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360 feedback with my executive coach
Sharing more about how my coach and I ran the process for collecting 360 feedback for me, and a direct copy/paste of what I'm working on from my coaching journal 👀
For most of my time at TestBox, I’ve worked with an executive coach. My coaching goals have varied over time but the theme has generally focused on how I think of myself as a leader and build my leadership brand. Some of the early foundational concepts I worked on with my coach included how to give feedback, how to handle tricky conversations with various folks, and more broadly, how to think about my role at work.
Most recently, at the end of 2022, I did a round of 360 feedback with my coach. It was tremendously useful and I wanted to share a bit about that process as well as the feedback that I’m working on right now. We’re big fans of over-communicating professional development goals across the team because we find that this makes it easier for us to support one another. I shared my current areas of focus not just with everyone who gave me feedback but also the full team at our teamwide “talent profile review” a few weeks ago, and I’m including them later on in this blog post as well – I hope it’s helpful for y’all to get a little glimpse into the behind-the-scenes.
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What 360 feedback is
The goal of 360 feedback is to aggregate input from one’s manager, peers, as well as direct and dotted-line reports (i.e. people who one supports/mentors but isn’t a direct manager to).
Collecting 360 feedback can be done through live interviews or a survey (imagine a Google Form, which could be anonymous or attributed to the feedback giver). Typically, the live interviews and survey results would be aggregated by either a manager or other neutral third party.
In my case, we opted for my coach to do live interviews with everyone and she was the one who summarized key themes and aggregated the feedback to deliver to me.
How the process worked
When we dove in, the first step was for me to compile the list of people from whom I was requesting feedback. I shared this list briefly with Sam, my manager, to make sure I wasn’t missing anyone. For this round of feedback, I requested feedback from Sam (manager), the other members of the exec team (peers) and a few others on the team who I either manage or work closely with (direct and dotted-line reports). In total, I gave my coach a list of nine people. We discussed how long she should spend with each person – for people I work more closely with, we planned 45-60 minute interviews. For those that I only sometimes cross paths with, we planned for 30 minute interviews in the interest of not taking too much time from people’s days.
Next, my coach and I talked through what I wanted to get out of the process. My big priority was getting concrete, actionable feedback on what I could be doing better. In addition, I was also curious about how others describe my leadership brand, so we included a question about how each respondent would describe my leadership style.
Over the course of 2-3 weeks, my coach conducted the nine interviews. Afterwards, she aggregated the feedback into themes. She prepared a summary document for me on the overall positive themes and areas for improvement. In addition, I got an appendix document that had a lot of anonymized direct quotes to provide context on the summarized themes. After a preread, my coach and I talked through the themes and she first made sure I understood the strengths that I have, before we went on to talk about the areas for improvement.
As we talked through those areas, I made an action plan for what to do differently going forward. I sat on my action plan for a week and a half (to make sure I felt comfortable with all of it) before sending a summary email to everyone who’d been interviewed to thank them for their time and share what I’m focusing on.
Here’s the email that I sent out to all of the interviewees:
A quick note on what I’m working on
As you can see in the email snippet above, I’m working on three main areas at the moment:
Finding the right balance of standardizing processes vs flexibility
Sharing more context on decisions
Continuing to make sure different perspectives are always accounted for and taken into account
I really appreciated my coach pushing me to include an existing strength into the list of what I’m working on. I wouldn’t have thought to do this without encouragement because I’m always so fixated on checking off the areas of improvement (old habits die hard). I am really proud of the role I play in TestBox’s culture and excited that I have it in writing that I’m continuing to double down on this part of my role.
A meta learning from this process
As we talked through my feedback, my coach shared a fascinating concept with me. She talked about how oftentimes, early in your career, professional development feedback and areas for improvement are fairly straightforward. They tend to be focused on hard skills or feedback along the lines of “do more of this” or “do this in this way.”
However, as people progress in their careers, strengths and areas for improvement tend to converge, meaning that the same trait that’s called out as a strength in certain contexts becomes an area for improvement in other contexts. In other words, as we grow in our careers, we tend to overuse our strengths, making them the ultimate double-edged sword.
Here’s an example from my 360 feedback. In my role at TestBox, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through how we operate, from what are our recurring teamwide meetings to how often we meet up in person to where we document our knowledge and how we communicate across different teams. It’s a lot to set up and I’d like to think we’ve done a pretty decent job of setting ourselves up over the past two years. Oftentimes, I stare at the day-to-day for everyone and pinpoint areas that are causing frustration or challenges before proposing solutions and leading the charge on making those changes for the team.
As such, I’ve been the primary champion behind setting up our infrastructure as a company. I’m very comfortable with process and thinking through how to operate. As a result, I’ll often document things and lay out processes when tackling problems. However, this also means that I can err on the side of overengineering solutions to simple problems that might not otherwise require a lot of formality and overhead. This meant that one of my strengths was “process and organization” but one of the areas for improvement was “reducing process and overhead.” (Since my 360 feedback, I’ve started to aggressively challenge myself and others on whether we need a process and documentation for something new we’re trying. Oftentimes, we can experiment for a bit longer with different approaches to figure out what works best before we formally document and note it down.)
Overall, I thought this was a very fascinating learning. It makes a lot of sense but I’d never quite seen it in this light before. I’ve started to notice it in other leaders since this was shared with me, and it’s made me more thoughtful about how to provide both upward feedback and feedback to my peers. I’ll often frame things around “here are ways in which you use your strengths/superpowers that are super helpful, but here are times when it can be challenging.”
How you can adapt this for yourself
If you’re looking to do 360 feedback without a coach, here’s a couple of ways you can adapt what I did:
Find someone to help aggregate your feedback. This should be a trusted person who will keep respondent anonymity from you, be able to aggregate a lot of disjointed feedback into themes, and has at least 2-3 hours available to do the aggregation work. Ideally, your manager is a great fit for this, but if they’re not able to help, a trusted peer could be a good alternative.
Set up an anonymous Google Form with the questions you want answered. As you do this, think about the types of responses you might get to the questions you’re drafting. Are the questions framed to get concrete answers? Are the answers going to help you come up with a list of goals/commitments for what you’re working on?
For example, asking “What should I do differently?” might yield a lot of vague answers. Asking “What are ways in which I can run our meetings more efficiently?” or “Which modes of communication do you find clearest from me and why?” is going to get more specific input.
Note: Since my coach did live interviews, we spent less time on the questions as she was able to guide people live to make sure we got actionable responses. If you’re doing this asynchronously with a form, it’s a lot more crucial to get the wording and specificity of the questions right.
Come up with the list of people from whom you’d like feedback. Run through this with your manager if you can.
Draft up a note that explains the following:
Why you want feedback
Where to provide feedback
When you need feedback by
Send the note, transfer ownership of your Google Form to your trusted person who’s aggregating the feedback (no peeking!), and sit tight.
Once the feedback has all been received and aggregated, do a sit down with the person who aggregated it. Run through the themes of strengths and areas for improvement.
Take time to think through your commitments / goals.
Once sure, send a follow up note to everyone who gave you feedback.
Finally, take action on your commitments / goals!
360 feedback involves hearing from people whom you report to, those who report to you, and your peers. I did this with my executive coach and found it tremendously helpful, and I share more on what I’m working on above. If you’ve done a round of 360 feedback before, how did you run your process? What was the most surprising thing you learned?
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