Why The People Who Most Need 360 Will Never Do It

Colin Newbold, 6th August 2021 in Development, Feedback, Hiring, Human Resources, People Management, Testing

What causes some senior leaders to resist the idea of 360-degree feedback? Are their egos so fragile? Are they too old to change?

My blog this time could reasonably be described as political.  It is inspired by the recent interview of Dominic Cummings by the BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg (yes I know, it was several weeks ago and I’m late to the party!).

Dominic Cummings, in my humble opinion, is someone that I find difficult to trust. I’m no expert, but during the interview his body language when combined with the words he was speaking and his general style of vocal delivery just threw out loads of red flags for me.  The numerous pauses he displayed when answering many of Laura’s questions and the way the fingers of his right hand played with his mouth seemed to indicate that he was ‘dreaming up’ many of his answers to suit his political position…they didn’t appear likely to be reflective of what his motivations were at the time (i.e. the truth).

I guess many commentators cleverer than me have already stated the same thing.  Sadly, his assessment of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, suggested that Boris was not fit to govern this country.  How very sad.

I got to thinking…if only someone with greater powers than either of those guys could have gotten each of them to undertake a 360-degree feedback survey?  Even if they had agreed to do a 360 (highly unlikely), would they have paid any mind to the results?  Would they even have genuinely, authentically, engaged with the process and received honest feedback?  Somehow I sadly doubt it.

The challenge for leadership development specialists I believe is summed up by the example of these two political celebrities: the people who most need 360 degree feedback are the least likely to get it.  Problems with their highly defended and fragile egos and hanging on to the job they have, no matter what, makes them very poor participants in leadership development.  We have a client right now where a senior manager who was asked to undertake a 360 along with many of his colleagues has paid lip service to the process but revealed to our coach that a) he knows his style upsets people but that’s just who he is, they have to adapt accordingly, and b) he’s only a year or so off retirement so what’s the point in trying to change?  Someone else I know, in the CEO position of a medium-sized business, is in her mid-70s and running the firm like a dictator.  Good people are leaving in droves.  Many of the good people who are remaining are looking for their next job.  There is no shortage of talent that could drive the business forward if only she could get out of their way! 

Which leaves you with the prospect that those who decide to willingly engage with 360 feedback will be younger, still ambitious for career progression and genuinely wanting to improve.  Which is great…it’s just that the vast majority of such participants are already good to work with and be led by.  Hey ho!  T’was ever thus!

The moral of this story is that you can’t drag the people who need the 360 the most into engaging with the process, it just doesn’t work.  You might be able to ‘shame’ a few of the dinosaurs into doing it but it’s likely to be a complete waste of time and money.  So therefore put your efforts into finding suitable participants who can see the benefit of boss, peer and direct report feedback – people who treat every day as if it was a school day, an opportunity to learn.  Consider implementing 360 with middle and junior managers (even team leaders and supervisors), senior managers who seem genuinely up for development and any future leaders (high potentials/rising stars).  We have one client who even uses it with apprentices.  Use 360 degree feedback with any of those groups and you’ll get much more bang for your buck there.

Hope you found the article of value and would welcome your comments...as you can imagine, I am genuinely, authentically up for feedback!

Thanks for reading,

Colin Newbold



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