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Sep 27, 2013

Renowned leadership guru Ken Blanchard once said that “feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

This is why many organizations, echoing Blanchard’s sentiment, use 360-degree feedback instruments, or customized multi-rater surveys, to help managers and other employees become better leaders.

Capable of providing individuals with valuable information about their workplace behaviors, including their strengths and weaknesses, 360-degree instruments can help individuals establish clear goals for self-improvement.

5 steps to better feedback

However, because 360-degree reports involve multiple perspectives, it can be easy for recipients to get confused by or refute the feedback.

Certain behaviors may be viewed positively by some raters and negatively by others. In addition, the amount of detail found in the reports can make interpreting them intimidating and murky.

So how can individuals take their 360-degree feedback and put their newfound knowledge to use? We’ve compiled a list of five tips for making the feedback process more insightful, rewarding and productive:

1. Stay positive

In order to get the most out of your feedback, it’s important to view the experience as a positive one.

Yes, 360-degree feedback gives you the opportunity to gain insight about yourself that you may never have received otherwise, and this is especially true for senior-level employees. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, it’s safe to assume that everyone providing you with feedback is trying to be helpful.

Rather than react to any feedback with shock, anger or resistance, consider it the ideal time to connect with yourself, become more self-aware and ultimately grow as a person and professional.

2. Look for themes

Due to the robust nature of 360-degree feedback, reports can appear daunting with all the numbers, tables, graphs and text. To avoid getting lost in the detail, focus on the primary themes that emerge across the data.

By starting at the higher level, it’s easier to identify common patterns regarding how you are perceived by others.

3. Focus on strengths first, weaknesses second

Upon receiving 360-degree feedback, it can be tempting to start making plans for tackling your weaknesses.

Although this isn’t entirely wrong, weaknesses don’t represent the only opportunities for development. Understanding how to enhance your strengths is just as important as understanding how to stretch or grow. In addition, by knowing how to use strengths to your advantage, you may be better equipped to help resolve or compensate for any weaknesses.

4. Identify gaps

Because 360-degree feedback is subjective — each rater is providing feedback from his or her own unique viewpoint — it’s important to identify any gaps in perception that may occur. Do you view yourself differently than your raters? Do your peers view you differently than your direct reports?

What does your supervisor or manager see that the other groups may not? Answering these questions can help determine whether you behave differently among different groups of individuals.

If there are significant gaps, or areas of disconnect between groups, it’s important to explore the cause. Are you giving yourself too much credit? Too little?

5. Create a development plan

The last and most important step in the feedback process is to create a development plan for the future. This plan will take the key messages you learned in your report and turn them into specific goals and steps that will help you become a better leader.

To create the plan, identify the desired competencies most important to you and the ones others rated as needing development. Then, list out specific ways to accomplish these competencies, such as taking on a new project or serving as a mentor to someone new.

After that, identify how you will measure your development progress, such as performance reviews or follow-up feedback surveys, and ensure that these initiatives take place.

A lasting impact

In order to use 360-degree feedback to reach one’s full potential, it’s important to treat it as a process rather than an event.

The work doesn’t end with “unwrapping” the feedback and reading it. It requires thoughtful dissection and analysis, a clear plan of action and a commitment to continuous improvement.

By regularly reviewing their development plans and following up with peers and managers, individuals can help ensure that their goals and objectives don’t “slip through the cracks” and evaporate, but instead become the new reality within their workplace.