In News

Executive coaching has been on the rise for decades as a strategic investment in human capital. When well-designed and delivered, coaching has been found to be one of the most effective approaches for developing senior leaders and enhancing the performance of their teams and organizations.

One of the most important components of executive coaching is the 360-degree feedback that the coach gathers for coaching participants about their strengths and development needs, how they are perceived, and what they need to do in order to achieve a higher level of performance and positive impact. Feedback can be gathered via automated online surveys or one-on-one interviews.

The first decision for coaching participants, their managers, and the coach is whether to collect data online or through in-person, video conference, or telephone interviews, or some combination thereof. Online 360s are more convenient and less costly, but, if correctly formulated and well-structured, interviews can help provide additional context and information. Sometimes an executive coach can use both, and follow up on a previous online 360 or performance review by interviewing designated feedback providers, in-person when possible, and via video conference or phone for those who are traveling and/or who work in different locations.

Once the approach has been decided on, the next decision is who should participate. The list of feedback providers should generally include anyone who has enough familiarity with the coachee’s work to be able to contribute useful observations and suggestions. The list should also be inclusive rather than exclusive, and should include all of the coachee’s direct reports, peers, and managers. It’s important to take organizational politics into account when drafting the 360 list: internal or external constituencies, such as customers or counter-parties, may also have helpful feedback to provide, and inviting them to participate can send a positive message, indicating that the coachee cares about their views and feedback. In order to ensure that the feedback providers will have a balanced perspective, there should be no sample bias, wherein only those who have positive (or negative) things to say are invited to participate. As far as process is concerned, it’s generally best to have coachees draft the initial list, and then run it by their boss, and possibly even HR, for refinement and approval.

In advance of doing the online 360 or conducting the interviews, it’s important to define who will see the feedback reports, either in full, edited, or summary form, and to clarify whether comments will be given “verbatim” in the feedback providers’ own words, or whether the coach will offer filtered/paraphrased feedback. Generally, we recommend that verbatim comments get shared in the report in order to include the most direct feedback. However, it should be clear to everyone who participates in an online or interview 360 that their verbatim comments will be shared, and in the case of an online 360, it’s useful to provide feedback providers with a sample report so they can see how their comments will be reflected in the report. We also suggest that the online or interview-based 360 should be shared in full, but only with the coaching participants themselves, as this increases the comfort that people have in being open and honest in the feedback that they provide without concern that tough feedback and/or specific criticism will somehow end up in the coachee’s “file.”  However, once participants have received the full report, they should be willing to share a summary of insights gained, and/or developmental plans made, based on the feedback in order to ensure that they will be (and feel) accountable for making progress based on the report. Regardless of which option is chosen, the choice needs to be made and communicated before the interviews are conducted, so that parameters are fully clear in advance to all participants, and they know exactly how, and with whom, their feedback will, and will not, be shared.

Once a consensus has been reached about the list of 360 providers, and who will see the report, the next step is drafting the questions that will be asked. If a standard online 360 will be used, it can be helpful, at times, to include a few additional context-specific questions, including open-ended questions, to gather more relevant information for the coachee. The boss and the coaching participant will likely be interested in each other’s preferred additional open-ended questions, as these questions will reveal their respective priorities and goals for the coaching program. If the boss wants to ask questions about executive presence or presentation skills, that is a signal to the coachee that the boss believes that those areas are relevant and improvable. If the coachee wants to ask what he or she needs to do in order to get promoted, that informs the boss that getting a promotion is a current goal or expectation for the coaching participant.

It’s important to achieve consensus between the boss and the coachee about how broadly or narrowly to focus the questions, whether or not to include questions about the individual’s role and organizational constraints, whether to ask about potential future roles for the coachee, and whether or not to ask the same, or different questions to different people. Every question will also send a signal to participants about the coaching participant’s (and potentially the boss’s) coaching concerns and priorities, so it’s important to also consider organizational politics in drafting the questions in order to make sure that they are conveying the right messages. As with the participant list, we recommend that the coaching participants first draft the list of questions and then ask their boss (and possibly HR as well) for any edits, additions or changes.

To learn more about SGI’s Qualitative 360 Assessment options, please contact your SGI Senior Consultant or email us at

(article originally posted at