These reviews inform development plans, which often involve either an internal or external coaching relationship. However, there can be real consequences if coaches and managers don’t understand how to best use 360-degree reviews. Working together, managers and coaches should consider the following five practices when leveraging these reviews to support coaching:
Use questions based on the BARS: BARS stands for behaviorally anchored rating scale. Many 360-degree reviews use a frequency scale instead of BARS. With a frequency scale, the rater will be asked how often the individual does something. But responses will vary depending on the rater’s point of view.
For example, an extrovert may rate an introvert poorly because the individual doesn’t talk as much as the rater. With a BARS scale, there is a five-point system, and each point is defined so the rater understands what each means rather than providing an answer based on a comparison to the rater.
Select the right raters: Letting the person who is being rated be the only person to select 360-degree reviewers can be dangerous because he or she may not choose a diverse group. Instead, the individual’s manager should allow the person to provide recommendations and vet all raters before finalizing. At the same time, managers should ensure the same raters aren’t used year after year and by multiple people within the organization.
Keep the 360-degree evaluation anonymous, most of the time: The purpose of a 360-degree evaluation is to aggregate feedback. With anonymity, raters will be more candid. The coach should be able to take this information to provide the perspective for a group of peers, direct reports and leaders. However, there also should be a place within the evaluation where the reviewer can give more specific, non-anonymous feedback.
Recognize perspective is not the absolute truth, but it is real: Coaches need to remember that peer groups might have one view, while direct reports have another. Both viewpoints are valid. The person might exhibit one set of behaviors with one group and a different set with another group. The coach needs to determine if he or she needs to help the individual change a behavior or help manage a group’s perspective.
Provide feedback based on actual behaviors: Most coaches are skilled at providing behavior-based feedback. Such feedback is anchored in observable behaviors and measurable outcomes. However, not all reviewer comments in a 360 are so well-defined.
For example, a 360-degree review might say, “John is not very customer focused.” That is an impression. The related behavior the coach should work on may be that, “John doesn’t prioritize actions based on customer input.” When a coach helps shape behavior-based messages and then works with John to determine how to better prioritize actions, one typically sees real impact.
Allen Moore is global director of executive coaching for executive recruiting company Korn/Ferry. He can be reached at email@example.com.