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Hidden Benefits of the 360 Review for Your Career

December 12th, 2017

Today I had a coaching session with a very smart Silicon Valley professional. He asked about the value of doing a 360 Review, and as we talked about I realized there were at least three great reasons to do it (more than the obvious, surface-level reasons).

I’m assuming you know a 360 Review is where you send a bunch of questions, about you, to different categories of people. Imagine you are in the middle of your contacts, and above you are your bosses, below you are the people who report to you, to one side you have your peers and colleagues, and to the other side you have customers.  These four groups of people are in a circle around you, hence the “360”. You can, of course, figure out other types of relationships, including your family, etc.

So, what are the three great reasons to do a 360 Review?  Especially considering you have to have thick skin because of some of the feedback you might get (if your questions are good and people are honest!).

VALUE ONE: Derived from the exercise of creating The 360

The 360 will have two parts: the introduction, or The Ask, and the actual questions.

When you have to think about your Ask, and then think through the questions, you’ll get greater clarity about what you are really after and what you should be asking. Compare these:

“Hey, will you answer these questions about me?”

vs

“I’m evaluating my career and investigating some options I have right now. I have a number of assumptions about myself but I’d really like to get opinions from people who I’ve worked with and who see me differently. I’d sincerely appreciate it if you could take 15 or 20 minutes and answer these questions about me. Please be honest in your response. I’m looking for your perspective of my strengths and also things that I can work on.”

I should note that a really good 360 will give the person who responds anonymity. This really can only happen if you use a 360 tool (not too hard to find) instead of just asking them to reply to questions via email.

Speaking of questions, what kind of questions will you ask?  You could ask super vague questions that are cute but feel like a waste of time, like “what color car would Jason be,” or “What kind of cereal would Jason be,” or “Why is Jason so great (please provide 10 reasons)?” Instead, ask questions that are directly related to the KSAs of the role, or skillset, that you want to have shine (or are ready to work on).  For example:

How would you describe Jason’s communication skills?

What are Jason’s communication strengths?

What are Jason’s communication weaknesses?

What would make Jason a better leader?

What three things does Jason need to improve?

Those are just off the top of my head… my point is, ask direct, specific questions that (1) can give you real and helpful feedback (2) on topics that are important.

The whole point of this blog post is to talk about benefits that are beyond the obvious surface-level benefits of doing a 360. The benefit spending time to craft a proper introduction is that you get a more solid idea of what you are after (your goals), and how to frame them (communication that you can repurpose in other situations).

There is immense value in clarifying and practicing this!!

The benefit you get in creating great questions is that you get a serious chance to evaluate yourself, perhaps deeper than you normally are (and without beating yourself up). Thinking through those questions should be a therapeutic exercise and, again, a preparation for interviews and networking conversations.

VALUE TWO: Getting real information from the responses, and making a plan to work on weaknesses and communicate strengths

The reason 360s are so valuable is simple: we have assumptions about our strengths or weaknesses that might not be accurate. Who better to give us a more real perspective than people we work with and around?  As important, the perspective we get, even if they are wrong, is super important. By this I mean that sometimes people might have a wrong impression, but their impression might be shared with others.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I am a super great at doing my job… but I’m a horrible communicator and very impatient with people. I might be the best person in the world at performing the functions of my role, but because I’m such a cruddy person around others, no one wants to work with me. Therefore, no one knows that I’m actually good at something, they just know I’m a jerk. This information comes out in the 360.

What do I do with this information?

I want to help people understand that I really am good at what I do. There are many tactics I can employ to help reinforce a strong and accurate and relevant personal brand… I’m not going to go into that in this post.

I also want to figure out how to stop being such a jerk. Sure, I’m awesome, but if no one wants to work with me, or wants me to be around, then what’s the point?  It’s not like I’m going to have a career like House (the doctor on TV) had… super good at medicine, but everyone hated him. It’s unlikely that you’ll get many chances to have a career like his.

So, take the information you get and really work on the feedback. If this sounds hard, it is. You have to face some harsh realities, and do things you haven’t done before. It might mean joining Toastmasters or the National Speaker’s Association. It might mean you work on active listening, or getting better at contributing in team meetings.  When people give you anything to work on, let me encourage you to embrace the feedback and work on getting better.

I’ve read a lot of articles lately about soft skills and emotional intelligence… this is what people say they can’t “train” you on. Work on it yourself, right now, and through the end of your career!

VALUE THREE: This is a personal branding play

You now get to share your career ambitions and intentions with others.  This is tied into #1 above, where you have a great introduction, but it goes a little further.

Look, you need to realize that most of your colleagues know you by what you do. If you are a software engineer, people think of you as… surprise! A software engineer! It’s pretty simple.

You are branded by how people perceive you, including what your title is.

But if you are a software engineer now with strong intentions of becoming a CIO, CTO, or VP of IT or Development, will people realize that?

No one might even think of you as an executive, a strategist, a visionary, a leader, a manager!  Even though you might be those things, or have the capacity to do those things, they just know you as someone who pounds at a keyboard all day long, creating cool stuff.

How do you get around this branding?

By communicating the brand changes! Yes, you are a technologist… and a great one! You also are very interested in taking your career to the next level. Tell people this when you invite them to respond to the 360. Tell everyone… whether you invite them to respond to a 360 or not.

One of the easiest ways to manage your personal brand is to communicate how you want others to perceive you. So use this activity as an opportunity to do just that.

The 360 is a great tool. I hope the ideas here will help you advance your career!

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