360-Degree Assessment: What I can Learn From Overestimating My Innovation Score

The willingness to try new things, even in failure, can improve your innovation score


Garrett Mintz , Sat 20 February 2021
A 360-degree assessment helps you understand your professional performance by having both you and your colleagues assess your abilities across several key skills. 

The goal of a 360-degree assessment is to identify blind spots and vulnerabilities in your professional skillset. By getting feedback from your colleagues and comparing their perspectives to your self-assessment, you can get a deeper understanding of your work performance.  

There are generally 3 outcomes from a 360-degree assessment: 1) somebody has underestimated their abilities, 2) somebody has overestimated their abilities, or 3) somebody is self-aware about their abilities. 

This article is going to address some possible problems and solutions that might arise for people who have overestimated their abilities. This article is part of a series I’m writing about Ambition In Motion’s 360-Degree Assessments and how their results should be interpreted. There are ten other articles addressing the two other possible outcomes of a 360-Degree Assessment available here:


When somebody has overestimated their abilities, they are essentially giving themselves a greater score for whatever category is being measured compared to their colleagues’ scores of them.

At first glance, this can sting because you are essentially learning that your perception of yourself is greater than your colleagues' perception of you which may cause one to think “I must not be as good as I think I am” or “My colleagues must not realize all of the things I do to be strong in this area.”

For most people, the answer is somewhere in the middle. 

When my team and I at Ambition In Motion facilitate mentorship programs, we also include a 360-Degree Assessment and report to each participant. We do this for two reasons: 1) these reports can help reveal opportunities for growth in one’s professional skill set, and 2) deep self-reflection is a major launching pad for fostering vulnerability in a mentor relationship. These two components are crucial to developing strong, valuable mentor relationships. 

The 5 core areas we measure in our 360-Degree Assessment are: People Management, Innovation, Leadership Ability, Communication Skills, and Financial Management.

Next, I’ll explain the significance of each of these categories, and then suggest ways that someone can learn after finding out they are overestimating their abilities in each category. This should be an opportunity for growth and understanding, not a time to be defensive and stubborn.

Innovation

Innovation is a critical skill to possess in any working environment, even (and probably especially) if your role requires you to follow strict protocols and procedures. Innovation stretches across one’s willingness to pursue new activities or actions that can drive different results, ability to incorporate others in the innovation process, and propensity to challenge conventional thinking.

If you have overestimated your innovation score, that means that either you gave yourself a moderate innovation score and your colleagues gave you a low score or you gave yourself a high score and your colleagues gave a low to moderate score.

You gave yourself a moderate score

You may think that your work doesn’t require you to be all that innovative. You gave yourself a moderate score because perhaps you think you do your work adequately and that you try about as many new things as anyone else at work does. 

What you might not have realized was that your colleagues don’t view you as someone willing to try new things or take an innovative approach to your work.

They may perceive you as somebody who is comfortable and either unwilling or disinterested in pushing the envelope because of that comfort. However, comfort is the enemy of innovation. All things considered, it’s pretty tough to maintain that comfort and also focus on making important changes at the same time. Innovation requires being willing to try something new at the expense of comfort now.

As humans, we constantly seek comfort and our ability to innovate allows us to be more comfortable.

But comfort also leads to boredom, stagnation, and eventual decline.

By conveying to your colleagues that you aren’t innovative, you are communicating that you aren’t willing to try something new today so you can be more comfortable in the future. In this case, that future comfort could mean that your team has finally mastered a new tool that takes care of their most tedious tasks, or it could mean that a bold company culture initiative finally begins showing its positive effects after a rocky start. 

Instead, you are communicating that you are going to ride out this comfort wave until you retire, or until you become uncomfortable (e.g. you get fired, your company declines in business, or you quit because of boredom). 

The issue with communicating this to others is that you are inadvertently contributing to a stale, uninspired culture. If you are riding out this comfort wave, others may think “I am going to ride out this comfort wave too.” And once everyone at your company is too comfortable, eventually, another company that is willing to innovate is going to come along and run you out of business (e.g. Blockbuster) forcing you to be uncomfortable and have to start innovating again.

