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I spend a lot of my time speaking about the importance of career development, and have written insights into what you can do to move your career forward (here, here and here). So, how do you get a good assessment of where you stand and what you can work on to elevate yourself to reach your career goals?

The first, and most consistent way to understand your strengths and weaknesses is through feedback from your manager. You should have multiple opportunities throughout the year to get good, actionable feedback. If not, I would advise setting up a plan with your manager to make sure you get that feedback at least quarterly. If you are only having this conversation at your annual review, then you run the risk of going an entire year not knowing if you did well or not. No feedback in an annual review—good or bad—should ever come as a surprise.

While manager feedback is critical to your success at an organization, there is a flaw that needs pointed out. A single person’s advice is simply that: one person’s opinion. No matter how amazing and experienced that manager is, you do not want to be guided by a single person in your career. You should always seek out additional feedback and insight.

There are a number of ways to gather feedback from others. You could ask people you trust to give you verbal or written 1-on-1 feedback. You could conduct surveys about particular projects, meetings or interactions. In either case, there is an art to making sure the feedback is actionable. While these are valuable, I want to focus on another option: the 360 assessment.

The 360 assessment is a tool that allows you to gather anonymous feedback from the people you work with most. This survey is usually conducted by an HR department due to the fact that information has to be gathered, analyzed and presented. In terms of presentation, the HR department facilitates a conversation around how to handle the feedback and what steps need to be taken to improve yourself based on the information.

What’s included

There are countless ways to gather feedback in a 360. Organizations will tailor the approach and questions to the company’s core values and any other expectations they have for their employees. But, there are typically standard categories of feedback you get rated on. Things like communication, building relationships, and values and behaviors are what you’ll find most often included. There is also an opportunity for your peers to provide open feedback, both about your strengths and weaknesses.

To provide an example of a 360, I want to give you a look at the most recent assessment I went through in January 2020. You can access the document here. This assessment was only edited to remove the names of individuals who were asked to take the survey. I mentioned that 360s are anonymous, and they are, but the list of people who HR reached out to is included so you get an understanding of the group of people providing feedback. Nothing in the survey indicates who said what, other than my manager. Since I only had one manager, he was in his own “manager” category. In my example, there were 20 people contacted but 14 completed the assessment. So, I do not have any indication of which folks completed it.

What I learned

As part of the 360 assessment, I was also required to complete the survey. Self-reflection is an important part of improvement, and it also gives you a check-in on your self awareness. I rated myself on a scale of 1-5 in categories relating to accountability, building relationships, communication, strategic thinking, managing change, managing talent, and values & behaviors. In the end, I rated myself as having strengths in innovation and embracing change. I felt my opportunities for improvement were in the communication and planning areas.

After getting the results from all survey participants, I learned two overarching lessons: 1) I am my own worst critic and 2) I am better positioned to grow and be a leader in the organization than I thought. There were certainly some opportunities to improve, most of which I was aware of already, but to see that I had only clear strengths and unrecognized strengths was a valuable learning. Oddly enough, my highest scores came in the strategic thinking, accountability, and communication categories. My lowest scores were found in the managing change and values & behaviors categories. What was a pleasant surprise was to see my lowest score—managing change—was still a 3.86 out of 5, which in my opinion, was fantastic.

The open feedback I received emphasized the ratings section of the survey. My teammates felt I was a good leader with a passion for career development and innovation, and an ability to coach others. The opportunities I have to improve focus on my ability to provide feedback (I am blunt, for sure), so work on how people perceive me, as well as communicating strategies and plans with others. Other strengths and opportunities are mentioned, but the above represent the prioritized list.

Next steps

After reviewing the results with HR and my manager, we determined that I could take steps to improve based on the feedback. This included doing more to build and improve existing relationships in order to enhance how teammates perceive me. Specific tactics included setting up meetings with folks to understand their needs better and be mentored by others who excelled at building their reputations. We also made plans to utilize my strengths more by giving attention to coaching others in the organization, not just on my team, to help them work on their career development. We also decided to tap into my innovation strengths, which included evangelizing process improvements in the creative department based on my background in agile development and more.

In writing this short article, I hope that you see and understand the value gathering feedback about yourself can provide. Even if your organization does not offer a 360 assessment, gathering feedback from multiple teammates will help you paint a clear picture of what your strengths are and where you can improve.

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