‘450 degree feedback': extending the value and power of 360

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The classic 360-degree-feedback model – feedback from your boss, peers and the people you supervise – is tried and tested, and is used in many organisations in many different ways. By getting structured feedback on specific behaviours and skills, individuals have a powerful tool for understanding where they are now and how to get to where they want to be.

Consequently, the “360” is a critical element in the development of managers and leaders, individuals aspiring to or starting in new roles, and in career, talent and succession planning. It’s also a great starting point for individual coaching and mentoring discussions and helps line mangers to have meaningful goal-setting discussions with their individual team members.

What is 450-degree feedback?

Many organisations are now extending the scope of 360-degree feedback to include more contextual feedback from additional contributors, in a process that has been dubbed “450-degree feedback”. By creating tailored, multi-participant feedback tools that are designed to match the organisation’s critical skill sets and culture, and adding feedback on how the individual fits in with the culture and expectations, the information will be richer and more valuable. Including stories and examples from colleagues in critical roles also provides a more in-depth feedback experience which is then more useful for determining what changes the individual needs to make.

In-depth feedback to support coaching and succession planning

In one organisation, where building a strong executive succession team was seen to be critical to the future success of the company, the 450-degree feedback idea was incorporated into the coaching programme for each executive in the succession pipeline.

The company’s own 360-degree feedback tool was supplemented by creating between 20 and 30 questions about the coachee’s specific job challenges and priorities. Each coachee then identified colleagues who were best placed to provide feedback. As well as online feedback, the coach also conducted a number of confidential interviews with those colleagues.

The coach used a structured interview to obtain the feedback but was also able to supplement the feedback by asking further questions and obtaining additional insights. These included feedback on the individual in the context of the organisation’s culture and its expectations. For example, one executive who thought she was communicating effectively was not being seen that way because she was ignoring the collegiate and consulting culture of the organisation and this was seen as a severe restriction in her being able to hold a future leadership role. Her coach was then able to work with her to develop a plan for how she could change her communication style. Follow-up 450-degree feedback was used some months later to check up with the same stakeholders on whether they had observed a difference in those specific areas.

450-degree feedback for key promotion decisions

At GlaxoSmithKline, the 450-degree-feedback process was used to get additional data on three CEO candidates. In addition to the regular 360 feedback, the three candidates were provided with in-depth feedback based on their specific role and the context in which they worked – the feedback came from 14 internal executives who had worked directly with all three. So there was both an element of 360, plus an element of competition and comparing of the three candidates. The raters were asked what were the candidates’ best and worst decisions, their strong and weakest leadership qualities, whose capabilities were most suited to meet the challenges ahead and whose style best matched the company’s values.

The process resulted in the least likely (in this case the youngest) candidate being given the job, but broadly it was seen as a highly effective way of obtaining comparative data where all candidates were pretty strong and where the right decision was critical for the organisation.

Additional effort

It is clear that using the 450-degree feedback approach requires additional design, resources and coaching over and above a standard 360 feedback. However, where getting the right people into the right roles is critical for the organisation – as in the examples above – the cost of making the wrong decision can be much more costly.

Jo Ayoubi is managing director of Track Surveys.

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