Beyond 360° Feedback to 720° Development

With 720° development, leaders now have a more complete context to reconcile their inner and outer realities.

The tool most organizations use to help leaders deal with the intention-perception gap is 360° feedback. With such programs, leaders are given feedback from multiple sources on their behavior, skills, and leadership competencies.

Unfortunately, 360° feedback does not reveal the whole person. From a developmental perspective, it reveals only a portion of the person, rather than the total picture. This is particularly true when 360° feedback is the sole source of input given to the leader. If a development process is modeled primarily around 360° feedback, executives only learn how to create themselves in the image of others. As a result, they learn how to act instead of how to be—a direct route to following, not leading. In a provocative way, I tell most of my client organizations, “You don’t need 360° feedback. What you need for leaders is 720° development.” After they give me a polite, somewhat confused stare, I elaborate that 360° feedback in the absence of new self-knowledge often has two limitations:

  1. It can create a defensive reaction, in which case no growth takes place.
  2. It encourages people to simply deliver the desired behaviors without giving them the personal insight and motivation to grow—a formula destined to limit authentic influence by creating actors, not leaders.

But 720° development is different. It begins with an Inside-Out 360—a deep, broad, valid, integrated assessment of our personality traits, motives, and competencies, as well as our current and desired stages of development. This first stage ensures that we begin to master a more authentic understanding of ourselves. Then, an Outside-In 360 is completed to give broad feedback on how people above, across from, and below us perceive our strengths and areas of development. With 720° development, leaders now have a more complete context to reconcile their inner and outer realities.

A Case in Point

For instance, I worked with a vice president of a consumer products company who received 360° feedback from his company prior to our coaching. He was perceived as too aggressive and untrustworthy. He was devastated by the feedback, because he lacked the self-awareness to meaningfully interpret the harsh input. He had no idea what to do. Should he pull back on his relationships and be less aggressive? If he did that, wouldn’t it further erode his sense of trust with people? Because he didn’t know himself at a deep enough level, he was unable to assimilate the feedback and was developmentally paralyzed.

After getting an integrated, 720° view of himself, this executive had much more clarity of his entire situation. For the first time, he became objectively aware that he was extremely aggressive and dominant. He’d had no idea his interpersonal style was so far beyond the norm for leaders. Suddenly, he had a context in which to understand the value of the feedback, and he was motivated to show up in a manner more consistent with his real intentions. Regarding the trustworthiness factor, we found in the Inside-Out 360 that he was an honest person of high integrity. However, his somewhat introverted, aloof approach with people was creating a perception that he held things back. Knowing this, the challenge was of a different order. He needed to spend more time with peer relationships to let people get to know him. Once he got the complete 720° development, he was able to engage actively in a development plan to move forward.

Real-Time Feedback

In addition to using 720° development as a best practice, it is also important to get feedback in real time. As you are interacting with others, are you watching for discomfort, misunderstanding, inappropriate silence, or energy shifts in people? Ask people for their feedback on your views and how you are coming across. Even if you are sure people are listening, ask them what they think. Encourage people to challenge you. Ask people if there are other ways to view the topic at hand. Make sure they have received your intentions. If not, ask them what they heard, and then take the time to clarify until you are satisfied your intentions have been received. This will serve a threefold purpose:

  1. Your influence will be even more authentic and create more value.
  2. You will learn more about how you are being perceived.
  3. You will develop more effective ways to communicate.

In “100 Things You Need to Know: Best People Practices for Managers & HR,” Robert Eichinger, Michael Lombardo, and Dave Ulrich report results of a study showing that “although it might seem mildly counterintuitive, high potentials, and especially executives, get less feedback. They are more likely to be told how wonderfully they are doing; specific feedback or even formal performance appraisals can be rare.” Don’t let yourself fall into this trap. Make 720° development and real-time feedback a way to accelerate your self-awareness and interpersonal awareness.

Kevin Cashman is Global Leader of CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry. He is the author of “LEADERSHIP FROM THE INSIDE OUT: Becoming a Leader for Life,” Third Edition (Berrett-Koehler; October 30, 2017).