The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How a 360 Review Can Make You More Effective as a Leader “
April 12, 2021
Intro: Leadership blind spots are the specific areas where a leader, even a very successful leader, is missing something. A blind spot can be a lack of attention to a certain area, or part of your skill set that really has never been developed. And of course, you don’t know what your blind spots are, but we know how to find them. Listen in as we talk with a leader about tools that helped him and his team grow to be even more effective in their leadership.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Cary Humphries: Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast. I’m Cary Humphries, senior consultant with the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. And for this episode, I’m sitting in for Al Lopus, as your guest host, and I’m excited to be joined today by a special guest who you’ll meet in just a few minutes.
For the past seven years, I’ve been fortunate and humbled to work with 100-plus ministry organizations, churches, and Christian-led companies as they do the wise, heroic work to improve the health of their workplace culture. The results can be incredible. When you invite your employees to give you their honest, anonymous feedback, you can begin to see where you’re already strong and where you can improve the trust, talent, communication, and everything needed to make your workplace so effective and cause your people to feel so fulfilled. I’ve seen it happen over and over: workplace cultures become transformed, organizational impact increases, God’s people making God’s kingdom more fully known on earth. As we all know, it starts at the top with leaders. Leaders who humble themselves to receive honest, constructive feedback from every direction significantly increase the likelihood of a better, healthier workplace.
And there’s a process to facilitate this. It’s called the 360 Review. In the next few minutes, you’re going to hear the five reasons that 360 can be a vital improvement resource for every leader who wants the best for their organization, even in the midst of a pandemic. You’re going to hear some great stories of leaders who’ve gained insights from a 360 and are never going back.
The five reasons for doing a 360 stem from questions you may already be asking. The first question everyone asks is, What is a 360 Review? A 360 Review is a tool that allows leaders to receive feedback from people all around them. That’s where the term 360 comes from. Often a ministry leader, with the help of BCWI, will invite feedback from their supervisor or their board if that’s who they report to, also from their direct reports, ministry peers if they have them, and sometimes a group we call other staff, those who might experience their influence. There’s a large set of questions focused on three major themes: character, competence, and chemistry; and then four or five subgroups in each theme. We have positively worded statements and are asking raters how true this is of the person they’re rating, with a one-to-five Likert scale.
The what question is a good starting place with the 360, and now I want you to see the real advantage and benefit of the 360. To do this, I want to bring in Todd Ervin, executive pastor of ministry support and CFO of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Todd, welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Todd Ervin: Thanks, Cary. It’s a pleasure to be here, and thanks for inviting me.
Cary: You’re welcome. We’ve had the privilege of working with The Summit Church for five years with full-staff-engagement surveys, and I don’t know, a bunch of 360s, something like 40. Todd, can you provide a few introductory thoughts about the reasons Summit went on this 360 journey for its leaders?
Todd: Sure, Cary. I would say in the most fundamental sense, and you mentioned it earlier, is that we believe that the effectiveness of the mission to accomplish that is highly influenced by an engaged and flourishing staff culture, and healthy leadership from the top down is a key component to that end. So our investment in leadership development and 360s, we consider a vital tool in our feedback process. So I would say that’s the principal answer about why we started down this journey with 360s, but we didn’t start with that lofty principle.
When we did our first 360s, I think, like a lot of people, we were reactionary in the use of 360s. They were in response to situations where we had some leadership friction we became aware of and that was emerging, and we needed to get some feedback to validate what we were hearing informally.
And I will say the first one we ever did, we did in-house. We administrated that through our H.R. department. And I would say that went okay, but the back-end administration does take some doing. And while we said any answers and comments that were part of the 360 would be confidential, we did sense from the participants that knowing that it was an in-house process, maybe there were some skeptical sense of the confidentiality of an in-house process.
So after we did a couple 360s with BCWI and we saw the value of the process with your team in multiple aspects, the anonymity being one of them, we started using BCWI for 360s, and then we also shifted to a proactive, systematic approach, which, as you alluded to, has resulted in us doing a lot of 360s with your team.
So as our church grew and our staff, we realized we needed more tools in the tool belt to get feedback. The traditional annual performance review, while good and we use those, we sensed that we needed another tool in our tool belt and specifically one that facilitates feedback from all directions, as you described what a 360 was, not just top down from a supervisor to a report.
Cary: Thanks for that, Todd.
As we get into this, I mean, some people might be thinking, I’m familiar with The Summit Church. They’re a large church with multi-campus arrangement and a number of staff. But we’ll think about the value of 360s for smaller- and medium-sized organizations as well.
I’m curious, Todd, what’s been one of the biggest impacts of the 360 Review on leadership at The Summit?
