For several months I have blogged nothing because I have been engaged in the single largest project of my career: writing 360 degree reports for all 21 managers in a small organization against a tight, three month deadline.
The effort intended to give every manager of people for this technically dominated organization insight into their performance as seen by their supervisors, colleagues and reports. The process was made up of essays completed by all the managers, 114 interviews touching virtually all the organization’s employees, 21 written 3–5 page summary reports with numerical ratings in seven performance dimensions accompanied by an oral debriefing, and final discussions between each manager and the person to whom they reported. The process included every manager from the president to those who supervised only one other person. The writing, of course, was the most sensitive, toughest part. I was devoted to getting it right for each person and I believe I came close.
Now that this project is finished, I find myself reflecting, grateful and humbled to do such work. It was, in a word, intimate, to learn how each person is seen; how the organization sees all its leaders at once; to hear the key connective themes that define its actual (as opposed to ideal) culture: “the voice of the organization,” so to speak.
It was like viewing a great mural — like one of those Diego Rivera’s — figures of people from top to bottom the full length of the canvass, a landscape or a building jammed with human beings, the whole thing stuffed with energy and effort, lives and work unfolding. I didn’t know it was possible to do such a thing as a whole organization 360 review. Thanks to the exquisite skills of the person who arranged my very tight schedule, I was able to conduct all the interviews, write the reports and meet the deadline. Whew!
And what did I learn you may wonder? Ask me in a few years and perhaps you will get a clearer answer, but in the meantime I can say this: people are good if they are cared for and if others are willing to tell them the truth, at least as far as they know it. Failure, by comparison, is held in secret until it gushes out, often with little sense of knowing what to do about it except to judge it.
Blind spots are the toughest performance issues to address. What I don’t know that I don’t know, entangled resistance and defensiveness, with potential misunderstandings all around like frustrated gargoyles .
What’s also clear: we all have something to work on as leaders — from how to delegate to how to assert your onlyness to how not to block others’ success to how to guide group decisions. And on and on; nobody’s perfect; nobody’s even close, and everyone is trying pretty damned hard to do things right.
The whole process made me reflect on how lucky I am, how privileged to see into an organization and serve in this way. And as for me and my own strengths and weaknesses, my own development? There’s nothing like twenty-one mirrors to take you to a place of your own deeper questions and personal edge of learning. Looking into these mirrors, I see that I, too, am a piece of Swiss cheese. I might even be good cheese — but nevertheless still full of holes.