I have come to realize that when some organizations begin to explore the use of multi-rater feedback, they look first to a technology. As most 360’s are conducted online, this makes sense. However, what really strikes me is how many organizations and individuals may not realize that 360-degree feedback is about real and personal change. The technology is a logical process; the emotion associated with the 360 is not.
Before joining the DecisionWise Business Development team, I had the opportunity to participate in the company’s 360-degree feedback process through leadership studies at Brigham Young University—I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. I was a 360 neophyte. I understood little about what I was about to experience. When I received my feedback report, and the facilitator explained the SARA model of reacting to feedback, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing—I felt myself moving through each of its four phases so tangibly that I found it funny.
You see, I went into my 360-degree feedback experience not knowing what to expect. I wasn’t sure what my peers, supervisors, and direct reports would identify as my biggest strengths or my biggest areas of opportunity. When the time came to review my feedback, I was both excited and terrified. Finally I would know my key stakeholders’ perceptions of me . . . but did I really want to know? As I opened my 360 feedback report, the results were surprising.
Let’s stop there. Sometimes I think the SARA model is a bit, shall we say, extreme. My emotions weren’t as volatile as those depicted in the SARA model, but I definitely felt an emotional rollercoaster as I digested the feedback attractively illustrated in my report packet. Instead of shock, anger, resistance, and acceptance, I found myself experiencing the following sentiments: surprise, denial, rationalization, and submission. (Unfortunately, SDRS doesn’t create the most engaging acronym).
- Surprise—Seeing the gaps between my self-perceptions and the perceptions others have about me was surprising. I wasn’t surprised to see gaps (after all, I was expecting some level of dissonance); rather, I was surprised by the areas in which I noticed significant gaps. My 360-feedback report had two types of gaps:
- Self-inflated—I noticed some gaps occurred when I rated myself highly in a competency, yet my raters didn’t seem to think quite as highly of me in those areas. These gaps were, perhaps, the most “embarrassing.”
- Self–deflated—Other areas had significant gaps in self- and rater-assessment because I rated myself very critically. These gaps, while still surprising, made my 360-feedback experience somewhat more pleasant.
- Denial—After noticing the gaps, I began to focus only on the self-inflated scores. If I’m the kind of person who deliberately makes sure he’s on time (or early) to commitments, then I should be scored perfectly on that question! Who are these fools who rated me so ignorantly? (Can you sense a hint of anger here?) Obviously, they were mistaken.
- Rationalization—Still in my state of denial, I began to rationalize away the leadership derailers on my 360-feedback report, discounting the report’s validity because of my 360 raters’ apparent ignorance. This didn’t last long, though.
- Submission—Almost synonymous with acceptance, submission brings with it a sense of defeat. After attempts at further rationalization, I realized that the number of raters and the demographic varieties in my rater population made my 360-degree feedback valid, regardless of any rebuttals I could contrive.
Sometimes I wonder if my reaction to my first 360-feedback experience is strange. I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in experiencing these feelings. As I have begun to see, most experience these emotional cycles to some degree. For some, this may take a matter of a few minutes. For others, this feedback may remain sensitive, or even difficult, for months or years after the fact. I also realize that this is where the learning takes place—this is how we truly grow. Whether it’s the dissonance that tells us we need to change a behavior, or the congruence that tells us we’re on the right track, this emotion is what causes us to take (or continue) action.
How did your first 360-degree feedback experience play out? Did you disagree with the results (i.e., rationalize away the validity of your raters’ feedback), or were you more open and accommodating, inviting your raters’ feedback to drive your self-improvement?