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John Rice

Bowland Solutions

Sales & Marketing Director

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How to conduct an effective 360 degree feedback debrief


You've been through the feedback, now for the debrief. To kick off our 'how to...' month, John Rice gives us a rundown.

What is the purpose of a debrief?

Considering the broader purpose of 360 degree feedback which is to raise self-awareness and open up an individual to change and develop, it follows that the debrief is the catalyst for this process.
It is not a coaching session, rather its focus is to:
  • Help the recipient understand what the feedback is really saying to them
  • Help them accept that there is information they need to pay attention to
  • Identify any areas where they need to take action as a result of the feedback.

Role of the debriefer

With this clarity of purpose, the role of the debriefer becomes more easily defined; they are there to:
  • Act as an intermediary between the report and the recipient
  • Facilitate their understanding of what the report is saying, not proffer opinion
  • Help them develop a realistic self-perception in relation to the chosen competencies
  • Confront defensiveness, excessive self-criticism, over-optimism
  • Provide in-the-moment feedback, if appropriate
  • Help identify specific development areas - but not to offer solutions
The accompanying mindset is one of curiosity and a desire to fully explore the feedback.

Key skills of the debriefer

Whilst the debrief is not a coaching session, the skills required are similar; notably, a debriefer must be adept at:
  • Analysing information
  • Asking questions
  • Listening
  • Observing
  • Summarising and linking
  • Dealing with emotions
  • Confronting
  • Giving feedback
Underpinning these there must be real skill on the part of the debriefer not to stray into coaching and resolution mode, but rather to stay with raising awareness and having the recipient accept there is information worth paying attention to.

Preparation - what to look for in a report

You should read the report several times before a debrief, and preferably some time before the debrief session itself; the unconscious mind is wonderful at spotting themes and joining dots.
The key elements to look for in the report can be broadly defined as follows:
  • Overall impression - what are the high-level themes?
  • Consistency of the feedback - is the self-assessment in line with others feedback? Is there consistent feedback from different types of respondent?
  • Key points from the comments - how does the narrative support the ratings?
  • Key strengths
  • Key development areas

Structure - the basic debrief process

You are now into the debrief session itself, suitably prepared, with ample time for the session (typically 90 minutes), and in an environment conducive to a private conversation.
The following is an outline structure for the conversation.
Introduction and framing
You first need to explain the purpose of the debrief, your role, and the level of confidentiality of the conversation e.g. How will the conversation or outcomes be shared outside of the debrief?
Depending on your relationship to them, it can be useful to ask them to briefly describe their role, key responsibilities and the team around them.
Finally, you should explain how the report is laid out and how to read it.
Reading the report
Now you can hand over a copy of the report to the recipient; invite them to skim-read it before moving on to the debrief conversation itself.
You may find yourself sitting in silence for 15-20 minutes whilst they read it; this provides you opportunity to read it again and observe their reactions to the report as they work through it.
Debriefing the report
Once they have finished reading, three key questions then drive the debrief conversation:
  • What is your overall impression of the report?
  • What does the report suggest are your key strengths?
  • What does the report suggest are your key development areas?
Taking these in turn, the first question is useful for gauging their instinctive reaction to the feedback: what are the broad themes they have identified? Any surprises? Have they had such feedback before? Does it meet expectation? Pleasing or disappointing?
The next question then has them first focus on what they take to be the positive aspects of the report; recipients often try to skip quickly through this step or find themselves drawn back to the 'negative' ratings and comments – your skill is to hold them to evaluating their strengths for almost as long as you might their development areas.
It can be helpful to explain to the recipient why you are doing this; two reasons you can offer are:
  • It's psychologically good to receive positive feedback!
  • Strengths can often provide insight into development areas; often you will find that there is a flipside to something someone does very well i.e. Someone too focused on tasks may be neglecting the 'people' aspect of their role.
The last question then leads them in to the areas they perceive as 'negative' and which highlight any obvious development needs.
In both discussion around their strengths and development needs, you can add your own observations on the feedback, pointing to comments which help emphasise their own discoveries.
Ultimately any development needs which emerge should always be measured against the criteria of what impact addressing them will have for both the individual and the organisation; you can simply ask, “Will tackling this make a difference for you and the business?

Concluding the debrief - moving towards action

It can be useful to have some record of the debrief; it can be as simple as a summary of the key strengths and development themes which have emerged; to ensure ownership, you should get them to create this summary.
Whilst the debrief is confidential, the organisation has an interest in how it translates into action, so the debrief summary perhaps with an accompanying personal development plan (PDP) will be useful in tracking the success of the 360 degree feedback debrief and ultimately act as witness to what an individual has committed to do.
In summary, the 360 degree feedback debrief is, in our opinion, the most critical element of a 360 feedback process; it provides opportunity for a recipient to delve more deeply into the feedback in a supportive environment and ensure their new level of self-awareness prompts change & development in a way that will have the most impact.
John Rice is a director of Bowland Solutions. For more information on their range of 360 degree feedback solutions and debrief training, visit their website here

Author Profile Picture
John Rice

Sales & Marketing Director

Read more from John Rice

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