What to do when your greatest strength is a weakness

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We have just completed a number of 360 degree feedback debriefs with several different clients; the recipients have commonly been high level executives and have been further united by a theme which runs true for most individuals, and that is that their strengths have been at the very root of their development areas.

All of us have particular knowledge, skills, and patterns of thinking,  which have served us well throughout our careers; often these strengths have placed us in positions within organisations where these are highly valued.

However, time and again in 360 degree feedback reports, we see how such strengths in an individual start to unravel for them; there is a fall-out or detrimental effect on those around them. Not because they are no longer strengths but simply because they are overplayed.

The individual who relentlessly focuses on the results, the client or the project timeline, over time can become blinded to other desired outcomes i.e. a happy team, an ability to be flexible in light of new information, personal well-being.

A 360 degree feedback report offers the opportunity for an individual to re-calibrate their approach, and perhaps temper some of their strengths which are still very useful, but need to be dialled down a little.

Discussion of this always reminds me of the joke about a person being interviewed for a new job:

Interviewer: So, what would you say your greatest weakness is?

Interviewee: Ah, that would be honesty

Interviewer: Honesty? I would think that’s a strength surely?

Inteviewee: I don’t give a hoot what you think






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14 principles of management – Henri Fayol

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As part of some research for an upcoming whitepaper,  I came across “Fayol’s 14 principles of management”.  He produced these in around 1916!  A century later, I can’t help but comment on their relevance and in many parts how management has struggled to deliver against them.

The wording is of its day (and translated from the original french) and it reflects a command and control style of management that would not be accepted by many in the modern workplace.  But much of it holds, particularly the latter points, and is a good reminder of enduring principles and values that apply to the management of businesses and people.

  1. Division of work -. Fayol presented work specialization as the best way to use the human resources of the organization. [note, historically workers would not specialise in tasks]
  2. Authority-Managers must be able to give orders. Authority gives them this right. Note that responsibility arises wherever authority is exercised.
  3. Discipline-Employees must obey and respect the rules that govern the organization. Good discipline is the result of effective leadership.
  4. Unity of command- Every employee should receive orders from only one superior.
  5. Unity of direction-Each group of organizational activities that have the same objective should be directed by one manager using one plan for achievement of one common goal.
  6. Subordination of individual interests to the general interest- The interests of any one employee or group of employees should not take precedence over the interests of the organization as a whole.
  7. Remuneration- Workers must be paid a fair wage for their services.
  8. Centralization-Centralization refers to the degree to which subordinates are involved in decision making.
  9. Scalar chain-The line of authority from top management to the lowest ranks represents the scalar chain. Communications should follow this chain.
  10. Order- this principle is concerned with systematic arrangement of men, machine, material etc. there should be specific place for every employee in organization
  11. Equity-Managers should be kind and fair to their subordinates.
  12. Stability of tenure of personnel- High employee turnover is inefficient. Management should provide orderly personnel planning and ensure that replacements are available to fill vacancies.
  13. Initiative-Employees who are allowed to originate and carry out plans will exert high levels of effort.
  14. Esprit de corps-Promoting team spirit will build harmony and unity within the organization.




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How to get over a 95% completion rate on your 360 – advice that survives

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We first published this blog post in 2007!  We have just completed a series of 360 debriefs for a US based client’s executive team and they hit a 99% completion rate which had me reflect on completion rates again.  The advice that follows is exactly as it was in 2007.

“A number of our clients approach us because they have had a poor experience with 360 feedback and yet they still see it as a tool that will offer effective feedback for their team or organisation. One of the key issues they face is that they cannot get enough people to complete the feedback.

Here are some of our hints and tips that we provide people on ensuring they hit a high completion rate.

Let me get the “you would say that, wouldn’t you” one out of the way. We recommend you put the 360 online. Bowland Solutions provides online 360 degree feedback so there is no surprise there.

Now, lets get a list of reasons why this will help and what you need to do to increase that feedback rate.

  • Make sure the questions, the branding, the reports, the communications are all tailored – don’t use some off-the-shelf set of questions and standard set of reports. People spot quickly that this is not quite right for them.
  • Keep the questions limited to just what you need to get the feedback required. As a rule of thumb, something like 30 questions is often right. [Note, the client described above had 32 questions]
  • Keep the numbers giving feedback to a sensible amount
  • Watch out for the peer group – they often have the most feedback to give.
    • Limit to 3 peers per recipient
    • Consider asking the peers a subset of the questions
  • Communicate why this is a good thing
  • Give people enough time to complete – we recommend 3 weeks
  • If you can – make the recipient the person in control of the process. That way they will chase down their respondents for you.
  • Chase them by email
  • Chase them by email again
  • Phone them

We hit 95% completion feedback rates – not every time, but often enough to know that it is readily achievable.”

Would I change any item of that advice?  I would probably reduce the number of questions further again and add narrative questions in their place.  For the recent executive group there was a general willingness to complete the feedback as they were the most senior people in their respective organisations – for lower level groups I would look to reduce to nearer 20 rating questions if possible.



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Final call on free webinar – How to effectively conduct a 360 Degree Feedback Debrief

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Friday 26th September 2014@1pm (BST) 

Final call – limited seats left available – No cost to attend

Join us for our next webinar which looks at how to conduct an effective 360 Degree  Feedback Debrief.

