Making 360° reports more meaningful, useful and real

How meaningful are 360° reports? Let’s try to interpret the following comment:

“‘He’s successful in interfacing with clients we already have, but as for new clients, it’s low-hanging fruit. He takes a high-altitude view, but he doesn’t drill down to that level of granularity where we might actionize new opportunities.’” (Page 277 of the award-winning novel Station Eleven.)

In this fictional account, an executive coach who has been interviewing people for 360° reports for many years comes to the realisation that the people undergoing the 360° process are targets. He decides, “…it’s an awful thing to appear in someone else’s report…it’s an awful thing to be the target.”

Executive Coach Exchange view unsplash pixabayThe trigger for this realisation is that he has just interviewed someone who has been completely honest in her appraisal of her manager. She says, “…the corporate world is full of ghosts…who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed.” She describes her manager as a “high-functioning sleep-walker” who thinks, “…work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness…” … “Guys like Dan, they’re like sleepwalkers…and nothing ever jolts them awake.”  (Pages 164-165.)

While the first quotation is unconstructive criticism dressed up in a melange of clichés to the extent that its meaning is almost lost, the second quotation is very personal. We can imagine how we would feel if we were the ‘targets’ of these reports. Both would be painful to read and neither would give you any useful guidance to work on. Nor would the reports be of much use to the organisation.

There is a better way.

Frederick Funck has proposed a case for moving executive coaching beyond personal development (or even personal criticism) to professional development linked to the goals of the organisation.

He says, “…we see how coaching helps individuals and teams increase performance and satisfaction at work, and on the other hand we see organizations struggling with strategic leadership challenges that are common regardless of industry, region or size.” The implication is clear given Funck’s finding that 40% of leadership transitions fail.

Funck proposes three steps to put an executive coaching strategy into the context of the goals of the organisation, by integrating research into the process:

  • Use research-based diagnostic instruments, starting with 360° feedback and adding diagnostic tests
  • Glean insights from research on a particular leadership challenge.
  • Use research as part of an ongoing evaluation.

All good executive coaching must be more than personal development, and we welcome the use of research and evidence to link coaching to an organisation’s goals.

There are two key implications for 360° reports. The first is the need to customise the report and be specific. We need to get a clear understanding, explicitly expressed, of the goals of the organisation and of the actual job the person undergoing the performance review does. The second is that we need to understand the level of performance expected of the person being reviewed.

Then, to assist both the person and the organisation, we need to understand exactly what it is that our client is supposed to be doing.

Is she supposed to be improving the performance of her team? If so, in what ways is her team not performing sufficiently well and what should they be doing differently?

Is he expected to bring in new clients? If so, what is his business target?

Does she need to enhance her communication skills? With whom, in which media and to achieve what organisational purpose?

Finally, while the most commonly used 360° rating tools are often designed to elicit robust feedback, it is the personal comments made by subordinates, peers and managers that people take most to heart. Perhaps we should consider asking reviewers to tie their comments far more explicitly to the role the person is employed to perform – and preferably in plain English.

What do you think?

Dr Catherine Burrows is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting. She is an accredited Hogan Assessor and is qualified to administer and interpret the Hogan 360° multi-rater feedback tool.

Create your personal board of directors

Dr Lubna Somjee takes an interesting approach to the concept of mentors. She suggests that you can go a step further, by creating a personal board of directors.

Executive Coach Exchange boardroom pexels pixabayWhen she works with her clients as an executive coach, Dr Somjee suggests you choose a group of people to help you in your career. She advocates you find “…a group of people you can turn to and discuss various career or business issues, obtain advice, and gain new perspectives.”

She suggests the group be as diverse as possible and include both champions and people who will be candid, or even blunt. You can choose someone from within your own industry or someone from another industry to bring a fresh perspective. You can also choose an explorer who “…forces you to stretch your vantage point on yourself and career, and helps you be more self-aware.”

Dr Somjee recommends adding people you find to be knowledgeable or inspirational as virtual board members. She believes that “Assembling one’s own board can be one of the more valuable things you can do if you are wanting to strengthen your career or business…”.

Why not consider your coach as a member of your personal board? Executive coaches can bring objectivity and an outsider’s perspective to the process. They can take the roles you assign to them – explorer, provider of candid feedback or champion. By helping you build your self-awareness, they can also help you choose the right people for your other board positions. Executive coaches can help you end up, long term, with your best personal board of directors.

How 360 reviews can help leaders develop as coaches

Executive Coach Exchange coaching space #wocintechchatThe Dunning-Kruger effect is the theory that underskilled people tend to hold overly favourable views of their abilities, with the corollary that highly-skilled people can tend to assume that tasks that are easy for them are also easy for others.

Both of these tendencies present clear challenges in management.

A recent article suggests that the Dunning-Kruger effect is present when leaders self-assess their ability to coach their teams.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman reviewed data on leaders who self-assessed their coaching ability, and then had their skills assessed in 360 reviews. They found that for coaching, as for other skills, there is a noticeable tendency to estimate skills incorrectly.  About a quarter of subjects significantly over-estimated their skills.  Those who under-estimated their skills were also out by a significant margin.

The authors recommend attending targeted training, self-assessing and seeking feedback, to get a clearer picture of both overall coaching effectiveness and specific areas to target, such as listening well, collaborating effectively and encouraging diversity.

360 feedback can be personally confronting, especially for a leader who takes these issues seriously. Engaging with an external executive coach can provide a safe space to work through the results of 360 feedback, and to recognise how to apply the results in developing management skills.

How to receive feedback

Executive Coach Exchange barrierDr Maynard Brusman has written about the ways people respond to feedback and the barriers to accepting it.

“Receiving feedback with grace is a valuable leadership skill, yet many managers struggle with it. While we’re often quick to critique others, being on the receiving end involves an entirely different set of emotional and psychological skills.”

In his article, The Art of Receiving Feedback, Dr Brusman looks at three types of feedback, examining their benefits and pitfalls, and explains that people can make positive choices about their responses to the feedback they receive.

“Making positive choices confers many benefits, including improved self-esteem, aspirations, satisfaction, relationships, trust, accountability, emotional well-being, accomplishment-based thinking, workplace culture and organizational contribution.”

He concludes by noting that, “Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders create a culture where respect and trust flourish.”