Case Study: Leadership Development at a Fortune 100 Financial Firm

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EchoSpan works with a broad range of clients and over the years, we ve helped many of them successfully implement and sustain meaningful 360 degree feedback programs for Leadership and Employee Development. We work with a number of clients in the financial sector, and have detailed key components of a successful program with a Fortune 100 financial investment firm to share best practices.

For this firm and many EchoSpan clients, developing current and future leadership is a top priority. In 2016, the firm set out to launch a 360 feedback program that was tied to the core values of their organization. The purpose was to develop employees and managers into effective leaders in support of the organization's strategic initiatives and goals.

The Firm's History with 360 Feedback Programs

Prior to 2016, the firm attempted to launch various 360 feedback and development programs, but they were met with many challenges to success. Challenges included:

  • Inability to customize review content: they offered 360s through other programs, but did not have a standalone 360 that was aligned with their custom leadership model.
  • Reviews were tied to performance and compensation: participants were less likely to give and receive meaningful feedback due to the association with potentially negative consequences.
  • Process was cumbersome for participants and administrators: the user interface made it difficult for people to provide feedback and program managers did not have access to an intuitive administrative tool.
  • Reports were unclear: the reports that they relied on were not effective at providing insight on how to use the feedback and create an action plan.
  • Program was not scalable: the program required a high touch approach and there were not enough team members available to support the participants on a broader rollout.
  • Program was not promoted: the firm was not effective at communicating the value of participating in the 360 process.

Defining a 360 Program that aligned with the Firm s Core Leadership Values

The Financial Firm had just refreshed their core values as an organization and they were ready to update their leadership competency model to align it with those values. As a first step, the firm s team assembled more than 50 focus groups of employees and managers across the organization. They sought their input on what is required for success at the firm in their varying roles. The team then used that feedback to identify competencies as well as definitions of those competencies for the leadership model. They took care to use the language provided in the feedback the voice of the customer - to shape the questions, hoping the model would resonate more with the audience as a result. Finally, the team relied on scientific research, external data and benchmarking to complete the process of updating their leadership model.

Selecting EchoSpan as the Vendor

When you re trying to build a feedback culture across an organization like ours, tools like this help to enable that.

The Financial Firm went through a thorough 360 vendor assessment process, reviewing proposals and pricing from a number of providers. They compared the features of EchoSpan to a field of competitors and there were a number of factors that stood out to make the decision easier for them:

  • Ability to Customize: they valued the flexibility and the option to use their language as the foundation of the program. They were able to fully customize the content and configure the user experience easily in the EchoSpan administrator tool.
  • Clean User and Administrative Interface: The user interface is sleek, easy to navigate and easy to understand. Administrators are empowered to easily set up projects, monitor progress and create reports.
  • Flexible Reporting: the firm s administrators were easily able to build and customize report templates in the EchoSpan tool. EchoSpan s reports are also easy for their HR Partners to read and interpret while debriefing 360 participants. The participants themselves are also able to easily interpret their results.

The reporting side of the tool is definitely a plus, because it is very user friendly and easy to go in and customize different report sections [as an administrator]. The report itself is very clean, and we re able to brand it with our logo very easily.

  • Support: the firm felt confident in the functionality and ease of use of the system, but also knew they could rely on the EchoSpan support team when they needed assistance.
  • Price: The EchoSpan price point was also ideal in the vendor assessment. While EchoSpan was not the lowest cost provider, they were in the middle of the field that the firm s team evaluated. After considerable review, their team determined that EchoSpan s platform offered the right mix of features and ease of customization at an attractive price point.
  • Prior Experience: A member of their team also had experience with EchoSpan as a vendor when they were employed at another large financial institution. The past experience did not guarantee that EchoSpan would be selected, but did allow someone to attest to the tool s reliability from a personal perspective.

This comes from prior experience, but I really felt like the level of service and support was just hard to match

Implementation Strategy

Administrator Training and Project Setup in EchoSpan

EchoSpan s team trained the firm s administrators on how to set up their custom content in the system and also reviewed the configurable workflow and reporting options that they could utilize with the program. Given the ease of system setup and access to support, the administrators were able to load their custom content and fully test and approve the user experience in advance of the program launch.

Communication and Rollout

The Financial Firm was sensitive to the environment in their organization when they were ready to roll out the refreshed Leadership Development 360 model. Given that past programs were unsuccessful due to a lack of trust or desire to participate, the firm felt it was important to demonstrate the value of the program to their audience leveraging HR Partners in various business units with a decentralized pull approach.

Create HR Partner Toolkit

Prior to launching the program, the firm created a toolkit for their HR partners to help them understand and address key elements of the program. The toolkits included resources related to:

  • Identifying 360 Feedback Development Candidates
  • Setting up a 360 for one of their Leaders
  • Helping Leaders select the right Feedback Providers
  • Process Overview
  • Interpreting and Debriefing Results
  • Creating Development Plans

Socialize Toolkit

The Financial Firm socialized the toolkit with their HR partners and then armed them with those resources to go out to their business units and represent the program. The firm did not represent the 360 program as being required or necessarily appropriate for everyone, but endorsed it as a helpful tool for business leaders and employees.