Todd: I would say the biggest impact—there have been multiple. It’s hard to choose just one. But if I would say the overall biggest impact has been the growth and development of the leaders that go through the 360 process, to get honest feedback specifically from their peers and those that work under their leadership. And in a traditional performance-review setting, a supervisor will assess their direct report basically through the lens of their interactions in a solo sense, predominantly based on, obviously, their one-on-one interactions. But a leader is interacting as much or more with peers, their direct reports on staff, and even lay members, maybe even large volunteer teams. So a 360 allows the supervisor to give feedback like a traditional review does, but it also allows peers, both staff and volunteers that work for them under the direction of the person, to give feedback as well. And we’ve probably seen the biggest impact in that, what I call sideways feedback from peers or even bottoms up feedback, those that work under the direct supervision or work closely in a volunteer capacity with the leader that’s being assessed, because they get to share anonymously how they are experiencing the leadership of that person.
And we’ve had both positive experience. Those that work with and for the person being rated can be very positive, maybe even more than the supervisor’s assessment of the leader. And we’ve also had the opposite side of that. Supervisor thinks that the person being rated is doing a great job and performing very well. But when we do the 360, we see that their peers and those that are working with them and reporting to them are experiencing something totally different.
Cary: That’s really helpful. I mean, it’s just you imagine looking at something from different angles, and that’s what the 360 facilitates. That’s why it can be so helpful.
And Todd, has there been an outcome that surprised you, something you didn’t expect, but that’s been a benefit?
Todd: Yeah. I would say the biggest surprise from the 360s has been, we have grown into a place where our leaders actually look forward and even have requested to have 360s performed. So as we got into the process and word got out about the positive experience that our leadership, those that went through the process and their leadership and development, we even had people asking to have, if they could be part of the 360 process, because, as we know, good leaders who are teachable and humble, they want that honest feedback. And when they understood how the 360 process was developing and growing leaders around them, they said they wanted to be a part of that.
So that was pretty surprising, because we kind of know in a busy ministry, when we get busy in ministry, it’s hard to get systematic feedback. You may get pieces of feedback on certain occasions, at certain times, but it becomes challenging to get systematic feedback all at once from everybody around you in a 360 fashion. So the 360 process allows that feedback to be collected, presented in a systematic way so, yeah, the concept of a 360 naturally sparks some anxiety, especially when you haven’t gone through the process, but we have leaders that have experienced the process, they see it as a key tool in their leadership development, and now they want to be a part of the process. That anxiety has transformed itself into a desire to get this feedback.
Any time you’re being evaluated, there’s a natural level of anxiety. And the 360 has some stereotypes about what could be, maybe it’s a venue for people to vent anonymously and say things without much validity, kind of like the bad side of Twitter comment section or something of that nature. But we haven’t experienced that. We have found that those who participate as a rater in the 360, they’ve all been very thoughtful and really approach this with a lot of just care and how they go through it and understand that this can be a tool that can transform a leader.
And so we also see that the tool itself, while they take individual ratings, in the end the report aggregates all of those and, one, maintains anonymity, and, two, you really come out with overarching themes. One particular comment or one person’s particular rating, maybe those two people have a rub or some type of disagreement that’s just between those two people, those really get washed out, and you really get a sense of what the overall theme of how these different categories of groups are experiencing that leader’s leadership.
So I think in the end those fears about, is this going to be something where I’m just going to get taken to task, or one person’s going to be able to railroad me? is really unfounded in our experience. The aggregate wins out, and people are really conscious about the importance of this tool, and they treat it as such.
Cary: Yeah. Thanks for that. That’s helpful.
And I know as a team of consultants at BCWI—Barry, Tara, Jay, Al, Giselle, and I—when we’re reviewing 360s, we make it really clear to people, we want you to look at the data. We don’t want you to overreact to a single comment. Let the data speak most loudly, let it speak most accurately, and we’ve seen exactly what you’ve just said, that for the most part it’s been really helpful in that way.
The second question is, Why do a 360? It all has to do with the critical importance and benefits of constructive feedback. Somebody said, once the higher you get in an organization, the less likely you are to hear the truth. It’s not that people want to mislead you. It’s just that they may not have the opportunity to offer feedback in your direction when you need it the most. What’s your take on this, Todd?
Todd: Well, I know at The Summit we have a principle like an open-door policy or the principle around Matthew 18. We definitely adhere to those and advocate for those principles. And there are staff members who do take advantage of open doors or go to the other person and speak truth and love. And we do advocate both of those as a first-principle feedback. But from my experience, while optimum going to a person directly is sometimes easier in theory than it is in practicality, and specifically when it comes to feedback that’s going up the chain, I think it’s prudent to acknowledge that talking to your boss or a peer about things that might seem critical of their leadership can be difficult on multiple fronts, even in a healthy staff-culture environment. So the 360 tool is just an added venue, an added channel, just to ensure that you’re getting that honest feedback. Yes, we want open-door policies and the Matthew 18 principle to be in place, but we just found that it’s valuable to also have a tool like the 360 to ensure that we’re getting that feedback when that first line of defense doesn’t work as well as you hoped it would work.
