Using 360 degree feedback in coaching and mentoring

Using a tool such as 360 degree feedback in coaching and mentoring can help build self-awareness, reflective skills, confidence, strengths and developmental potential.

There are at least four common, practical situations where 360-degree feedback can be very helpful in coaching and mentoring:

  • When the learner needs help in determining where to focus their self-development resources
  • When the learner has potential blind spots, of which they need to be aware
  • When they want a more rounded view of their performance
  • When they need more detailed, more accurate information about their progress towards behavioural change.

360 degree feedback enables the caochee / mentee to better understand stakeholders perceptions, from all levels of the hierarchy, including customers and clients.

Various studies suggest that feedback from above is often the least accurate and predictive of long-term leadership potential, while feedback from below is usually the most accurate and predictive. As a coach or mentor, you can help the learner to:

  • Determine which areas they would like to obtain feedback on and why
  • Prepare for and subsequently manage their reactions to unpalatable messages
  • Think through how they will encourage others to give honest feedback; and how they will follow through, so that feedback-givers feel they have been listened to
  • Develop and implement plans to address the issues raised by the feedback

Implicit in the use of 360 as a control mechanism is the assumption that people can and should be moulded into a specific “shape” – that where people lack specific behavioural competencies , they should be induced, through stick and carrot (or both at the same time) to change. One of the dangers of competency frameworks is that people are pressured to conform to an organisational norm, when rather more might be achieved by recognising and capitalising on people’s differences.

Used effectively, 360 degree feedback should open up a constructive dialogue that explores the situation as well as the individual. Here, however, we have another weakness with the manner, in which such appraisals are typically carried out. In order to ensure consistency and comparability between managers, all participants are measured on the same bank of questionnaires. This would be fine, if everyone’s job and circumstances were the same, but of course they are not. The one-size fits all approach ignores the individuality of situations, in favour of benchmarking. Yet the benefits from benchmarking are for the organisation (or for HR at least), not for the individual. There is little evidence that managers, who score low where colleagues score higher, are motivated by the peer comparison. What counts is whether they feel the score represents a specific weakness, where key stakeholders feel it is important they should demonstrate a strength. In other words, the value of the feedback is local and specific, not general and generic.

Involvement with 360 over nearly 30 years has convinced me that it should be:

  • owned and where possible initiated by the individual – the more someone values the feedback, the more likely they are to do something with it. The more they feel in control of the process, the more they are likely to commit to it.
  • specific to both the competence and the situation — working with people, who were defined as having poor listening skills, showed me how limiting and misleading these blanket appraisals were. In all cases, they demonstrated remarkably good listening skills, when their attention was engaged by a topic that interested them.
  • capable of extension into continuous or real time feedback – when the poor listeners had accepted the need for change in specific circumstances, they were able to ask for help from other people, whenever they encountered those circumstances. For example, “I’d really value it if you’d tell me when you don’t feel I have your full attention, when we are doing team briefings”.

Of course, there is a place for generic, company-wide performance measures using 360 degree feedback. But this ritualised, annual or bi-annual event should be in addition to the employee-driven process that takes place in the employee’s timeframe, not instead of it. If 360 is intended to be an empowering process, it needs to be handed back to the learner.

© David Clutterbuck. All rights reserved

Our free content is available to everyone. It includes a limited range of Blogs, Videos and Briefing Papers on key topics and the latest trends. If you want to expand your knowledge even further, or support your development or business with up-to-date information and research, sign up for a FREE TRIAL to gain access to the full content of over 500 blogs, briefing papers and videos within our resource library.

Membership with CCMI offer you will access to all the content within this resource of over 200 blogs, video briefings and more.