment for current and future leaders to thrive.
Remember: A 360 leadership assessment isn't a one-time event.
Repeat the process at intervals, tracking progress to ensure leaders meet their goals or if they need any course correction.
Align leadership assessments with the overall HR strategy
360 leadership assessments are a critical tool, but HR must use them in tandem with other strategies to monitor progress in their organization.
Matthew Ramirez, CEO of Paraphrase Tool, explains:
"360° assessments can be a great way to get a deeper understanding of how employees are feeling about their leaders, but they shouldn't be the only tool HR uses to decide about management.
When using 360° assessments in isolation, HR can get a one-sided view of the organization. Instead, they should be used with other HR tools, such as exit interviews or focus groups. By using multiple tools, HR can get a more holistic view of how employees feel about their leaders and what areas need to be addressed."
➡️ Assess and grow your leaders with Zavvy
Zavvy makes it easy to run 360-degree assessments for your leadership, regardless of company size.
Our 360 feedback software allows HR teams to unearth strategic insights that will inspire action and targeted growth of your leadership.
Here's how one of our customers uses our 360 tool to evaluate their employees throughout defined feedback cycles.
- Using Zavvy's career progression and competency frameworks, they defined different levels and sub-levels throughout seven departments in their organization to calculate averages and frequencies across all areas. These included 5 levels and 15 sub-levels:
(0) Junior A, B, or C (sub-level)
(1) Advanced A, B, or C
(2) Specialist A, B, or C
(3) Expert A, B, or C
(4) Senior Expert A, B, or C
- At the end of each feedback cycle, the company offered employees concrete development opportunities, using Zavvy to filter by competency and view training course recommendations.
- The review process repeated at 6-monthly intervals. Employees who progress between cycles are eligible for a level change and a salary increase.
Take Zavvy for a spin by booking a free demo today.