Joe Folkman is a global expert in psychometrics or measuring psychological factors. He wrote his PhD dissertation on data he collected from 360 assessments. Over the decades he’s developed feedback and measurement tools around a growing database now compromised of over a half million assessments on almost 50,000 leaders. Long-time feedback, executive coaching, and leadership development clients include AT&T, General Motors, Boeing, ConocoPhillips, CIBC, General Mills, Wells Fargo, and many others.
Recently I asked him to reflect on what he sees as the biggest difference between traditional 360 assessments (where he began his career) and the strengths-based 360 he developed and has used for the past 14 years:
- Traditional 360 has a very powerful message — focus on weakness — identify problems — find the losers. Introducing a 360 process and letting people know we’re looking for strength takes the threat out of the process. The surprising thing is that those with fatal flaws are much more willing to acknowledge that they have a fatal flaw because we framed the conversation around strengths.
- Traditional 360 assessments typically ask “what does this person do well?” and “what areas could this person improve?” The list of improvement areas is long and compelling. Weaknesses are huge distractions. Even the best leaders have weaknesses. Great leaders are not perfect. The process of working on weaknesses encourages people to work on the wrong issues. Instead leaders need to know how others perceive their strengths and align those with “what does the organization need you to do to be successful?” and “what are you passionate about?” These questions identify the most powerful things for leaders to focus on.
- The Gestalt or overall feeling that is created by weakness-based 360 surveys is, “what is wrong” while the gestalt of the strengths-based approach is “what is right.” Weakness-based approaches equates with failure, faults, problems and pessimism. Strengths-based equates with success, strengths, what is right, and optimism. The body of research on how optimists are happier, more effective, and stronger leaders is compelling.
- Basically organizations are successful because of how they stand out, what differentiates them, basically their strengths. They are not perfect. Organizations fail because they do something terribly wrong. People are the same.