HR Partners were told to think about individuals in their businesses who had improvement opportunities in certain areas related to the leadership model. They were also instructed to consider employees who were performing well, but would benefit from the 360 and guidance in respect to their own development. With that in mind, HR Partners socialized the program and leaders from the firm s various business units began enrolling in the program.

In addition to leveraging the HR Partners to promote the program, the firm had support from more than 50 focus groups who helped develop the leadership model and served as internal champions. The Executive and Leadership development team also used the new model in their curriculum when working in group sessions with the firm s leadership.

Ongoing Program Refinement

Updating Survey Questions

As more participants have gone through the program, the firm has taken steps to refine the content in their assessments and establish templates for their various business cases. While they have the ability to customize the questions in each project, they ve made an effort to streamline and ask consistent questions to strengthen data analysis.

The first version of the leadership model included 9 competencies with 55 individual items. From a scientific perspective, this felt like the right approach, but from a participant perspective, it was taxing. In refining their survey for the next round of reviews, the firm focused on simplicity while retaining what was meaningful.

The process to refine the leadership model was not as robust as the initial team of 50 focus groups, but it did encompass a team of HR experts, working groups in their front line and mid-level population, business champions, executive sponsors and other existing stakeholders.

As a result of the update, the items are clean and direct, making it easier for feedback recipients to focus on behaviors that are identified during the process. HR Partners note that it is easier for participants to focus on improving for developing a specific behavior instead of a broad competency category, so the streamlined model supports that.

Refining Reports

While the reports from EchoSpan are easy to interpret, a challenge that the firm ran into with the initial rollout was related to review participants with mostly high results. It can be difficult to differentiate which items a participant should focus on in those cases.

To remedy this, the firm employed EchoSpan s percentiles reporting to give participants a sense of their ranking compared to others who are being assessed. EchoSpan offers reporting that can identify a participant s percentile as well as quartile results.

Measuring Program Success

The firm is still establishing the criteria to quantify the value of the 360 Feedback Program with EchoSpan. Looking ahead, they hope to correlate the 360 process to greater manager effectiveness and increased talent retention.

While there has not been enough data collected to be statistically significant, using a small sample, the firm observed a moderate positive correlation between 360 ratings and performance such that higher scores on the 360 were related to higher overall performance as rated by participants managers at year-end. Regardless of quantifiable metrics, the organization has seen the value in the 360 feedback program with EchoSpan demonstrated in a number of ways:

Positive feedback from Participants

Participants consistently share positive comments about their experience with the 360 process at the firm. While the feedback they receive may not always be what they expect, it has proven to be helpful in shaping how they think about leadership to develop as an individual.

Change in Culture to become more Receptive

The Financial Firm has seen a shift in the way 360s are now perceived at their organization. It is now seen as a tool that s truly beneficial to an individual s development and worthy of their time. As the firm s employees have become more comfortable with the process, it has led to a change in the culture around 360s. As the program has gained traction, the firm has seen individual requests to participate in the program increasing.

Increased demand for EchoSpan Licenses

One metric that the firm can use to demonstrate program adoption and growth is the increase in demand for participant licenses. Since 2017 the firm s program participation has nearly doubled year over year.

Part of that is related to the accessibility of the current EchoSpan 360 program at the firm. In the past, an employee would need to be at the senior leader level or elected for a top talent program to receive 360 feedback, but they have found that leaders are eager to participate as they are finding this feedback important to their development.

Increased Rater Response Rates

In addition to seeing an increase in the number of participants looking to receive 360 feedback, the firm also boasts a consistent rater response rate between 80 and 85 percent, which is significantly higher than previous programs when raters were less trusting or willing to take the time to participate. This can also be attributed to the ease of use of the EchoSpan platform.

Requests for Team Feedback

HR Partners have also shared that they are not only using the tool to facilitate individual development, but that they ve started to think more about team development. They can now see across the team and identify areas of focus for large training and development sessions.

Less Time Required for Program Administrators

The firm s program administrators are able to leverage many of EchoSpan s automated features and simple administrative portal to run reviews on a large scale with ease.

Looking Ahead

The Financial Firm believes the next opportunity for program enhancement could be related to EchoSpan s developmental resource library. The firm has not leveraged EchoSpan s developmental reading suggestion categories that are linked to the Harvard Business Review library. The firm also has an option to select or create custom resources and associate them with their customized leadership competencies.

What I would say we have now is a really strong descriptive report and what we get asked for is to be more prescriptive in telling people what to do with their results and doing that in a dynamic way

Reading suggestions and developmental action guides may be incorporated into EchoSpan s editable report components as well and the Development Planning module. Administrators are also able to define scoring thresholds to automate development plans or enable users or managers to define what items to include in development planning dynamically.

The firm s team will continue to work with the EchoSpan team to identify new ways to optimize the program as needs and features evolve over time. This collaborative effort ensures that the entire organization continues to benefit from its investment in individual employee development.

About EchoSpan

EchoSpan puts HR and business leaders in control of their employee development programs with a suite of 360-degree feedback and employee engagement tools. With EchoSpan's Web-based system, every aspect of a feedback process can be easily configured for a customer's needs, including review content, rating scales, workflows and report appearance. Founded in 2002, EchoSpan is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and is trusted by more than 6,000 organizations worldwide. You can learn more about EchoSpan at

Last updated: Tuesday, December 5, 2023
case study, financial services, large implementations
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