Essentially, I am writing that by neglecting your ability to innovate, you are being a freeloader on your company’s culture. You also aren’t exercising your “innovation muscles”, which leaves you less equipped to handle an uncomfortable situation when it presents itself. 

This even makes sense from a pure self-preservation perspective, even if you don’t care about making work more interesting or being better at your job. You should want to be more innovative at work because it encourages others to follow suit (and not be freeloaders themselves). This allows you to preserve the level of comfort you have with your job (because ideally, every person is pursuing some semblance of innovation at work), and also allows you to flex your “innovation muscles” and be prepared for the inevitable uncomfortable situations that will arise. It is really difficult to predict getting fired or facing a business decline (otherwise you might “pull a hammy” and go unemployed for over a year because your work and skill set has become obsolete).

You gave yourself a high score

If you gave yourself a high score for your innovation, but your colleagues gave you a low or moderate score, this almost always stems from a lack of effective communication.

People who are innovative tend to innovate on their own. Sometimes this is because a lack of trust (e.g. I don’t want others to find out what I am working on or I don’t trust that others will work as hard as me so I don’t share with them) or a lack of confidence with failure (e.g. if I tell people and it fails, people will think negatively of me).

If it is a lack of trust, why is that? Sometimes it requires some soul-searching and reflecting on some scars to get down to the root of this lack of trust. You could have been burned in the past by people that you relied on that didn’t come through for you. Or you could have had ideas stolen and others taking credit for your plans.

Once you have identified the reason for this lack of trust, ask yourself, have the people you are working with currently done anything to cause you to not trust them?

If the answer is no, then it is critical to separate those past scars from the current opportunity of people you get to work with.

The reason this is so critical is that people like being included in innovative processes. Your current circumstances are different from the past, and you need to be fair to the people around you. People like being included in the innovation process because innovating is like a super-fertilizer for fostering a feeling of purpose at work. There is this notion called the “IKEA Affect” in which people feel much more connected to the furniture that they build (like most of the furniture from IKEA) than the furniture that comes pre-made. When people feel part of an innovation process, they are much more likely to support the idea’s success and find greater satisfaction within their own work because they have found a new application of their skills and perspective. Finally, this also lets others know that you are somebody they can approach when they have an innovative idea or want to try something new.

The other big reason people overestimate their innovation score and score themselves highly is because of a lack of confidence with failure. This stems from the goal of perfectionism. Studies have been done on high school Valedictorians and their likelihood of achieving similar high marks in their careers. The unfortunate results are that Valedictorians rarely achieve similar high marks and accomplishments in their careers. The researchers theorize that the reason for this is the drive for perfection. Because these Valedictorians were instilled to be perfect from such a young age, it may stunt their ability to try new things because they don’t want to risk that “4.0 GPA”.  

Failure is a part of growth and innovation. There is never a perfect time to innovate, and there is never a perfect solution for our issues. However, the more things we try and sometimes fail at doing and sharing with others, the closer we will be to achieving a solution that improves on our current situation. As Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn says, “If you aren’t embarrassed by what you put out 3 months after launching it, you released too late.”

To be more innovative, the key is being willing to try new things to make your work more efficient and effective. Innovation is the process of taking temporary discomfort now to be more comfortable later. Incorporating others is critical to being more innovative. Alone, your ideas will only reach a fraction of your potential. But, your ideas with the feedback of others can make a monumental impact. 

However, one final concern is with gathering feedback. There is a critical mass to feedback, especially if you are soliciting feedback from a group. The more people you have in a conversation, the worse your feedback will be. This is caused by a combination of groupthink and the conscious and subconscious concerns people have about sharing in front of a group. To make this point, in a traditional classroom, roughly 10% of students will consistently raise their hands to ask or answer questions. Is this because only 10% of students have questions or know the answer? No. It is because others aren’t comfortable with bringing up questions or drawing attention to themselves in front of an audience. Or the cost of drawing this attention doesn’t outweigh the reward of finding out the answer. Therefore, get feedback from many people, but in smaller groups or individually. 

In essence, overestimating your abilities in these categories does not mean that you will forever be this way, but it does mean that there are opportunities for growth that you must tap into if you would like to improve. 

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