Leveraging Feedback as a Missing Piece to Growth in Leadership

With the presence and generosity of good friends, you may be able to glimpse the blind-spots that are holding you back from creating the company you were meant to create.” – Ali Schultz excerpt from, A More Complete View

Clients often ask me: “why would I get a 360 review?” The short answer is that it provides you with a clear picture of exactly how you are showing up within your organization. A 360 review is a feedback report that highlights feedback from people all around you — above, below, and laterally — such as managers, peers, direct reports, partners, board members, and/or mentors. 360 reviews illuminate strengths and weaknesses (as perceived by those around you) and are typically more in-depth and more anonymous than a standard performance review. 

I’ve observed organizations where it’s a known thing that performance reviews are only moderately helpful. Often performance reviews are tied to ratings which can impact raises and promotions, which results in reviewers who are reluctant to provide constructive feedback for fear it will impact their co-worker’s ability to move up in the organization. Whereas 360 reviews, when orchestrated well, are not tied to performance and are used as a tool to help an employee gain self-awareness and promote long-term personal growth. 

While we don’t require our clients to do a 360, we highly encourage it for the clarity it gives to any coaching arc and development plan. The clients who do decide to have a 360, often have more radical shifts. You may recall the vulnerable Startup Podcast conversation Jerry Colonna had with Alex Blumberg where they unpacked his 360 review. Alex wrestled with the information that was illuminated: Were these bits of feedback shortcomings to be tucked back under the rug or opportunities for growth and a deeper understanding of himself as a leader and human? He arrived at the latter. 

While we often have a clear picture of the intent behind our behaviors, we don’t always know the impact those behaviors are having on others. A 360 review can unpack the impact of your behaviors and bring that impact into the light. For example, you might think that your tendency to play devil’s advocate is pushing product discussions to a better place but it might be received on the other end as being contrarian or dismissive. And maybe you want to continue to play devil’s advocate in product discussions, but once you find out how it’s impacting others you can decide how to manage this behavior so it doesn’t have the same (potentially negative) impact. 

For leaders in positions of power, it can be hard to get unfiltered and complete feedback from those around them. If you’ve ever been managed by someone, you can probably remember a time when you had to be careful with your words when delivering any kind of feedback to your manager (or, even worse, just kept the feedback to yourself). When your manager has the ability to change your role at a company it can dramatically impact your ability to deliver constructive feedback. Or, as we often see happen, if your manager is known to be resistant to feedback it can feel even more frightening to step into feedback. A 360 review can provide the opportunity for those around you to provide feedback in an anonymous setting without fear of any negative ramifications to your position in the company.  

We’ve recently completed a data analysis of 147 Reboot 360 reviews over the course of 2018-2020, which was very much like a 360 review on all of our 360 reviews. What came out of that data were three white papers evaluating all of the things we found in these reviews from a few different vantage points. We learned about common strengths and weaknesses for leaders at fast-growth startup companies (spoiler alert: strategic vision was the most commonly talked about skill both as a strength and weakness). We also parsed the data by roles and found some interesting tidbits about what changes as you move up the leadership ranks (another spoiler alert: we found that CEOs and C-suite executives tend to struggle most with developing others). And lastly, we looked at the data for leaders as they progressed through fundraising stages–seed stage through late-stage (series E and beyond). As companies grow in size and scale, leaders tend to struggle with defining vision, focusing, and prioritizing. (We’ll discuss this data project and our findings more in an upcoming episode later this fall.)

In this podcast extra conversation, I explored our 360 reviews in more depth with my colleague Andy Crissinger (who helped develop our 360 process) and Nick Francis, CEO of Help Scout. Nick has had three 360 reviews in the past three years. He speaks to the powerful impact this has had on his growth and development as a leader and a human.