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Understanding 360-degree Feedback – Part 2

Understanding 360-degree Feedback – Part 2

Strengths-based learning may not always be the best way to use 360 feedback

In 360-degree feedback is it better to concentrate on a candidate’s strengths or their weaknesses?

This is a question that we are often asked by clients who, understandably, want to understand how best to interpret 360-degree feedback and get the most from the data-rich source it provides.

Research shows that most people actually only have only a few strengths and these they will rely on throughout their career.  Indeed, some people go through their entire career relying on very few and very limited strengths. Weaknesses, so it is argued, can be covered by colleagues.  And the truth is that for some individuals in essentially static careers which change little, or for less ambitious people with limited career ambitions, this approach works surprisingly well.

However, for almost all leaders and, indeed, for most employees, change is constant. Failing to develop existing skills or strengthening weaker competencies is highly likely to be career-limiting, especially when failing to adapt to changing work requirements and circumstances.

Kaplan and Kaplan (2000), noted that only 5-10% of leaders have a balanced skill set while around 40% admitted to overusing their personal forcefulness or their operational skills. Perhaps even more worrying is that between 10- 15% admitted to relying, for the most part, on their enabling skills.

Why concentrating only on strengths is inappropriate?

Quite simply, concentrating only on a few strengths almost invariably leaves people with weaknesses that will damage their performance over the long term.

If 360-degree feedback is meant to raise a participant’s self-awareness, why then would a self-aware person not want to improve their interpersonal and leadership skills? Why wouldn’t they want a more balanced skillset?

Repeatedly repeating failing behaviours is a failure to learn!

Amongst other things, Leadership is about having the ability to learn and develop. Indeed, Lombardo and Eichinger (2002) noted that low performing leaders often have difficulty learning from experience. They have false preconceptions about what effective leadership is and about their own abilities. Individuals like this eventually become questionable hires and difficult to retain because they have deep-seated behavioural challenges. They are locked into their way of thinking and can become barriers both to change and to improved performance. Learners on the other hand can adapt and learn new leadership skills which will help them make seamless career transitions and positive change within their organisations.

Self-knowledge is key

Focusing on strengths alone does not address performance issues or develop a leader’s capabilities and employability. Instead, it may tend to reinforce repeated behaviours in different situations. Very often these behaviours will be sub-optimal within the existing organisational context.

Conversely, evidence shows that those, who consistently address identified development areas, perform better over the long term.

With change comes the need to develop

Over the years we have assessed many leaders who have either not had any leadership development or who have failed to see the need to take charge of their own development. These individuals quickly become ill-equipped for a changing world and, sadly, tend either to stagnate or even go backwards in their careers. It is only by being self-aware and willing to learn that positive change can occur.

To find out more about our 360 approach and tools simply contact me by clicking here.

Matthew Davis

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