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LEAD. GROW. INSPIRE.
Greetings, fellow coaches and champions of leadership growth! As we navigate the dynamic landscape of coaching, each interaction presents a canvas upon which we paint transformational journeys. With our shared passion for cultivating exceptional leaders, it's imperative that we equip ourselves with the finest tools and practices.
Join me on this exploration as we uncover the art and science of coaching, empowering us to sculpt remarkable leaders, one coaching session at a time. My first best practice article, which I published on my company blog, was about 360-degree surveys and when not to use them.
I’m continuing the exploration with a deeper dive into best practices when using a 360-degree survey.
Best Practices When Using 360-Degree Survey Feedback
First: What is a 360-degree survey? Imagine a panoramic view of leadership insights—that's what a 360-degree leadership survey offers. It's like taking a comprehensive X-ray of a leader's impact from all angles.
This tool involves gathering feedback from not just leaders' direct reports, but also peers, supervisors and even leaders themselves. By compiling this multi-perspective feedback, a clearer picture emerges of strengths, areas for growth and overall effectiveness. It's akin to assembling the pieces of a puzzle to reveal a fuller picture of leadership potential.
Coaching a leader using a 360-degree survey requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. There are many reasons this type of survey could be the wrong tool and do more damage than good, so take care and choose wisely. That said, in many situations, 360-degree feedback is an incredibly powerful tool and one that I use often to support a leader’s growth and development.
Here are five best practices to consider and how I and my team achieve each of them.
1. Establish trust and confidentiality.
Begin by assuring the leader that the 360-degree survey results are confidential and meant to foster growth, not criticism. Never use it as a "Performance Evaluation" tool. Create a safe space for the leader to discuss the feedback openly and with a curious rather than critical mindset.
One tool I always use at the start of the process is the "SARA model," which helps prepare for the emotional process that occurs when receiving feedback: Surprise, Anxiety/Anger, Resistance and Acceptance. I do this with the leader before sharing their 360-degree feedback and it really helps them prepare to receive and use the feedback to make improvements. Many times, clients have commented that they were glad I told them about the SARA response and that it helped them get to "acceptance," where they could use the information productively.
2. Always review results together.
I once had a coach tell me that she sent a leader her 360-degree feedback in advance of their meeting because the results were so intense, she wanted the leader to "deal with her emotions" before they met! I was horrified and dumbfounded that an executive coach would do that, so I always have my coaches sit down with the leader to review the survey results comprehensively. Never send the report/results to the leader in advance of the meeting.
Also, make sure the 360-degree survey instrument you’re using helps focus the discussion on both strengths and areas for improvement and reports the data in a way that is easy to understand. Discuss specific feedback patterns and anecdotes to provide context for the leader's understanding. Encourage them to reflect on the feedback and ask clarifying questions. Help them move through the SARA stages if needed.
Close the meeting with encouragement and a summary of two to three key development areas and ask the leader how they are feeling.
3. Set clear development goals.
Help the leader identify specific development goals based on the feedback received. These goals should be actionable, measurable and aligned with their role and responsibilities. Guide them in choosing areas where improvement would have the most impact on their leadership effectiveness.
I and my team provide our clients with a development plan "template" to help them think through these steps. I always recommend selecting relative strengths to make stronger rather than choosing their greatest weaknesses as development goals. Another framework or tool we use with clients is the KSS model—Keep Doing, Start Doing, Stop Doing—because it helps them focus directly on actionable behaviors that they can visualize doing.
4. Create an action plan.
Collaborate with the leader to create a structured action plan for achieving their development goals.
Break down each goal into smaller steps and define clear timelines. Use the KSS model. Determine the resources and support they might need, such as training, mentoring or specific projects that align with their goals. At this stage, I also ask the leader to circle back to the people who responded to their 360-degree survey to thank them for their participation and input, so these respondents know that their anonymous feedback was received and appreciated.
5. Schedule regular progress check-ins.
Schedule regular coaching sessions to track the leader's progress. These sessions are used to discuss challenges they're facing, celebrate achievements and make any necessary adjustments to the action plan. Provide ongoing encouragement and guidance to keep them motivated and on track. After six to 12 months, I do another 360-degree survey to compare and measure the results achieved from the coaching.
Remember that effective coaching is a personalized process, and the approach might need to be adapted based on the leader's personality, learning style and the specific feedback they received. The ultimate goal is to support the leader's growth and help them become a more effective and impactful leader within the organization.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.