The 360 Experience: Challenge and Opportunity

by Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick

The Challenge:

I recently had the good fortune to participate in a 360 Performance Evaluation as part of my annual Board review. The assessment was conducted by an independent consultant with over 25 years of experience in this highly specialized area. The process involved three kinds of respondents – agency Board members, staff and outside communal lay and professional leadership.

As we know, the results of a “360” are intended to identify strengths and weaknesses in core competency areas which require attention, including the eventual creation and implementation of a “professional development plan” to directly address the weaknesses.

The purpose of this article is not to publicly reveal 360 findings or to share strengths and weakness, but to address the tremendous value in using 360 Performance Assessments as powerful developmental tools and platforms for personal and professional improvement, enhancement, growth and development; and how this process can lead to organizational change – a most difficult and passionately debated 21st century challenge.

All too often, folks in senior executive/management positions consciously shy away and even discourage their agency’s Boards from engaging “others” in this sensitive and complex process – especially in cases where staff report up to the person being evaluated. These concerns run the gamut from fear of the “hallow-affect” on respondents, to concern about creating a climate or organizational environment of mistrust and calculated retribution by dissatisfied or frustrated employees, Board members and others. Although these feelings, concerns and perceptions may be warranted in select cases, by and large, high level 360 Performance Assessments usually correct themselves for these kinds of variables or concerns.

Finally, in setting the stage for the larger conversation, it is imperative to accept the notion that the perceptions of 360 respondents (regarding the executive’s strengths and weaknesses) must be accepted as realities – irrespective of context, filter or prism. No blame gaming, no defensive posturing and no finger pointed. It requires deep introspection, a good sense of self and true ownership of the challenge.

The Opportunity:

The power of a 360 Performance Assessment is that its results can help guide the senior executive to create a Personal Development Plan which can be inextricably linked (if done smart and strategic) to real organizational change. In fact, it may be one of the most effective, non resistant, direct and strategic ways to actually introduce vision-driven change and “change innovation” into an organization.

So how does this happen?

Creating the right environmental conditions for institutional change is one of most difficult and complex challenges senior executives confront in the 21st century. Resistance to organizational and institutional change by employees, Board members, consumers and investors (read donors) are only select aspects of the complex change process. Equally important is change sustainability. More often than not, change is introduced, accepted and embraced by all. However, the change process and progress usually diminishes when it is not sustainable due to a lack of “sustainability safeguards” and implementation requirements. One example may be the lack of continuous realignment of human and financial resources; the lack of built-in metrics necessary to evaluate and measure progress and eventual impact of the change process; and finally the inability to create a shared consensus, buy-in or shared vision about the importance of change.

As indicated, an executive’s Professional Development Action Plan, resulting from a 360 Performance Assessment, provides the executive with a tremendous platform for self improvement if the Plan clearly articulates those actions to be undertaken and corresponding metrics upon which to evaluate these actions. However, equally powerful is the need for the executive to cease the opportunity by articulating and creating an institutional climate and environment that helps guarantee the successful implementation and impact of these action steps.

For example, the results of a 360 Performance Assessment strongly suggests (as a hypothetical) that the executive is not spending sufficient time fundraising for the organization – and it is therefore deemed a major weakness by respondents. As a result, a series of action steps are developed by the executive to improve this weakness through a variety of self-empowering actions steps. This Plan is reviewed, analyzed and approved by the Board. However, it does not and should not end with these action steps. An imperative for successful improvement must also include a clear, concise and focused articulation of those “changes” in the agency that are required to ensure successful implementation. In this case, change may include the creation of a Board culture that accepts its role as fundraising partners with the executive, the engagement of a development director to help ensure effective back-office support, the reallocation of resources to ensure a fundraising and marketing budget, and finally, holding the Board accountable to ensure that they fully understand and accept their new role and responsibility as fundraising partners. These are all significant opportunities for change which can result in a win-win – for the agency, Board and ultimately the executive. Moreover, all of these challenges must be over-and-above the executive’s willingness to change his band-width, time allocation, expertise and to increase his/her capacity to embrace and support fundraising as an agency priority.

Finally, it is important to note that although organizational change may be essential for the success of the executive’s Development Plan, one should never accept the notion that “I (the executive) will change if you (the Board) changes”. But rather, this is what I (as an executive) need or require for my Action Plan to succeed. The difference is not semantic. If the need for suggested organizational change is sincere, real and anchored in trust and transparency, it is highly likely that the Board will accept and share in helping create the change necessary for improvement.

The challenge of identifying, embracing and celebrating weaknesses in today’s workplace is one of the most critically important developmental action steps any executive can accept for him/herself. And, yes, it does indeed require a good sense of self confidence, transparency and an unswerving desire and willingness to change – in addition to accepting perceived weakness without excuses.

In my recently published book Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness, I devote a Chapter to the Principle of “The Power of Weakness Informs Success”. To successfully thrive and succeed 21st century reality we must all understand and embrace our weaknesses, and not ignore them. Embrace self evaluation and assessment, celebrate its results and create responses to improve. Do it for yourself, for your organization and for those your organization aspires to serve. It really is empowering when personal and professional improvement takes place in a way that creates true and sustainable organizational change. The outcome can be exhilarating and robust. But first and foremost, you must agree to change, irrespective of circumstances or conditions. That’s what 360 Performance Assessments are all about!

A 10-Step Summary (4-5 Month Process):

  1. Agency Executive Board and Senior Executive determine together that a 360 Performance Assessment will be undertaken;
  2. An Evaluation Committee is established comprised of 3-6 members of the Executive Board;
  3. An outside consultant is engaged to create and conduct the 360 and help identify those core competencies to be measured (in partnership with the Committee and Executive);
  4. A listing of 12-15 respondents – representing agency Board members, staff and communal leadership is developed and vetted by the Committee and Executive;
  5. The details of the 360 findings are shared with the Executive and a high level 30,000 feet analysis is shared with the Evaluation Committee;
  6. The consultant works with Executive to create a Professional Development Action Plan in order to respond to weaknesses identified via the 360;
  7. The Executive also creates “the conditions conducive for change” as an integral part of the Development Action Plan. [This is where the Executive needs to think strategically and boldly about what institutional changes are necessary in order for his/her plans to succeed.]
  8. The Committee reviews, provides feedback and gives final approval of Executive’s Professional Development Plan; and provides formal “sign-off” on conditions necessary for successful implementation of the Plan;
  9. Concurrently the Executive and Committee Develop individually and then agree collectively to those 3-4 mega (annual) goals (for the Executive) which are measurable through the year;
  10. The Evaluation Committee in partnership with the Executive creates a metrics framework for continued monitoring, evaluation and feedback regarding implementation of the Executive’s action steps and the environmental/organizational changes.

Dr. Chaim Y. Botwinick is President/CEO of the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education in Miami; and Author of the recently released book, Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness.