While you can’t personalize a leadership program without learning personnel, the right use of tools also can make a project much easier. Learning executives have no shortage of vendors lining up to help them in this effort, but they must tread carefully to avoid putting too much emphasis on the technology when implementing these programs.
Employees with leadership potential are a unique group: Individually, they have the confidence to make decisions that impress superiors along the way. When attempting to encourage such individuals to move up the chain of command, maintaining a personal touch while properly gauging their behavior and reputation in relation to the company is a difficult balance.
This is why most leadership developers use a blended approach in order to achieve such a balance. Practical simulations, executive coaching and mentoring are just a few of the methods used in a variety of leadership development initiatives to infuse their program with a personal touch. Another is a 360-degree feedback assessment, which helps to bring a holistic view of a leadership candidate.
“A 360 assessment is basically a multirater feedback assessment,” said Debbie Friedman, operating vice president of the Leadership Institute at Macy’s. “The individual who wants feedback completes a questionnaire. The boss, the direct reports, the peers and the individual complete an assessment, which is a series of questions based on leadership behaviors. As a result of completing that survey, the individuals — when they come to training — get feedback on their strengths and weaknesses with quite a bit of specificity on leadership behaviors.”
Friedman uses a 360 feedback assessment only for the upper-level, high-potential leadership program, which at Macy’s is an 18-month-long process that prides itself on a pattern of feedback followed by opportunities to put it into practice.
“We use it in our Leadership Choice Program, which is a transition-to-senior-leadership program we have here at Macy’s,” Friedman said. “We use a survey instrument called the ‘Profiler.’ The survey is completed prior to people coming into the program, and then they receive feedback upon arriving. What they learn about themselves is then integrated into the other pieces of their training.”
The use of the 360 feedback assessment allows candidates going through the training to hit the ground running as soon as they start. From the perspective of the candidates, starting off their training with such direct, personal feedback, as well as a plan of action, is helpful in letting them know their improvement as leaders is necessary for the company.
From the perspective of leadership developers, the wide-ranging feedback the 360 assessment gives can tell them whether or not candidates are truly formidable in the area of leadership — a must for training someone who will make important decisions affecting the company as a whole, Friedman said.
“When we’re talking about a leader, it’s important to know how they’re seen from all parts of the company and not just that they’re well-liked from above.”