Why 360 degree feedback is the best way to develop managers

Leadership and the capability of managers has a major impact on the employee experience, organisational culture and employee engagement. Managers also have a significant impact on levels of employee engagement. Organisations spend huge amounts of money on developing their managers, but all too often it fails to deliver the return on investment. In our view, 360 degree feedback is significantly more cost-effective than traditional training. This post explains why 360 degree feedback is the best way to develop managers.

What is involved in developing managers?

The idea here is not to outline a comprehensive leadership development strategy. However, in simple terms, managers need development in two broad areas.

The ‘What’

Managers need some core skills so they are able to deal with ‘the what’, the tasks they need to carry out.

This includes things such as presentation skills, interview skills, project management skills, understanding of employment law etc.

The vast majority of this stuff is based on gaining knowledge and practicing techniques.

The ‘How’

The best managers also have a grasp on how to deal with people.

This is all behavioural and includes some tangibles, such as how to delegate, but it also includes lots of intangibles. The intangibles include things such as how to give feedback, how to listen effectively.

The best managers display critical leadership behaviours such as providing direction, communicating vision, gaining buy in for change, valuing and supporting people etc.

It is these behavioural aspects that define leadership and this stuff is all grounded in behaviour.

As such, truly effective management or leadership development needs to focus on changing behaviour.

Whilst managers may be able to perform by just being good at the task part of the job, the mechanical things, the best leader/managers are also good at the softer things, the behaviours, the how.

However, you’ve probably been on a training course where you were left feeling that it was useful and interesting, but let’s face it, you didn’t do anything differently as a result!

This is why traditional training courses have limited return on investment as they tend to be reasonably effective at teaching knowledge and skill, but it is much more difficult to ‘teach’ behaviour.

How to promote behaviour change

However, the psychology of behaviour change tells us that changing behaviour is extremely difficult to do.

Think of the last time you set out to make a change in life – whether it be cutting out a specific type of food (sugar? alcohol?) introducing a new exercise regime etc.

If you succeeded good on you, but it probably took a lot of commitment and effort before the new regime became second nature.

Unfortunately though most of us fail when trying to introduce a new regime. This is usually because:

  • we tried to be too ambitious – “I’m going to cut out biscuits, snacks, crisps, chocolates and alcohol from now on!”
  • we were unclear in our goal – “I’m going to get fit!”
  • or we simply didn’t persevere – “Oh go on then, it is Friday night after all…..”

Psychology tells us that behaviour change only really happens when we define very specific goals, we only try to change one or two specific things at a time, and we completely commit to implementing the change.

The reason behind this is that most of our behaviour is grounded in habit. Over time we define shortcuts in the way we operate and these shortcuts become habits.

For example, we might fancy a coffee at 10am and 3pm. Of course, coffee contains caffeine which is addictive, but this leads to a habitual need for coffee.

A typical leadership example that we come across many times is to do with manager’s inability to delegate. Picture the scene….a manager asks one of her team to do something, but is faced with a load of questions about how the task should be done and a sense that the team member is not confident taking on the task. The same thing happens again. And again. Many managers will quickly become frustrated with this scenario and it often leads to the development of classic beliefs such as “it’s quicker to do it myself”.

The outcome is that the manager just adopts the habit of doing everything themself, they become increasingly busy and stressed, they get sent on a delegation training course, but when they return to work, they still get frustrated at their people’s apparent ‘inability’.

If you want to read more about changing habits we recommend Charles Duhigg’s book – The Power of Habit.

The only way to break the cycle in this example is to challenge the manager’s underlying beliefs and habits and help them define a different way of doing things.

360 degree feedback is the best way to ‘hold up the mirror’

Sustained behaviour change really only happens when:

  • Managers can see a better way of doing things
  • They accept that things need to change and are committed to making changes
  • They can see a way forward and are prepared to stick at it

360 degree feedback works by addressing each of these things:

360 degree feedback raises Awareness

When we sit in a training course, we listen to the good stuff that’s being revealed to us. and we may even recognise that we do tend to do things in a certain way that might not be helpful.

However, 360 is much more effective raising awareness of they way managers do things in reality. This is because:

  • the feedback is specific to the manager. It was generated based on feedback from people who were only asked to consider the manager.
  • the feedback is derived from multiple sources. 360 degree feedback is based on feedback from the manager’s manager, their direct reports, possible colleagues, but also themself. Where there are clear feedback themes emerging from the feedback it is is very difficult to avoid the issue.

360 degree feedback generates Acceptance

When faced with specific feedback from multiple sources, managers may attempt to rationalise it, but it is difficult to deny, deflect or defend feedback when it is staring you in the face.

For this reason alone, 360 degree feedback results in a much higher level of acceptance than reflecting on advice in a training course.

Acceptance is made up of three elements:

  1. Acceptance of the way things are, how the manager is perceived by others, how they tend to behave.
  2. Acceptance that there might be a better way of doing things.
  3. Acceptance that things need to change.

360 degree feedback leads to Action

Once managers are aware of how others perceive them and have accepted that they could do things differently, they are much better placed to commit to taking action.

The very nature of 360 degree feedback means that it is totally focussed on the individual’s learning. 360 reveals specific learning needs, which means the learning actions can be focussed on those needs. Any actions will be directly applicable and relevant to the manager’s individual circumstances.

Learning from the work around changing habits, actions need to be focussed on one or two specific things. It helps for them to be grounded in situations too and reinforced by defining ‘practice opportunities’. For example:

“I need to produce the monthly activity report this Friday so I am going to ask my team member to take it on instead of me doing it. In preparation for asking them to do it I need to make sure I am in the right mindset by planning 15 minutes to explain to them how the report is pulled together and how to lay it out. I need to be ready to answer any questions they have. At the meeting we will agree a deadline for the report to be completed, but we will also agree a time to carry out an interim review of progress before the deadline to ensure that everything is going OK, or I can answer any questions that might arise”.

Sound feasible? We think so…..

What gets measured gets done

The final way that 360 degree feedback delivers results is that, because it is based on data, outcomes and progress can be easily measured. The most obvious way to do this is repeat the 360 degree feedback process.

Knowing that the 360 is going to be repeated in the future provides an additional motivation for managers to maintain the focus on implementing the actions they define.

360 degree feedback is the best way to develop managers

Whilst there is no perfect method for developing managers, 360 degree feedback is by far the most effective way to promote sustained behaviour change. As most of what makes managers effective is the way they do things (behaviour) this is why 360 degree feedback is the best way to develop managers.