Developing leaders through a combination of multi-rater feedback and coaching

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There are many differing practices used for leadership development.  To name but a few: 360° feedback (also known as multi-rater or multi-source feedback), executive coaching, mentoring, sponsorship, networking, job assignments and action learning processes. Narrowing the detail to two of the above, namely multi-rater feedback and executive coaching, allows an opportunity to illustrate how these two practices complement each other and, when implemented together, have been found to yield profound insights resulting in positive results and meaningful change. Both these practices share the same development target of enabling deeper self-knowledge which ideally informs resultant behaviour change.

Day (2001) explains that “an advantage of the multi-source approach is that it directly acknowledges differences across sources in the opportunity to observe various aspects of an individual’s performance”.  In so doing, it

  • Enhances the overall reliability of feedback
  • Increases self-understanding/self-awareness
  • Is an effective development tool

However, Day (2001) cautions that a willingness to accept and use feedback might be insufficient for change if the feedback is complex or inconsistent or if the recipient lacks the requisite skills to interpret the data and translate it into behaving in a different manner. Furthermore, feedback does not necessarily lead to positive change: most people have well-developed defence mechanisms to protect them from feedback that is too threatening.  A 360° feedback participant must be willing to accept feedback as relevant and useful and be open to change. And this is where coaching supports the multi-rater feedback process. If the feedback process is handled professionally and with sensitivity, an individual’s trusting intentions towards others can be enhanced.

“Intent” is defined as ‘a resolution or determination to do something’; how we intend to come across to others.  “Impact” is defined as ‘the result/effect or consequence of an action or behaviour’; how others interpret or experience us. Sometimes the gap between intent and impact is narrow; sometimes it is wide. It’s all about perceptions. Multi-rater feedback and coaching provide an opportunity to highlight these gaps and identify where and if a response is required.

The intention of feedback is not to pass judgement; it’s about understanding the reasons why people make the choices they do which aids the opening of doors for personal and professional growth. Participants require constructive feedback to help them change or maintain appropriate on the job behaviours and attitudes. While a feedback opportunity should be approached with curiosity and openness, there is often a risk that recipients may be closed to accepting the feedback due to being defensive, feeling vulnerable or criticised.  Receiving multi-rater feedback in conjunction with a coach, who acts in the role of facilitator and not advisor, enables the participant to interpret the feedback in context and to observe the emergent themes. The coaching process allows the feedback conversation to progress more effectively as a change intervention than simply a tick-box exercise with the resultant outcome of cultivating insight and fostering action that can result in significant change.

Bracken, Timmreck and Church (2001) believe that there are four types of information that people require to identify meaningful development priorities (GAPS):

  • Goals and values (what matters to the person)
  • Abilities (how the person sees him or herself)
  • Perceptions (how others see the person)
  • Success factors (what matters to others)

Supported by a coaching process, a receiver of multi-rater feedback is equipped to plot the feedback against the below GAPS grid, identify the critical issues and development objectives, design an action plan and then transfer learning to the next level (and, in so doing, establish a cycle of continuous learning).



How the person sees him or herself.
The person’s view of his or her capabilities, style and performance, especially in relation to important goals, values and success factors


What matters to the person.
The motivators that energise and drive the person’s behaviour, including interests, values, desires, work objectives, and career aspirations



How others see the person.
How others perceive the person’s capabilities, style, performance, motives, priorities and values


What matters to others.
What other people expect or desire from the person; success factors are based on formal roles and responsibilities, the organisation’s cultural norms, and the competitive environment

Bracken, Timmreck, Church (2001)

 Executive coaching has thus emerged as a popular leadership development tool. However, it is not just a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For this reason, Thornhill Associates provides consultants who will discuss the different needs of individuals and organisations, and then provide a menu of possible services: various options of 360° feedback instruments, and different ideas on the best possible coaching process to complement the chosen multi-rater feedback option.

For more information on 360° feedback at all levels within your organisation, as well as consulting and coaching options, please contact us:

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