Leader’s 360-degree feedback results shows need for improvement

Dear Joan:
I am roughly twenty months into my new job as an executive. This is a new industry for me, so it has been a challenge to learn the technology, culture and people.  I thought everything was fine until I did a 360 degree review. 
My boss and peers think highly of my capability, but my direct report team is not so sure.  They slight my technical knowledge and want me to be more "creative."
Beyond that, the feedback was not specific enough to understand the "How" of
improvement vs. the "What."  My boss wants to see improvement.
Any thoughts on how I can improve my performance in the eyes of my team? 
How do I win their respect? 
And how should I manage the development discussion which has been requested by my boss?
You were hired with the full awareness that you did not come from the industry. They liked what they saw and hired you in spite of that fact. To have gotten an executive position, I can only assume they saw strengths in your leadership, communication and decision-making skills. Undoubtedly, you had a track record that showed how you got results through others. And these are the skills I recommend you leverage to earn credibility and respect from your team.
You can’t manufacture a background you don’t have. But you can engage and empower your staff in ways that will elevate you in their eyes. As an executive, you don’t need to have as much technical knowhow as your staff, but you do need to do a few things very well:
  • Facilitate meetings that are highly participative and encourage group problem solving and decision-making.
The top executive isn’t supposed to make all the decisions, even if he or she does come from that technical specialty. (That’s a big temptation when the executive has risen through the ranks.)
In your case, not having their background can be an advantage. You can look at issues in a different way—a more creative way. You can ask questions that provoke new thinking. Why not say, “I’m not the expert—you are. But perhaps I can bring some fresh eyes to old problems. I’d like to give some new perspective by bringing my own experiences to our group problem solving. But I will certainly need your expertise.”
  • Add value by carrying their ideas forward, giving them credit, and overcoming barriers to get them the resources they need to do their jobs well.
If you don’t recognize their expertise, you are dead in the water. Groups who are managed by a non-technical leader always worry that their boss won’t understand their issues, won’t recognize how hard they work, and won’t be able to fight for what they need. They also worry they won’t get the career advancement opportunities they want.
To counter that, let them come with you to sell an idea to senior management. Be very intentional when you pass their ideas to other peers or executives and mention them by name and copy them on the email. Ask them to work with you to prepare the budget details, so you have a good business case to fight for head count or dollars.
  • Be free with praise, visibility and opportunities for career development.
Put their names in for company-wide projects, get someone a spot bonus for a big project, showcase their results to different audiences. 
Give them honest feedback. Because you don’t know the technical details of what they do, collect feedback from customers and others who can provide relevant and meaningful examples for performance reviews.
  • Confront and resolve tough issues—organizational, technical, political and people.
Excellent leaders distinguish themselves among their employees (and others) by tackling the tough stuff. Since you are well regarded by your peers and senior leaders, you undoubtedly have the skills to move the needle on difficult issues and new frontiers.
If they see you fighting for making things better (even if it means dealing with a poor performer among them) your stock will go up. On technical issues, you may not have the answers but you can get them -and others- involved in working together toward a solution.
  • For your development discussion with your boss, lay out your plan to involve, recognize and leverage your team.
You may want to use everything I’ve recommended above. Explain that you intend to be transparent with them and with him. Tell him you are going to share an overview of the results of the 360 with your team and ask for their advice and participation in making yourself and the team as good as it can be.
Reference the fresh perspective you bring and the facilitative leadership skills they hired you for. Tell your boss that you intend to check in periodically with the individuals on your team to get feedback and to collaborate on how to keep growing in your role. Tell your team to expect this from you and then follow through. If you include them in your own development, they will be vested to help you succeed.
By being open and transparent you will disarm the critics and win admiration from your supporters. Open yourself up—you’ll be amazed at the results.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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