“As 360 Degree Feedback becomes ever more part of the performance management and employee development cycle, Line Managers need to become adept at holding such debrief conversations with their team members.”

Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - How to conduct an effective 360 Degree Feedback Debrief


This webinar will explore the key elements of a successful face-to-face 360 feedback debrief:

  • Understanding the role of a debriefer and what skills it requires
  • Preparation; what to look for in a 360 degree feedback report
  • Structure; the basic 360 degree feedback debrief process
  • Concluding the debrief; moving towards action


All attendees will also receive our free guide ‘How to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief’.

Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - How to conduct an effective 360 Degree Feedback Debrief

Previous Bowland webinar participant’s feedback:

I like the way in which these webinars are facilitated, they are structured, easy, clear and personable. The interactive and engaging way it involves the audience even though they are remote. 

Excellent content delivered clearly and professionally. A great opportunity to interact with the subject and other participants

I liked the way you made the effort to keep it as interactive as possible, by using polls and the chat function.

I find Webinars hosted by Bowland, very informative, engaging, and educational. They provide quality tools to have participants involved and are always clear. 


Eventbrite - Free Webinar - Meaningful Conversations - How to conduct an effective 360 Degree Feedback Debrief


John Rice, Director, Bowland Solutions

As a Director with Bowland Solutions, John brings over 10 years of experience in facilitation, training and coaching across a range of high profile & diverse clients including Legal & General, Microsoft, Revlon, CBRE, Renault, Kellogg’s and a number of top 100 law firms.


We hope you can join us on Friday 26th September.


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The 360 degree feedback your organisation and team are ready for

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John sent me over a link to an article from Australia where a consultant/coach lambasts anonymous 360 degree feedback. You can read the article here – be warned, he is unusually angry!

We often read highly principled articles on 360 feedback (and for that matter performance appraisals). The implication of such articles is that there is a right way and no other way. And, if you are incapable of performing the process in the right way then you should be ashamed of the muddled thinking you are now following.

Here is the way we approach it.

Feedback is a good thing. If you already have truly open feedback between all parties through strong, regular, meaningful conversations then the only reason to run 360 feedback is to provide a consistent structure and there is no need for anonymity at all. We have a client who names all respondents on the feedback.

If, however, you have imperfect leaders and an imperfect culture then the feedback process should meet your organisation where it currently stands. From there, it can move forward as feedback becomes a more natural and open process. For some organisations this requires high anonymity and careful 360 debriefs that support the recipient in accepting the feedback in a positive light and deciding how best to act upon that feedback. This may not be a perfect, textbook, 360 process. Indeed it contains some flaws. However, it is the feedback process that the organisation and recipients are ready for. It is the process with the best chance of success and it is the one that can be built upon the future with anonymity reduced as all participants gain confidence.

Through careful consideration of questionnaire design, process, reporting, and handling of debriefs we can support an organisation in delivering the feedback process it is ready for. Surely better to do that, than dismiss the process because it isn’t textbook perfect?


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Busting Urban Myths – Beware the danger of averaging ratings in 360 Degree Feedback

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Trying hard to not know the answer

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Seen the same problem before? Thought through how the conversation is going to go already and can’t see why we don’t just shortcut to the end? Unable to see why someone is seeing such a difficulty in a situation? You already know the answer.

Anyone who has performed a management or coaching role; or, more often for me now, debriefed a 360 feedback report, will recognise the burning instinct to give someone the answer. People with problems or questions themselves often wish to get that answer too and it can feel great to give them what they are looking for.

If you are biologically predisposed to provide solutions as I appear to be then holding back, listening, exploring, asking questions can be very difficult. Yet it is critical. While there is no need to overcomplicate unnecesarily, the temptation of the simple answer leads to false starts and moves responsibility onto the coach. The proponents of the GROW model of coaching will recognise how hard it can be to explore and clarify the Goal, understanding the Reality and explore a variety Options rather than simply leap to the solution / Way forward.

360 feedback reports often provide a fantastic input into a conversation. But the recipient of the feedback has so much history, experience, capabilities, challenges, know-how on the ground that as a debriefer you cannot know the answer to what the feedback is saying or what should be done. It is really worth trying very hard to not know the answer.


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Mind your language; gender bias in performance appraisals

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An interesting article on Fortune regarding a pattern which emerged in the use of language in performance appraisals in technology roles for women as distinct to men.

Broadly, the study was to see if the language was different dependent on gender; the findings were that it was – women tended to receive more critical feedback and less constructive feedback.

The headline was that women were significantly more likely to have words like ‘abrasive’, ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ in their reviews compared to their male counterparts; a disappointing finding indeed, but what I thought was more striking was still a prevalence of critical feedback rather than constructive feedback, particularly again for women.

It suggests to me that not only is there a need to apply some better moderation to the language used in reviews (not just ratings) as is called for by the author, but also that there is opportunity to help reviewers become better at crafting constructive feedback.

In both performance appraisals and 360 degree feedback, the true value is often found in the narrative; it’s critical that how people frame their feedback is in a way which is constructive and can be acted upon by the reviewee/recipient – it’s a skill which can be taught and shouldn’t be left to chance.

As they say, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones….but words (used in performance appraisal and 360 degree feedback) can also hurt me’





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