Training internal assessors is essential to success: it will help them get to grips with data interpretation and show them the most productive way to deliver feedback. It will also save money, as using external facilitators is costly.
Systems can be complex, so any deal with 360-degree appraisal providers should include adequate training for relevant internal staff in how to understand the report structure and analyse data. Such training is usually done in classroom-based sessions.
But the real challenge is delivering feedback and helping those being assessed to create a development plan.
“Hearing you are a bad manager for the first time can be psychologically traumatic unless the person giving the feedback is skilled in helping you through,” says Charles Jones, head of coaching at HR consultancy Right Management. “If you are giving negative feedback to someone, you need to be clear on what you can do to help and signpost them to appropriate training.”
Right Management is currently responsible for training internal assessors within the NHS. Jones says that each new assessor is sent on a two-day course.
“Before they start the course, we ask them to go through a 360-degree assessment themselves so they can experience how it feels,” he says. “The training provides background to 360-degree assessments and how to interpret data, and we then get them to deliver feedback on their own results to each other.”
It is only by going through practical exercises that assessors can gain some understanding of the feedback process and whether they are cut out to take on this important role.
“Training can be a real eye opener,” says Sue Alderson, director of HR skills specialist Azure Consulting.
“Some may decide that they do not feel ready to take on the extra responsibility. It helps if assessors are already used to working in a coaching culture and have some core coaching capabilities.”
Simon Mitchell, director of leadership development company DDI, agrees: “The point of feedback is for it to lead into a development plan. Assessors need to be able to coach the person they are giving feedback to going forward.”
Vandy Massey, managing director of 360-degree supplier MSA Interactive, says assessors should provide recipients with a sounding board, challenging them to question their performance and find ways to improve. “Another important aspect is the ability to judge the potential reactions from the recipient and adjust their approach accordingly,” he explains. “Role play can be useful.”
External training providers tend to charge their standard day rate to train small groups in 360-degree assessments, which can range from a few hundred pounds to more than £1,000. But this investment means future training will be a fraction of the cost of using external facilitators in the long term.
Because assessors should have a long-term commitment to this role, it may be necessary to provide refresher training over time. “This is not necessarily because the 360-degree system will change, but because the needs of the business will. You need to evaluate skills against the needs of the business, or it can become a dated tick-box exercise,” says DDI’s Mitchell.
Refreshers can be delivered internally if the right expertise is there. If not, external trainers may offer ongoing training – Azure Consulting, for example, provides refreshers as a matter of course.
Alderson says: “We offer phoneline support to help assessors down the line and deliver a refresher course to look at lessons learned. You often need time to reflect to get the best out of training.”
Just as a bad workman blames his tools, inadequate training can let down the best 360-degree appraisal system. Ensuring internal assessors are equipped with the right skills will help get the most value out of the investment.
Coaching track record
Firms want executive coaches to have a sound track record in business and psychological expertise. Management consultants Ridler & Co found that 95% believed it was important or very important for executive coaches to have had a prior career in business, which included working at a senior level. The research was based on 70 questionnaires returned by various organisations, including 14 FTSE 100 companies, and interviews with senior buyers of coaching and coaches.
Public days off
Public sector staff who are studying for accountancy qualifications get twice as many study days as their counterparts in the private sector. Training company BPP Professional Education, which specialises in the accountancy sector, says public sector accountancy staff get 10.4 paid study days, while those in the private sector get 4.3. The figures are based on a survey of 28 public and private sector organisations and 548 accountancy students.
Personalities affect the success of e-learning. Psychometric testing specialist SHL found delegates with ‘affiliative’ or ‘variety-seeking’ personalities get little from it, while ‘achieving’ or ‘decisive’ types get a lot. SHL said the former prefer classroom-based learning and respond to social interaction. The findings are based on results from an occupational personality questionnaire completed by 90 delegates attending its training in 2006.
Case study: Telegraph Media Group
When the Telegraph Media Group recently introduced a 360-degree feedback system provided by MSA Interactive across its commercial divisions, it worked with coaches from Hayfield Group to train managers in how to use the system effectively.
Staff took part in a series of three-hour interactive workshops, which were designed by the Telegraph’s in-house learning and development manager, and Karen Johansson, a coach from the Hayfield Group.
“Using a sample report as a case study, the workshops looked at how to interpret the report and how to get developments points from it,” says Johansson. “We then looked at how managers should communicate feedback to their teams, looking at a range of issues from body language and tone of voice to the words used.”
To encourage the right professional development, learners were also told how the system linked to an internal training programme. “It’s important that managers understand how to get value out of 360-degree appraisals and help staff to embrace development. Without training, this could be lost,” adds Johannson.