Smiling young businessman in the office, with his team at the background
By Joseph Folkman
On a recent vacation, my wife and I made several visits to a wonderful restaurant, sampling a variety of their crepes. They were incredible. On a 1 to 10 scale, I rated them a 10. Once home, we decided to attempt to replicate our culinary experience by making the crepes ourselves. We did a pretty good job, but I would only rate our crepes a 7. It is interesting that many times we know the difference between when something is good versus when it is great, but it is more difficult to understand precisely what makes that difference.
A few years ago, I met with a group of senior managers to review their employee survey results. We had collected data from all the employees in the company and, in analyzing the results, discovered that the senior management team was less satisfied and more frustrated than the average salaried employee. As I pointed out the gap to the senior management team, no one in the room was really surprised. They knew that their experience had not been overly positive. They recognized their frustrations, but until the data showed them the gap, they had not done anything to address the issues.
Another leader, at a separate company, wanted to understand the level of effectiveness of his senior team. He generally felt that the leaders were okay, but not great. This was a somewhat difficult message to convey because it was only based on his personal impressions. We had the senior team participate in a 360-degree assessment to measure their effectiveness as leaders. Once all were completed, we aggregated the results for all the individuals together into a team summary. We were able to compare that data to the company internal norm. The analysis showed that this group was at the 51st percentile; in other words, the group was average. The senior leader had very accurately predicted the level of effectiveness of this team.
We also compared the team’s results to our global database of 27,000 other leaders around the world. This analysis showed the overall leadership effectiveness of the group at the 36thpercentile. This analysis was a bit of a surprise. A discussion ensued about whether to share the global comparison with the team. I believed that while sharing the number with the team would be a bit of a surprise to everyone, it would also confirm something they already knew. Their experience with the leaders in the organization was okay, but most employees had seen better leaders.
Who Wants Feedback?
The reality is you’re probably not as effective as you think you are. The only way to know is to gather feedback from others about your performance. We collected assessments of leaders from the manager, peers, direct reports, and others on the extent to which they were effective at asking for feedback and taking action on the feedback they were given. The following graph shows the results for 51,400 leaders.
Note that leaders in the age group 25–35 scored in the 66thpercentile—16 points above average. Leaders who were 61 years and older scored at the 43rdpercentile—7 points below average. It is clear from this data that as people age, they tend to ask for feedback less often and are less motivated to change. But while this is a trend, some leaders continued to ask for and act on feedback throughout their career. What we found was that leaders who were older but still asked for, and acted on, feedback were significantly more effective leaders.
It is a bit like tasting an excellent crepe—you know it when you taste it, but it’s hard to figure out what made it so outstanding. That’s why you need the recipe. When 360-degree feedback is gathered for each leader, you have the “recipe.” You can see the main ingredients, or strengths, that provide the basis of a great leader, as well as the areas that need a little more work. With 360-degree feedback data, we have the capability to precisely identify actions that will improve the effectiveness of each leader and the effectiveness of a senior leadership team.