360 Assessments: How to Use Them Wisely

360 Assessments can be powerful, and that is the good news. The challenge is to appreciate the power and use them wisely: They can promote development—and are an essential tool in executive coaching.  They are an opportunity to collect and report comprehensive data.  And most importantly, the reports should be written as “working documents” that can be used to facilitate meeting the coaching goals.

Reports Need Recommendations

I first performed 360 assessments while I was pursuing my PhD in psychology.  However, they were called neuropsychological evaluations and used for clients who suffered from depression, school problems, erratic behavior, etc.   When completed, the reports spanned 10-15 pages in length.  What I learned from Susan Filskov, PhD, a world-renowned neuropsychologist, was that a report unto itself is not helpful.   Rather, what matters are the recommendations that are provided.  Think about it like this: What would you do if you went to the doctor and got a diagnosis—but not a prescription?

Application Principles

When I then shifted to conducting corporate 360 assessments 20 years ago, my feedback looked similar to a neuropsychological report.   They too were 10-15 pages based on some or all of the following data:

  • Online standardized assessments from co-workers, bosses, clients, etc. Computer-generated report.  Cautionary note: Direct quotes from participants can get personal and harmful.
  • Standardized style or interpersonal Inventories (e.g. Mbti, Hogan, Firo-B, or DisC). Cautionary note: “Labels” used need to be translated into English for the coachee.
  • Interviews with stakeholders. Comprehensive, highly relevant data about the coachee and their world.  Cautionary note: Time consuming.

My comprehensive reports presented detailed data, focusing on strengths, growth, and development.

Challenges in Presentation

The next issue I faced was how to present the feedback to the recipient. As I wrote in a recent blog, I take this very seriously. Computer generated reports, in particular, were overwhelming as the executive tried to figure out the graphs, and understand the jargon.  Then there is the excruciating pain of reading the inevitably negative comments, or getting stuck on the third sentence on page 4. While everyone says they want feedback, receiving it can be overwhelming. And damaging. Hence, I would plan and strategize the best way for the executive to hear it all. I’d consider:  Read reports out loud?  Highlight only salient parts?  Discuss patterns?

The Evolution of 360 Assessments

Coaching is about yielding results and the 360 assessment is a means to an end. As I have evolved, I have changed how I conduct these assessments and rely primarily on the following:

  • 1:1 interviews provide the majority of data.
  • Look for themes and provide in real time, while in the midst of collecting the data (i.e. If there is consistent feedback from 3+ people).
  • Write a one-page report, presented in bullet points.
  • Ensure that by the time the feedback session takes place, the coachee has already heard 60-80 percent of feedback.
  • Deliver feedback via a conversation that connects the recipient’s current behavior with engagement goals.
  • Never forget that I am there to help someone change and grow.

The “How”

Here are tips for completing a highly-effective 360 that drives change and does not assess for assessment sake:

  • Start with a well-thought-out list of participants.  Consider stakeholders who have both negative and positive input to offer. This is important so that the coachee understands where and why their behavior works sometimes and where they can grow.
  • Conduct 1:1 interviews and approach neutrally and confidentially.  Ask the participant to talk about themselves first to make them comfortable.  Remember to ask open-ended questions.
  • Share patterns with the coachee as they emerge, not when the entire process is complete.  Delivering in small doses allows for adaptation of tone and context.
  • Compile data and write the report—keep everything on one page.  Use actionable, behavioral words that express neutrality and align the implications for the future and growth.
  • Have a feedback meeting and never forget the enormity of presenting someone with comprehensive feedback about themselves.  Also, try to monitor the person’s reactions—if the person appears to be having a bad day, postpone the session.
  • Use the report as a compass to drive change.

My guiding principle is to cherish the data you can obtain with stakeholder interviews, appreciate the power of that information, seriously consider how to share the feedback, and use it wisely to help someone grow.