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Confidential 360-degree Assessments: How Does a Manager Support Without Information?

Posted on May 31, 2017 by: Lisa Koss

Lisa J. Koss

Lisa J. Koss Co-founder and Principal, ONTOS global

The other day, we received this message from a client:  “Without breaching any confidentiality, can you provide a high level overview of the findings and actions based on my direct report’s 360-degree assessment debrief?”  

This is our response:  First, the curiosity and interest in a direct report’s developmental journey is exactly what we want from a manager.  Too many managers spend their time managing only the business outcomes, and mostly ignore the critical responsibility of what it means to be a people leader:  supporting one’s direct reports to grow and develop in their roles.

Second, a 360-degree assessment process is one that must be managed carefully to ensure that its use does not undermine the ultimate goals of such a tool.  The 360 process is meant to be an opportunity to receive helpful feedback and to reflect on the feedback, and to consider maintaining or changing one’s behaviors.  To do this, the person must feel a sense of safety and support, which is why confidentiality is so important.

At the same time, we also understand that managers cannot easily support without some amount of information about what was discovered by numerous stakeholders.

To achieve both, we suggest the following basics:

  1. Best practice dictates that the reports and debriefs are confidential. This policy helps ensure that 360 assessments are more likely to be used as a learning and development tool and less likely to be used by any rater in a way that manipulates perceptions or other time-wasting activities.
  2. Participants use the 360 results to write 2-4 goals (with metrics of success) and share those with their manager.  There is no need to show the report itself.  If the participant wants to keep 1 or more goals private, that is their prerogative.  A 360-degree assessment should not be treated like a performance appraisal.

This method works because (1) the manager gets some insight into the assessment results while keeping the responsibility for development and learning on the employee; (2) the discussion and process allows the manager to bring up any other aspect he is concerned about; and, critically, (3) the conversation itself provides an opportunity to build the relationship and trust with the direct report.

Finally, a note about the basis of a 360 assessment:  Organizations either buy a set of 360 questions, or, in the case of our clients with whom we have co-developed custom competencies, they will have a full set of success criteria by function.  In the latter case, we would suggest that the manager also review those competencies ahead of time.  As such, the manager can more easily bring up any item with the direct report that is of concern and did not come out in the direct report’s goals.  Using competencies makes the discussion be a more specific and is a objective look at what success looks like in the person’s role.  Feedback from the manager is less likely to be perceived as biased or based simply on a personal preference with regards to leadership style or work style.

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