Starting 360 at the top sounds like a good idea – but how do you make sure your CEO gets the feedback they need?

Starting 360 at the top sounds like a good idea – but how do you make sure your CEO gets the feedback they need?

Yesterday I had the privilege to give feedback to the CEO of a client organisation. He is no ordinary CEO – he is world famous – in the press and internationally known and highly regarded. His 360 data was extraordinary too – as you might imagine – ratings were very high on many competencies. It clearly showed up the weaker areas but the open text feedback was the most stunning part – the answers to “What do you like about…?” reports/peers/external parties had written specifically lengthy points of praise and acknowledgement. I have read hundreds (over a 1000?) reports and I have never been moved to tears of awe by this section before.

I was nervous – unusual for me – but everyone around him was clearly worried for me and it was catching! “Let me know how it goes” they said – with concern?! He is known for his critical tongue as well as him international expertise! He sat down and said “so, how can I help?” – that threw me for a moment but I soon recovered and said that I normally start with looking at where you are going in the job and your career. It felt a little cheeky but he just started talking – he’s been a Director for 37 years and has already over-achieved on his 10 year plan for the organisation but has more to deliver before he leaves, and some significant challenges facing him.

He has a clear and inspiring vision. We discerned the challenges he’s facing and I asked what of the 360 data was relevant to these challenges. He was reflective and open to my input. He had absorbed nearly all the data with accuracy so I focused on ensuring he had understood the 3 key points I judged to be important:

  1. Respect and awe for him was significant, but there was a downside to this re accessibility/visibility – he was not always seen to value others
  2. His personal weaker areas (management and planning) are mirrored through the whole organisation – again with an impact on others
  3. People were requesting a tougher stand re conflict and under-performance

In addition I raised a question of succession planning Re next CEO – to be sure he knew most people were wondering and unclear about this.

He was open to seeing all these points and exploring these perceptions further. I asked him which 2 areas would make the most difference to him and after minutes of silent reflection, he said:

  • Delegation
  • Communication/visibility

On being asked how the process went for him he said it was extremely useful and that, now he has seen how useful the open text comments were, he wanted to encourage people to write more. He left clear that he wanted to have a conversation with the others doing 360 to ensure he could contribute as much as possible. Awesome!

Elva Ainsworth


4 thoughts on “Starting 360 at the top sounds like a good idea – but how do you make sure your CEO gets the feedback they need?

  1. We always advocate starting at the top when it comes to introducing 360 feedback to an organisation. The best leaders live up to their reputation and don’t believe that they are above learning valuable lessons from their employees.

    What does jump out at me from your post is the question of whether this particular leader is suffering from the syndrome we see so often – where people feel that they can’t give anything but positive feedback to their leaders. In our experience, using 360 to develop a culture of honest feedback in an organisation is an effective way to deal with this, but it does sometimes take time.

    1. Thanks for this – good observation re this trend for “positive” feedback for senior people – I do see this often! However, this particular case did have lots of very specific stuff noted as not that great – everyone understood the strengths and the weaknesses, a large area of “agreed arena” as per Johari window. Totally appropriate given the particular role he had and the generic nature of the competencies used.

  2. If you are looking for a 360 degrees feedback then i have something very innovative to share. Unlike giving everybody’s feedback equal weightage, it gives higher weightage to feedback from highly rated individuals, and vice versa. Already talking to a few companies to implement this. Irrespective of whether you agree with my ideas OR not, I can guarantee one thing that, you will not regret investing your time.

    1. Thanks for you comment CP. That is an interesting idea.

      If you see the primary purpose of 360 feedback as establishing an accurate numerical rating of someone’s performance then I can see your approach might have some benefits.

      However, we generally see 360 feedback as being a process to facilitate a useful conversation about development and understanding how the individual is seen by others. Everyone’s view can be valid for that purpose, because there is no right answer, just what people experience.

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