Cary: Yeah. That’s awesome. And that’s what we pray for. We pray that that interaction—and as you mentioned, often we do this debrief. Sometimes it’s individually with the person being rated, but often it’s with that person and their supervisor, where there can be some time for understanding, even some time where they can speak to explain ratings that they might have given the person. It just becomes a rich feedback environment.
Todd: I would say that a lot of times a 360 is not the end of the process but the beginning of a process. It really is a tool to open the door to more conversations, more coaching, that’s in a very healthy and framed environment.
Cary: And there’s an example of that, or these cases where the 360 kind of helps the supervisor, again, as you say, it opens the door for some valuable coaching down the road.
Todd: Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve had several cases where these hidden strengths are able to be leveraged even more. And so in several cases, the supervisor was able to take that assessment of the hidden strengths and the blind spots and were able to make specific growth action steps to help coach the person being rated in the right direction.
The 360s are able to put a name or a handle, some type of common language around what those points of unleveraged strength or growth areas are. And so it fuels and catalyzes a conversation in a very specific way, again, to get more out of a gift that someone has that they may be underestimating or really challenge a leader through the supervisor’s coaching to really evaluate where they may be overestimating their gifts.
Cary: That’s really helpful, Todd. We’re coming to question three, and it’ll come back to you, this question of who should take part in the 360. But maybe I’ll just mention as we begin that again, I said earlier that we would talk about size of organization. And often in medium-size or smaller organizations, sometimes even very small, sometimes the smallest organizations we serve at BCWI are a business or a church or a mission-sending organization with a dozen staff where a 360 of the leader is actually a pretty good proxy for organizational health, as well as feedback to that leader. There are other times when a smaller organization has large impact out from the staff, and so you can engage volunteers or customers or a ministry audience to participate in the 360. So those are some of the issues that get at the who question.
But when you think about within your organization, who takes part in a 360, share with our listeners about the various profiles of leaders at Summit that you’ve invested in through a 360. You know, I imagine people might want to know, Is this just something a senior leader would do, or does it have broader appeal?
Cary: Yes. Our lead pastor is part of the process. He receives a 360. And as you mentioned earlier, in this case, the board receives that 360 for our senior pastor. And as we work our way down, the executive team leaders with high levels of influence and scope, they all participate in 360 process. So we are always in a continual process of doing 360s. Someone’s continually in the pipeline. Once we go through the cycle, we repeat the cycle. As you say, you’ve done some 360s for us where you’ve done it twice, and that’s just because we cycle through our leaders and then we go back up to the top and start over again.
Cary: Awesome. Thank you.
You know, Todd, we’ve unpacked the first three of the five questions about 360s. But before we unveil the final two, here’s an important message from BCWI. Take a listen.
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The first step to begin the journey is our well-known Employee Engagement Survey. This proven online tool pinpoints where your organization is already strong and where you can improve your employees’ workplace experience, resulting in more productive people. That’s right. You’ll have more engaged, productive, and fulfilled people. Time-consuming guesswork won’t get you there. Instead, let us help you with a fact-based, hope-inspiring action plan that only our Employee Engagement Survey and skillful coaching can provide. Sign up now to begin the journey to build a flourishing workplace culture and a thriving organization. Find out more at bcwinstitute.org.
Cary: Welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast. My guest is Todd Ervin, the executive pastor of ministry support and CFO at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. We’ve been discussing the five best reasons for every leader to do a 360 Review. We’ve looked at the what, the why, and the who that makes the 360 so valuable for a leader and a workplace culture, ultimately to an organization’s ministry impact.
The fourth question in considering a 360 is, How does it work?
Todd: In our case, someone from our H.R. team—obviously, that can be anyone if you don’t have an H.R. team—but someone from your organization contacts BCWI, and they really will walk you through the whole process. And the first thing they’re going to do is they’re going to set up a system of rating with the three groups that were mentioned before: the self, the supervisor, the peers, and others. So they walk you through the process about how those groups are the criteria for those groups, how those groups are set up. Then, they’ll coach you through how to send out the invites for those. They’ll coach you through all the logistics behind getting the 360 up and running. Those first three groups—the self, the supervisor, and the peers—those are set automatically by the organization just based on organizational relationship. And then in that fourth group, the others group, we do ask the person who is being rated to give input on who they would suggest would have some insight into experiencing their leadership. Then we, in our case H.R., look at the list and make sure that everyone we think should be included on the list is on the list, especially in the others category. This is kind of a safety net to ensure that the person being rated doesn’t cherry pick their raters and basically set up a positive bias in their rating. So we have gone in and added people to the others group as needed if we need to make sure that we’re creating a pool of people who are engaged with that person overall.
