Hire 360° People — Because They Add Situational Awareness And A Strategic Perspective

If you are a manager who operates in a complex environment where problems seem to come at you from all sides, you can dramatically improve your business results by hiring “360-degree people.”

If you aren’t familiar with this type of person, a 360-degree individual is much like an agile basketball player who can drive, shoot, and defend in any direction. In the corporate world, a 360-degree person is an employee who can also move in any direction. And in addition, they are constantly aware of their surroundings, including things that are happening above, below, and laterally with their role (hence the term 360-degree).

This broad situational awareness mindset allows 360-degree people to anticipate problems and opportunities that most narrowly focused employees would never sense or even see. This capability also adds value to a team because a 360-degree employee will understand the interrelationships and interdependencies between teams working above, below, and laterally. Therefore, they will be able to see and understand what executives call “the big picture.” This ability to “connect the dots” and to be situationally aware means that when they act, they will consider the goals, the KPIs, and the needs of others around them. They don’t just have a 360-degree perspective, but they also accept the responsibility and they have the discipline to continually act in a 360-degree manner. And as an added benefit, these 360-degree people are critical hires because they have a steep career trajectory and they are much more likely to be promoted.

The key identifiers of a 360-degree prospect, candidate or employee are listed below. When you scan through these identifiers, please think of your own current employees who have these characteristics, and how valuable they are to the success of your team.

The Top 10 Identifiers of 360° People

When you are searching for prospects or assessing a candidate, look for at least 50 percent of these identifiers in their resume, during their interviews, and during reference checks.

  • Broad capabilities to act — not only are they 360-degree aware, but these individuals are also capable of actions outside of their defined role. That means that they can serve on cross-functional And that they are willing to fill in for a range of jobs when help is needed above, below, or lateral to their role. Their bias towards strategic action makes everyone around them better and more strategic.
  • Learning ability — an individual can’t have 360-degree awareness and knowledge unless they are constantly learning. As a result of their “growth mindset” and their academic curiosity, on their own, these individuals systematically remain on the leading edge of knowledge in business, in their own field, and in related fields. As a result, they are constantly benchmarking best practices and trends across functions and industries. You can identify candidates with a strong learning ability by asking them to “walk you through the steps” of how they learned rapidly in a new and complex area during their current job.
  • Scanning the environment — without being prompted, these individuals continually scan internal business factors and results. They also scan external environmental factors including economic, social, regulatory, and technological trends. As a result, they are described as observant, aware, and alert. This continuous observation allows them to know what’s happening in the industry, including customer and product trends and the current and planned actions of your competitors. As part of their environmental scanning, they are always looking for data to support their recommendations. You can identify them because they clearly know “the players,” as well as the products, the trends, and the problems within the industry and their current firm. Because of their intellectual curiosity, the best candidates will also probably have already done their research on the same factors within your firm.
  • Cross-functional relationships — they not only have broad knowledge but they also have a genuine interest in all aspects of the business. And as a result of that interest, they will proactively meet and build relationships with individuals outside of their functional area. Their broad face-to-face and digital networks allow them to quickly gather information and to get advice and help. Those established relationships also aid them in understanding and influencing others within and outside of the firm. When you ask them about the relationships that they have built, look for the breadth and depth of their relationships outside their function and firm.
  • A broad geographic perspective — 360-degree people will always have a global perspective. This means that they know what’s happening locally but also what’s occurring and the trends outside of their home country and geographic region. Outside of work, they are also likely to be extensive travelers and voracious readers because of their curiosity about other cultures and ways of doing business.
  • Assumed obsolescence — 360-degree individuals realize that they operate in a fast-moving and volatile VUCA environment. These individuals assumed that (due to competitive forces and the march of technology), everything that a function currently does will soon become obsolete. So without prompting, they are constantly developing superior replacements. And because of their questioning approach, you could label most 360-degree people as “glass half-full and leaking” individuals.
  • Future focused — a 360-degree perspective means that the individual will be aware of historical, current and most importantly, future trends at their current firm. Their future focus allows them to identify upcoming problems, threats, and opportunities long before other workers at their same level. When you ask them to project the future of their function and their industry, they will reveal that they “think about the future all the time.”
  • Move in and out of leadership — 360-degree people have a trait that Google actively seeks out. The ability to step forward and lead in situations where leadership is suddenly But then, after the situation calms, to step back from the power of leadership when it is best for the team. Even though their broad capabilities could allow them to have a bit of an ego, their desire to get things done acts to limit any of those tendencies.
  • Collaboration and innovation — because 360-degree individuals have such a broad knowledge base, they are great collaborators. In addition, their ideas are more likely to be “outside the box” which helps the team to push the envelope. You can identify whether they are collaborative through their history of deliberate collaboration and their support for ideas that were not their own.
  • Multitasking — many employees multitask. But 360-degree people add more value because they multitask between a variety of disciplines and across several strategic levels. Because of their broad knowledge and contacts, they are usually confident, which makes them able to multitask effectively in pressure situations.

Additional Above and Beyond Characteristics to Look for

In previous articles on ERE.net, I have emphasized the need to seek out recruits who have strategic capabilities beyond those required for a specific job. Some of those “above and beyond” requirements for a specific job include hiring continuous learners, the self-motivated, magnet hires, those that get angry with slow progress, job jumpers (because they want to grow fast), those with extensive contacts, and individuals with a steep career trajectory (those with the capability of doing “this” and eventually “the next job”).

Final Thoughts

I am often puzzled when I see job descriptions that focus exclusively on the capabilities specific to a single job. This is a huge mistake. The success of a team and a firm is often dependent on some or all new hires having added strategic capabilities (this is especially important in smaller firms). These strategic or 360° individuals add value not just during their normal work but also in meetings, during planning sessions and when you need new ideas and innovation. And if you’re wondering how to initially identify prospects with these added capabilities, the best way to discover these individuals is through referrals from your employees who have some of the same highly desirable characteristics. Finally, if you the reader happen to be a 360-degree person yourself, you already know the tremendous value added by these individuals. So, become the chief advocate at your firm for recruiting these highly valuable individuals.

Author’s note: special thanks to Trevor Vas (the smartest recruiting professional in Australia) for reminding me of the value of this 360-degree capability.

If you found this article helpful, please connect with me on LinkedIn Facebook and Twitter.

As seen on ERE Media.  


About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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