Anonymous 360 Feedback - A solution with negative side effects

Anonymous 360 feedback addresses a problem most leaders face. As they step higher up on the leadership ladder, leaders are less likely to receive direct and helpful feedback.

Like most solutions, however, anonymous 360 feedback creates its own set of problems, including the reinforcement of a culture in which direct and helpful feedback remains in the closet. Fortunately there’s a work around that opens the closet door.

Opening the closet door with anonymous 360 feedback

Opening the closet door with anonymous 360 feedback

Anonymous Feedback as a First Step

This lack of direct feedback to and for the leader, is driven by fear of power. Unless the leader does something intentional to overcome these fears, he/she is destined to lead without the benefit of constituents’ feedback. Often, however, asking for direct feedback is too big a leap. Smaller steps are helpful, and anonymous 360 feedback can provide those smaller steps if you follow a process like the one described below. Steps 1 and 2 are typical of the anonymous 360 feedback process. Steps 5 - 7 are not and hold the key that opens the closet doors. These are the doors that lead to a feedback rich culture.

  1. Executive selects and invites key stake-holders to provide anonymous feedback
  2. Coach selects a robust standardized 360 leadership assessment that fits the leader’s situation and the organization’s context
    • The survey should:
      • Be based on, and explain, an underlying leadership model
      • Gather ratings on specific behaviors/competencies correlated with the model
      • Gather responses to open-ended questions
        • Questions should ask what the leader does well and not so well
          • My favorite assessment allows the addition of customized questions
  3. Coach analyzes and synthesizes assessment results
    • I conduct a detailed analysis and sort spontaneous responses into
      • Prevailing themes
      • Statements that go “Boing”
  4. Coach and executive conduct in-depth debrief and discovery
    • I typically spend 8+ hours with the executive over the course of several days
  5. Executive thanks 360 participants and highlights major themes
  6. Executive shares his/her 360 feedback report with participants (or key subset)
    • Asks for examples/stories illustrating the identified behaviors and their impact
  7. Executive declares his/her development goals, and
    • Requests continuous feedback from key stakeholders
    • Establishes feedback structures and processes
      • Schedule, announce and send invitations to Feedback Time on his/her calendar
      • Include feedback time on the agenda of regularly scheduled meetings with key constituents
        • To open a well-sealed closet door,use specific questions
          • “I’d appreciate feedback on active listening during today’s meeting. What did you see me do well and not-so-well?”


Parts of this process were designed by a former client, who needed to hear the stories behind the feedback. He also used his meetings with key constituents to commit to making the needed changes, hold himself accountable and request continuous out-of-the-closet feedback. He succeeded on all three counts.

For a rich discussion of problems associated with anonymous 360 feedback, see Ed Batista’s post. I agree these problems exist. I also know we can enrich the process to address them while providing leaders, followers, and the organization with useful feedback.

Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

Anonymous 360 Feedback - Use it to Bring Feedback Out of the Closet