Interpreting 360-Feedback Results: WHO Should Do It?

December 14, 2015 by Sandra Mashihi

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.” -Japanese Proverb

“Best practices” in using 360-degree feedback suggest that having someone debrief the report is important to manage potential negative emotions surrounding the data, increase the understanding of rater differences, and facilitate developmental planning (Nowack, 2005).

However, the process of discussing feedback results appears to be more important than who facilitates the discussion assuming the manager, coach, or client has an understanding of the 360-degree feedback assessment, the competencies being measured, and basic helping skills.

Thus, it is not necessary for an external coach to provide effective feedback. WHO does the coaching is not as important as whether it is done to help the client effectively interpret their 360-degree results. In fact, there has been very little research about who is providing coaching and the qualifications that make for the most effective coaches. A recent survey by Joyce Bono ((Bono, J. et al, (2009) A survey of executive coaching practices. Personnel Psychology, 62, 361-404.)), revealed that a coach’s background will provide only limited information about the coach’s ability or approach to executive coaching. Another recent article in the New York Times, suggested that the face of the coaching profession is moving in the direction of some clients receiving motivational guidance from coaches young enough to be their children! It is a myth to believe that an experienced, external coach with a doctoral degree is the best alternative for coaching and debriefing 360 results.

Sometimes, having managers facilitate discussion of the results (Rehbine, 2007) can have a distinct advantage in helping translate insight into developmental planning to support job performance and career growth ((Rehbine, N. (2007). The impact of 360-degree feedback on leadership development. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University)).

Coach’s Critique:

In my experience, I have found that how 360-degree feedback is interpreted is KEY to the effectiveness of the process. I believe that a participant is not likely to interpret 360 results in a meaningful, constructive, and proactive way without the help of a coach. Now, when I say “coach”, I mean an individual that can be a coach in the process, or an individual that can demonstrate coaching skills.

If the organization has the ability or means to hire an external coach, that would be great, as they are trained to effectively interpret 360-degree feedback. Otherwise, a participant’s manager would need to play the role of the coach in helping him or her “proactively” interpret the results. In other words, if a manager is helping his or her direct report to interpret results, he or she would need to avoid being directive and punitive with the results. This can inevitably lead to more damage than benefits in terms of promoting development and behavioral change. Therefore, the manager would need to utilize coaching techniques to minimize defensiveness of the participant and increase likelihood for positive change. If the manager acts as a “coach” in the process, the benefits may even be more advantageous than solely interpreting the results with an external coach, in that collaboration, support, and accountability can be created for the participant in his or her development process.

Who do you believe should facilitate the 360-degree feedback results? The manager? Or, an external coach?

Dr. Sandra Mashihi is a senior consultant with Envisia Learning, Inc. She has extensive experience in sales training, behavioral assessments and executive coaching. Prior to working at Envisia Learning, Inc., She was an internal Organizational Development Consultant at Marcus & Millichap where she was responsible for initiatives within training & development and recruiting.. Sandra received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and received her Master of Science and Doctorate in Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.

Posted in 360 Degree Feedback

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