Cary: It’s interesting, Todd, that you say that. One of the things that when you think about anonymity and think about the 360 in general, you talked about it, it’s a conversation. And it opens the door, and the door opening sometimes starts right here at picking who the raters are because you have the opportunity to help a person really think about who will bring that best, most-reasonable set of feedback. Sometimes it can begin in the setup process.
Yeah. And it’s interesting. Any 360, any survey of any type, produces a lot of data. To keep this data from being overwhelming, our focus is on helping the person being rated to see their greatest strengths, and we’ve encouraged them to see four or five themes of greatest strengths, and they’re often there. And then to find the one or two areas that would benefit from attention out of the lower-rated areas.
Todd, as you’ve watched firsthand and heard others on The Summit team speak about this experience of just going through the process and the debrief, what stands out as the most impactful takeaway for your teammates?
Todd: I would say appreciation. Everyone experiences some level of anxiety about being assessed by a 360, but almost every person in the process is appreciative that we have invested in the 360 tool, to build and hone our leadership and provide a channel for feedback to be heard.
One of the most impactful takeaways is thank you. Thank you for listening to us. Thank you for investing in our leaders and in leadership at The Summit Church.
I would also add I think what’s been very impactful to our team has been the debrief itself. The BCWI team does a great job at really taking a lot of data and honing it down into a few actionable steps that can really be taken by the leader and worked on with the team. And almost to the person, they walk away feeling encouraged. Whether that was a positive or one of the more tougher 360s, I think they all walk away feeling like they have a plan in place, and they’re encouraged to grow in their leadership.
Cary: That’s what it’s all about for us. That’s encouraging, Todd.
The fifth and final question might be the most interesting of all. When is the best time to move forward and say yes to 360s? What’s been your experience, Todd, and what have been the timing motivators for Summit?
Todd: Well, I alluded to this before, but we have found that when 360s are a routine and systematic part of our leadership assessment and development, it really takes the stigma out of those 360s. If they’re ad hoc or only used when there’s a leadership challenge, it fosters these negative connotations of 360s. But once you start to implement 360s on a routine basis and leaders in your organization know this isn’t just a “problem tool,” they embrace it and start to value it. So I’d say the best time to start is now, and make it a standard practice.
We have found that you do want to find a rhythm that doesn’t require a lot of the same people to be engaged in the 360 process at the same time. While 360s aren’t a monumental investment of time, they do take an investment, and we want participants to be thoughtful and engaged in the process. So we do look at the timing of those if we’re doing more than one at a time. So we may do, say, the lead pastor and, say, a missions director simultaneously, instead of doing the lead pastor and an executive pastor, which would draw upon people doing multiple 360s at one time. So that’s just a little timing tactic that we worked out over time. But ultimately, I would say a routine, systematic part has been of great benefit to The Summit.
Cary: That’s awesome. And a helpful hint, because you don’t want to get survey fatigue in the process of really bringing valuable help to leaders.
Todd, is there a final comment you’d like to share with listeners that might be helpful to them?
Todd: Yeah. Finally, I would just say anyone who has a role in creating a flourishing culture to catalyze the mission they have been called to knows that healthy leadership plays a key role in the success of that mission. We are charged with stewarding a flourishing culture. And I’m confident that The Summit Church has a higher-quality leadership and a healthier staff and a higher overall engagement as a result of the BCWI 360 tool and the BCWI team that supports it.
Cary: Thanks, Todd, for sharing that and for your insights and wisdom. It’s been an honor to serve Summit Church. And just as I think about all we’ve talked about today, you’ve talked about the 360 being mission driven for you, out of a desire to build healthy leaders. We’ve talked about it being purposeful and systematic and that your leaders want feedback, that they’ve welcomed participation in the 360, that it helps to create an open door and work with principles like Matthew 18, that it can span different sizes of organizations. And that’s just been super encouraging, Todd, to hear.
And so to our listeners, What’s the next step? If something you’ve heard in these past minutes says to you, I want to learn more about doing BCWI’s 360, here’s what you do. Simply go to www.bcwinstitute.org/360. We’d love to help guide you or your organization through this outstanding developmental opportunity.
And this is Cary Humphries, from all of us at the Best Christian Workplaces Institute, thanks for listening. We look forward to serving you with our Engagement Surveys and 360 Reviews. Thank you. Join us again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
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This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba.
Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.