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How 360 degree feedback helps you on the path to personal development

Are we there yet?

What does success look like when it comes to your personal development? How will you know when you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve?

Setting yourself the goal of passing your driving test is one thing. Passing your driving test will clearly denote that you’ve achieved that goal. But other goals are more difficult to pin down. How will you know whether you’ve become a more strategic thinker, for instance? Or a better leader?

We are all rubbish at being objective about our own development. We tend to be overly critical of ourselves. Or we underestimate our skills and their impact on those around us.

Which means we need an objective, external measure of our progress. 360 degree feedback gives us that measure.

Here’s how 360 degree feedback can help you on the path to self-development.

First, what do we mean by ‘there’

When I’m coaching someone, we often have a discussion about what it will look like for them when they get ‘there’, when they reach their goal. It’s a good way for them to find clarity about what they’re striving for.

But, and I’m sorry to break it to you like this, they will never get ‘there’. You’ll never get ‘there’, wherever ‘there’ is for you.

I don’t mean you won’t ever achieve your goal. I just mean that once you have, there will still be more development stuff to be done. You won’t ever stop improving, growing, learning, and achieving.

This isn’t bad news at all, of course.

It’s human nature not to be satisfied with where we are, to want to keep moving forward. If that wasn’t the case, our species would still be floundering around in a primordial swamp!

But some people find that difficult to take. They place huge expectations on where they want to be and then are disappointed when they don’t get there. Or when ‘there’ turns out not to be as final or as satisfying as they thought it would.

I say, STOP. Take a moment to catch your breath. 

Rather than worrying about the destination, focus on the journey. Focus on the improvements you can make on the way. On being a little bit better than you were yesterday. Last week. Or last year.

Using 360 degree feedback to measure your progress

That’s where 360 degree feedback can help.

360 degree feedback is a method of performance appraisal that enables you to measure how your behaviour impacts upon the people you work with.

Using a questionnaire, usually completed anonymously, feedback on your performance and behaviour is gathered from your peers, people you report to and people who report to you.

In this way, you can get an external perspective on your areas of self-development.

Perhaps, for instance, you’re trying to improve your strategic thinking. But the 360 degree feedback reveals that your colleagues don’t see you being a strategic thinker. Instead, they see you spending the majority of your time developing your team.

So your strategic thinking isn’t having the impact you might want. It could be because you’re too focused in the minutiae of what your team needs, leaving you little opportunity for strategy. Or it’s all going on inside your head – you’re not telling others what you’re thinking.

Either way, the 360 degree feedback has brought you some clarity over what’s working and what’s not. It can help crystallise what you need to do next. Whether that’s finding the time and headspace to be more strategic. Or making sure you’re more effective at communicating that strategy to your team.

A word of warning about 360 degree feedback

360 degree feedback can feel very exposing. After all, you’re opening yourself up to criticism from practically everyone you work with!

You might worry about what the feedback will reveal. ‘Imposter syndrome’ – that feeling that you’ve haven’t a clue what you’re doing and that eventually someone will find that out – is a very common affliction, even the most confident and successful people you know suffer from it.

People can sometimes react badly to the feedback they receive. They might get angry or defensive – ‘who said that? That’s not true!’ Or be upset by some of the comments people make. It’s an entirely natural, but knee-jerk, emotional response.

It’s a good idea, therefore, to have an objective facilitator help you work through your emotions and process the feedback in a more considered and rational way.

Creating milestones

If self-development is a journey – a lifelong one at that – it’s important to create points at which you stop and consider your progress thus far.

Conducting a 360 degree feedback is one such milestone, a way of evaluating where you are now and helping you shape what you need to do next.

Give yourself a timescale for when you will next stop and consider where you’re at. A month, six, a year? What impact would you hope your development actions will have had by then?

It might be you undertake another 360 degree feedback activity at that point to measure your improvement. Or there could be other measures – impact on your business’ bottom line, customer retention, staff engagement etc that would help you assess your progress.

Just be sure, as with any science experiment, to take a reading of where things are now – your baseline, as it were. That way you’ll be able to see what difference there is between this milestone and the next.

Remember – it’s ok to be a work in progress

When I was younger, I used to imagine myself as someone with the words ‘Work In Progress’ stamped on my forehead. It was a visual reminder to myself that for every mistake I made I should seek to forgive myself, learn from it and try to do better next time. I still see this in myself now.

We are all always ‘works in progress’. And that’s ok – in fact it’s a good thing. So let’s stop being so harsh on ourselves, stop expecting to have ‘got there by now’ – wherever ‘there’ is. And start enjoying the journey!

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