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Coaching and Multi-Source Feedback

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Why the 360-Degree Feedback and Executive Coaching?

I met with Sam Agagarian in his large, cluttered office that looked out over the city he served. I was more anxious than usual in starting this new executive coaching engagement, in part because I knew of his reputation as a competent and highly acclaimed executive leader. What would I have to offer? Sam and I met twice for two hours apiece to accomplish two tasks. First, we designed a 360 Degree feedback instrument and process that would meet his needs. Second, we both were checking out our relationship to see if a long-term executive coaching process might be appropriate. There was also a third reason that I did not overtly articulate to Sam. I wanted to identify the reasons why he wanted to participate in this feedback and coaching process.

By the end of our first two-hour meeting I had discovered four reasons. Two of the reasons were not very strong. The other two convinced me that this would be a worthy endeavor. I find the first of the reasons to be common among administrators participating in 360s. Administrators engage in 360s because their colleagues have already completed them and everyone “has to take their medicine.” This rather macho approach to 360s is not very helpful. It implies that the 360 feedback is primarily negative in nature and that the recipient is to successfully “defend” against this feedback rather than use it for improvement. All of Sam’s vice presidents had completed the process and Sam “had” to do it to show that he could “take it” just as his subordinates did. This is not a very good reason.

The second reason was also not very convincing. A 360 Degree feedback process had been completed three years ago at HSC and therefore should be done again. Precedence is never sufficient justification for any personal or organizational intervention. There are several benefits, however, to be derived from precedence—if one honors the work already done. As consultants or coaches we can replicate the process previously engaged and in this way gain invaluable longitudinal data about the person or organization we are studying. In this case, I encouraged Sam to use the same 360 instrument that was used three years ago—with several additions and modifications. In this way, we could track changes in the ratings and qualitative feedback he received from this instrument. While the 360 instrument that had been used three years before was not among the best I have seen, it had been tailored for Sam and HSC, and was owned by HSC (hence could be modified without requiring outside permission).

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