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Case Analysis: Do Not Prejudge

To make selection decisions on the basis of 360-degree feedback would be inappropriate

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On the surface, the issue is quite a regular one: organisations need capability and match that need with either who they have within, or who they might hire from the outside. The former is usually the first line recourse. Clearly there is a logic behind the need to have a marketing person in the role. Madhav seems a good bet to the chairman, who is looking both at how he has grown and the future pathway he is on. However, there are concerns being voiced by others on the basis of the 360-degree report.

So, the fit is not necessarily a perfect one. There may be some development needs that require addressing, such as assertiveness. Nothing unusual about that. Any growth into a new role will likely have some developmental needs. New roles invoke new learning and we are likely to be at the start of a new learning curve. Organisations may take the stance of providing the opportunity and have growth take place in the course of the experience itself. While this has worked up to a point, there are statistics that are cited in Michael Watkins, The First Ninety Days, that suggest there is a reasonably high failure rate, which is why organisations then look to provide a support system to help the executive increase his or her chances of success in the new role.

Two important aspects of success in a new role are the readiness to learn in the new context, which may be quite different from the earlier one, and the ability to develop a close working alliance with key stakeholders for that role. Both need to be intentionally focused on.

The 360-degree report is usually just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It needs not only careful study by a trained eye but one which is capable of eliciting or diving in to the details of the context as well as the personal characteristics of the leader. There are usually some underlying factors that result in certain behaviours as well as lead to a range of perceptions. Those perceptions need to be taken into account but only as a starting point for a deeper discovery. To be fair one needs to holistically understand the situation and the person in order to both build relevant insight as well as appropriate ways of re-directing one’s behaviour.

With the right kind of supportive exploration, leaders can gain insight into their ‘blind spots’ and alter their course. Fortunately, we all have the capacity to adapt, though adaptation needs some conditions: a combination of awareness, insight and action. Ideally this should not be forced on someone but needs to result from a dialogue of discovery.

There are also some assumptions being made about whether Madhav will be able to sustain the new behaviours, even without a proper understanding of the person and the issues (Raghav: “The coach must help him divorce behaviour from who he is — his identity”). Raghav appears to be recommending a deeper look and taking the discussion beyond the surface. Each person has a unique reality which needs to be discovered and worked with. Assumptions can be very detrimental to the work of providing support in the form of coaching or mentoring. When managers take the view that nothing can be done, they are remaining at the surface and passing judgement without realising the power of insight and learning.

On the face of it, Madhav seems to have taken quite well to the feedback provided by Shamsher, which itself is very positive and underlines a readiness to learn and flex one’s behaviour. The real work of the coach would be to support the person as he slips into his role keeping in mind the learning needs of the new role and continually aligning with key stakeholders.

One last point: while 360s can bring up some realities that help a leader see how he/she is being perceived at a given time, to make selection decisions on the basis of 360-degree feedback would be highly inappropriate.

While coaching can be a wonderful support for leaders as part of their own development, there is a process involved and does require a safe space for confidential discussions, usually opening up areas previously unrecognised. Organisations need to be able to put this into perspective and not be carried away by imposing undue pressures or pre-judgements.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Kaushik Gopal

The writer is a psychoanalyst and coach by training and has recently taken on the role of managing consultant in YSC India

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