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What happened when I asked 46 people for feedback

Work gets better when the relationships you have with the people you work with get better. But you only have one perspective on those relationships - your own. Few of your colleagues will be comfortable volunteering their perspective. Asking them face-to-face is awkward at best. And sadly, even in the most high-trust workplaces, you're unlikely to learn much that is actionable from simply asking for feedback.

Feedback is a gift. Its one of the best things someone can give you. Magical things happen when you create an environment and habit where that feedback can flow. If it flows both to you and between people you work with it will continously make work better for all of you.

So today I’m sharing my experience of getting incredibly insightful feedback from 44 of my closest colleagues.

I sent the following email to the 46 people I have worked most closely with over the last 5 years:

Subject: a 360 of me

Hi [name]

[I added a personal note here]

I’m doing an exercise with the support of a business coach, Steve Stark (ThenSomehow.com) and an (early stage) app I’ve been working on with him.

It’s a qualitative anonymous 360 review tool. As someone I’ve worked with [at workplace / on project] I’d like to invite you to contribute to this for me.

You will be helping me explore how I can become more effective through understanding how I am received, where my strengths lie, and what steps I can take to improve my impact. Your responses, along with those from a few other people I’ve worked with at The Skiff, Vestd and CoverageBook, will be reviewed by Steve Stark, acting as my coach, in a week or so. I’ll then read through them with him and decide what actions I should take. Are you happy to participate?

Best wishes,

Jon

I sent each email manually, tweaking it in places to personalise it. Emails like this should not be sent using MailChimp or any other mass mailing tool. I followed up a couple of times with the people who didn’t respond after a week. For the people I usually contact via Slack or Twitter I followed up there. In the end only two people declined and 30 people provided answers to all 12 of the 360 feedback questions I asked them.

Every one of the questions resulted in super-insightful answers for me - especially the last one. Steve Stark has refined them over years of doing these with hundreds of people.

The answers were heavy and humbling. 39 pages packed with insights and advice. I was warned in advance that it wouldn't make easy reading.

After the first read through I was in a daze. I was mortified by the language used in some areas while being blown away by the positivity in others. I was stunned that I hadn't had any of this so clearly articulated to me before. But I might not have listened carefully enough if it had been.

Being human I'm drawn to focus on the negatives first. Here are seven themes of things I need to work on:

  1. Lacks empathy and self awareness
  2. Underestimates and overpromises
  3. Communicates either with silence or too much information
  4. Stubborn and aggressive in arguments
  5. Takes things too seriously and needs to lighten up
  6. Too distant not as present as he should be
  7. Jekyll and Hyde tendencies*
*That last one is my own observation. Each of the other six things were directly or indirectly mentioned in the feedback by multiple people.

It’s difficult for me to not slip into defensive mode about all of them. It was particularly unnerving given that these were all things I have experienced in others. I thought I had actively worked to avoid repeating them myself.

Thankfully there were more than enough uplifting comments from participants to keep me in good spirits.

I forwarded the PDF report on to Anna (my wife). I told her that when I die everything she needs for a great eulogy is in there. I might not have heard the hard hitting parts of this before but I'd also never heard people say such nice things about me.

The overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude.

I can't tell who the people are who have been particularly nice or particularly brutal. I don't even know if it's the same people balancing their feedback with extremes. But even ignoring the outliers I get a sense of incredible kindness from every person who participated. They took the time to share with me the things I need to know to become better in everything I do. And they energised me with their gratitude for the things I've done well in the past.

So what happens next?

I'm working on a list of actions, some of which I've already taken. I've decided to share these publicly.

I'm hopeful that being public about this will help me improve faster. It should make it easier for you (and others) to nudge me in the right direction when I need it. And I'm also hopeful that it will encourage other people to try this out for themselves.

If you've not done a 360 like this before for yourself it should go without saying - I highly recommend it.

There are loads of ways to do it yourself. I could't find an off the shelf tool I was comfortable using myself... so I built one.

It's early days but so far a dozen Then Somehow clients have joined me in using AdviceSheet to complete 360 feedback reviews of their own. It's self-service but Steve, Nigel and the team can provide support if you need it. It's been particularly wonderful for me to be able to learn from their years of experience of untangling challenging professional situations.