The key to developing young talent into executive leadership is feedback. There is nothing more powerful than candid, objective feedback on one’s impact on boss, peers, direct reports and internal customers. There is also the priceless value of seeing how one’s self assessment compares to how others see us. But how do you get honesty in today’s workplace? Carefully. Very carefully.
Honesty can be dangerous. Critical feedback to someone in power can be a career derailer if given badly or taken badly. This is especially true if the peer or manager you want to criticize has a last name which is also the name of the company. Businesses that have second, third, or fourth generation family members actively working find it very difficult to get the truth. And how about the CEO’s difficulty in evaluating his son? It is not likely that he gets candid information from his son’s peers, manager or direct reports.
Another roadblock to honesty is the discomfort of interpersonal friction that can occur when you tell someone that a particular behavior they demonstrate is causing negative results. It is too easy to keep things “warm and fuzzy” and not confront an individual.
There are ways to overcome these obstacles and provide valuable feedback for professional development. First, make it safe. A professionally executed 360 Degree Study is a safe way for people to get the truth. Assurance that one’s answers will never be linked to their name takes away the potential adverse impact of truthfulness. There is no motive to spin, soften, or stretch truth when the person getting the feedback doesn’t know it is from you.
The 360 process uses the experiences of successful leaders in successful organizations to identify the core competencies that are predictive of success for new up and coming leaders. These core competencies are categories of skills, knowledge, abilities, and values.
The next step is to identify specific, observable, and measurable behaviors that demonstrate proficiency in a core competency. A core competency may be “Communication Skills.” Within that competency are six or eight behaviors, such as “listens well.” The complete set of questions (45 to 60) is called a “Position Model.”
The position model is responded to by the person getting the report, to see how closely his opinion of himself matches what others think, as well as all of his constituencies: boss, peers, direct reports and internal customers. But if you were to simply send out the questions with instructions, you would not get good results.
A critical piece to a successful 360 is training the respondents. Without training, the feedback often is inflated or biased by popularity or by threat of retribution. Training the respondents takes people out of their motivational mindset (i.e., super, fantastic, outstanding) and into a clinical mindset (i.e., meets my expectations, exceeds expectations, or needs improvement).
It is possible to get the truth about an up and coming leader for use in professional development. It just needs to be done professionally and carefully.