360-degree feedback is an important tool for self-development. We know the benefits. It can increase our self-awareness. And self-awareness is the root of all relationships. When we’re better at relationships, we’re better at, well, everything. 360-degree feedback can reveal our blind spots. It helps us to target our development areas, and points out our strengths so that we can leverage them. And 360-degree feedback can provide a balanced view by providing multiple perspectives. The evidence is fairly clear that 360-degree feedback is a useful tool.
But, what if you’re a solo entrepreneur? How can you receive 360-degree feedback? Solo entrepreneurs don’t have a boss, peers or employees. You don’t have an HR department to conduct the survey. And you probably are frugal with your money, so you can’t afford to hire an expert. How are you supposed to receive the gift of feedback so that you can improve your performance?
I have a quick and easy solution. Best of all, it’s free.
The Standard 360-Degree Feedback Process
Employees in a company often receive 360-degree feedback as part of their development plan. It is usually handled by the HR department or a third-party. Let’s just assume in this case that the feedback is managed by a third party administrator. The administrator asks you for a list of your stakeholders. This often includes your direct manager, your peers and your direct-report employees. The survey can also include other stakeholders such as your clients, other department heads, and key decision-makers. The key is to select multiple stakeholders who are in a position to observe your performance and to give you honest feedback.
The administrator sends an email to your stakeholders, usually with a link to an online form. They track responses, and prompt those who have not replied. The system gathers the data and produces a report. The administrator, or another person trained to do so, will review your report with you, will assist you to prioritize your development areas and will help you create a development plan.
All of that works well. But what if you’re a solo entrepreneur?
How Do I Receive 360-Degree Feedback if I Am a Solo Entrepreneur?
When you’re a solo entrepreneur, you don’t have a boss, peers or direct reports. But you might have a proxy. Instead of a boss, you have clients and customers. Instead of peers within the organization, you have peers in your industry. And, instead of direct reports, you might have freelancers whom you have hired. There are also other important stakeholders: other entrepreneurs, industry groups to which you belong, friends, former employers, members of civic and religious communities, etc. Even your close Facebook friends can be stakeholders who can provide feedback. The secret is to select people who are in a position to observe you on a regular basis.
You can send them a form via email. They can provide you anonymous feedback. It’s fairly easy. I’ll show you how.
A Free 360-Degree Feedback Process
If you’re like most solo entrepreneurs, you’re bootstrapping your business. Cheap is good. Free is better. Fortunately, it is simple to build a free 360-degree feedback form that allows people to provide you with anonymous feedback. I used this process when I left my corporate career in March, 2014.
Here it is: Use Google Forms. It’s quick and easy to set up a Google Form, and best of all, it’s free.
Once you start a Google Form, it’s fairly self-evident what to do. If you have any problems, feel free to contact me. In the upper right-hand of the form, there is a gear icon. If you click the gear icon, you can change the settings. Here are two key settings:
- Make sure that the box “Can Submit only 1 response” is not checked. If you check the box, then the person will have to log in and you will have a record of who submitted the response – not so anonymous anymore.
- And ensure that the box “See Summary of Responses” is also unchecked. If you check the box, each person filling out the form will see everyone else’s feedback.
Other than that, it should be easy to create a form. But, what kind of questions should you ask?
360-Degree Feedback Questions
With Google Forms, you can create all kinds of questions: multiple choice, drop-down, check box, etc. My suggestion is that you keep the survey very simple. I recommend that you ask six questions and that every question be a “paragraph” type (you can see the types of questions in a drop-down box on the right-hand side of each question).
Here are the six questions that I would suggest you ask:
- What are [your name]’s strengths?
- What are [your name]’s weaknesses?
- What two words or phrases would you use to describe [your name]?
- What can you rely on [your name] for?
- What can you NOT rely on [your name] for?
- Is there anything else you would like to tell [your name]?
It is possible to add more questions, but I would resist the temptation to do so. With these six questions, you will learn enough. Maybe more than you’re comfortable knowing, at least at first.
Common Reactions to 360-Degree Feedback
Here’s a fair warning. It is common for people to have a strong emotional reaction to feedback. Think about it. If you are in a meeting and someone points out that you have spinach in your teeth, how do you feel? At first, you might be surprised. And, for a moment, you might even feel angry. Why hadn’t others told you about this? What was the motive of the person who told you? After a while you might begin to rationalize – either justifying why the feedback might not be true, or beginning to come to grips with why the feedback is true. Finally, you come to acceptance. This is exactly the process that most people go through when they receive feedback. It is so common, it even has a name. SARA.
It is important to note that the R does not stand for retaliation. In fact, retaliation is one of the ways NOT to respond to feedback.
What NOT to Do When Soliciting or Receiving 360-Degree Feedback
Here are just a few pitfalls that you might experience when soliciting or receiving feedback:
- Do not “cherry pick” your list of stakeholders. In other words, don’t just send the feedback form to people who will say nice things.
- Do not request personally identifiable information in the feedback form. It is important for the feedback to be anonymous. Do not ask for their name email or other information that would make it easy to figure out who provided you feedback.
- Do not send the feedback form to less than 5 total individuals. Again, this is to protect anonymity.
- Do not reject the feedback outright. People took the time to provide you with feedback. You do not have to immediately agree with the feedback. Keep in mind that this is someone’s honest perspective.
- Do not contact, follow up or questions someone’s feedback, even if you are certain who provided the feedback. If you contact them regarding their anonymous feedback, you break trust.
- Do not over-magnify the negative feedback. It is easy to focus on the corrective or developmental feedback.
- Don’t miss the good stuff. One of the best ways to grow is to take advantage of your strengths.
What to Do After You Receive Feedback
Once the deadline for feedback has been reached, read and review your feedback. Look for themes. Look for strengths that you can leverage. Make a plan for how you can utilize these strengths moving forward. Look for common areas of development. Pick one, or at the most two areas for improvement. Create a development plan. What will you do to improve your performance moving forward?
You might also think about finding one or two trusted friends to help you with your development. Let them know what area you are working on. Ask them for suggestions of development activities. Also, ask their permission to come back to them from time to time to discuss your progress. In a face-to-face conversation, say something like “You’re probably aware that I’m going through a development process. As part of that process, I’ve received feedback. As a result of that feedback, I’m working on getting better at x. You’re someone I trust to give me honest feedback. Would you mind if I come back to you once a month or so and ask for further feedback?” Then, about once per month ask them “You might remember that I’m working on X. How am I doing?” Then listen. When they finish giving you feedback, simply respond, “thank you.” Do not defend or justify. Simply say “thank you,” and then do something about the feedback.
You might also need to seek a neutral third party to help – a coach or mentor. Having a coach can be a great way to focus on your specific development needs and to track your progress over time.
The Solo Entrepreneur 360-Degree Feedback Process
So, that’s how you receive 360-degree feedback when you’re a solo entrepreneur.
- Use clients, industry peers and freelancers as a proxy for a boss, work peers and employees. Ask their permission to send them an anonymous feedback form.
- Use Google Forms to ask six questions.
- Email a link to the form with a deadline for feedback.
- Review the feedback. Look for both strengths and development areas.
- Find one or two stakeholders who will agree to provide continuous feedback over time.
- On a monthly basis, ask the stakeholder for feedback. Listen attentively. Say thank you.
- Look for a neutral third party – a coach or mentor who can help you continue to improve over time.