A key part of my coaching work is creating a 360 feedback assessment for my clients. This consists of a collection of quantitative and qualitative feedback I’ve gathered from their manager, peers, and direct reports. I then build a thorough report, sharing everything with them, the good and the bad.
360 assessments are a way to hold a mirror up to clients. It gives them candid feedback on how they’re perceived by those who work closely with them. Clients are often surprised by what they hear. They tend to focus on the negative themes, but the positive feedback is just as insightful.
At the end of the 360, they inevitably tell me, often in frustration, that they wish their colleagues would be as candid with them as they were with me. Why weren’t people telling them the truth?
The reality is that we rarely see ourselves the same way others see us. For example, I was once told by a newly recruited colleague that I came off as smug and aloof in team meetings.
I was shocked. I had recently been promoted and felt uncomfortable speaking up so I mostly stayed quiet. My behavior, largely driven by my insecurities, had been interpreted as arrogance.
I’m grateful my colleague spoke up. Most people don’t.
Unfortunately, being told the truth only gets harder as you rise the ranks. I’ve found that the more senior a leader gets, the less candid feedback they hear from others. These leaders, whether intentionally or not, isolate themselves from how others truly feel. An echo chamber is created. Both they and their company suffer.
So, how do you get people to tell us the truth?
First, you must ask for feedback. This may seem obvious, but many don’t do this. In fact, one study shows that only 50% of managers ask for feedback. Simply asking for feedback is literally half the battle.
Second, share how others can give you feedback. Do you prefer it immediately or after time has passed? Do you prefer it in a one-on-one? Let them know.
Third, open things up even more by sharing specific areas where you want their feedback. Tell them you know you have room for improvement. This shows a willingness to improve and creates space for them.
Finally, thank them for the feedback and promise that you won’t hold it against them. Then, don’t hold it against them! It’s really, really hard to give upward feedback. Commend them for their bravery.
If their candor comes back to hurt them, not only will they not tell you the truth, but they’ll tell others you can’t handle it. Trust is built over time, so continue to follow steps one through four until you’re getting the results you’re looking for.
Some leaders legitimately want to be surrounded by yes men and yes women. That’s where growth dies. That’s not you.
Build an environment of truth-telling. Create space for those who speak their mind. Reward those who give feedback. Your future depends on it.