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360° programs

360° programs have come to a widespread use and appropriately performed they offer a cost-efficient procedure to auditing and coaching of managers' and professionals' competence at work. Being based upon a systematic collection of the perceptions of surrounding people, 360° appraisals offer a most objective procedure to auditing and coaching of competence. The following guides the program manager and the feedback recipient to understand 360° coaching programs operated with the WOPI360 tool.

Main principles

The particular effectiveness of 360° programs relates to people's surprisingly meager ability to learn from everyday life. Identifying one's own strengths, not to speak about weaknesses appears to be curiously challenging. Systematic appraisal of individuals by closely working people enables identifying strengths and development points spotting of which can take years through the ordinary trial-and-error path.

360° programs denote to the appraisal of an individual's performance by surrounding people and giving feedback to the appraised person. The surrounding circle of people represents four vantage points: the immediate supervisor, colleagues, subordinates and other associates. With the exception of the supervisor, identities of all appraisers remain secret. The appraisals are performed by using statements describing behaviors in a series of situations. The averaged external appraisals reflect the shared perception of the individual's performance, his or her strengths and development points.

The primary criterion in selecting the appraisers is that they have had a reasonable opportunity to observe the target person's behavior. The number of appraisers is of secondary concern. A minimum of three, but five to seven appraisers per vantage point suffices after which the reliability of the appraisals doesn't really increase.

Feedback is composed of the appraisal outcome report and the actual feedback session which can take place in a face-to-face session, via telephone or video connection. The session can be run individually or in groups. The outcome report must be written in common sense language understood by the recipient of the report. When this is the case, no separate feedback session is necessarily needed. In fact, the learning concept drawing upon personal responsibility is increasingly gaining ground. Here the target person understands that the appraisals are for the benefit of oneself, he/she assumes "ownership" over the issue and reflects upon it by him/herself without any "wise" external specialist. Obviously, of help is to give the recipient a chance to pose questions and discuss the results with a professional versed in 360 appraisal techniques.

Program context

Beside actual coaching, the programs often have other goals such as developing the organization's general feedback culture, driving change or promoting some specific content deriving from the organization's renewed strategy or developing a particular area in the manager's job. Examples of such areas include more assertive or coaching leadership, better communication, service provision or introduction of new planning practices. 360° programs are excellent in initiating discussions on the significance of the various areas in the manager's job. All contextualization of the program works to dispel potential suspicions, promote participants' engagement and strengthen the program's most important goal, coaching of competence.

Program objective

The program aims to reach the recipient's deeper experience. Programs should elicit a memorable and spirited experience, at best leading to genuine, self-driven desire for development. Receiving the feedback should be a meaningful experience along which the recipient comes to know his or her core strengths and develops self-driven interest in the development challenge.

Disrupting work, melting down of permanent organizational structures and increasing mobility of the workforce have made it important to emphasize the recipient's personal responsibility. People are starting to understand that today competence development works strongly in favor of oneself. It is no longer possible to resort to the notion that the organization has the main responsibility for development of competence.

However, the organization's benefit and responsibility is to offer opportunities for people to develop their competence on a self-directed basis. 360° programs offer an excellent starting point for this. People are beginning to realize that 360° programs are service provided by the organization where the main beneficiary is actually the person him or herself. Individuals invited to function as appraisers carry a heavy responsibility and make real effort in performing the appraisals. This warrants for the reasonable expectation that also recipients respect the effort and service provided. As stated in the earlier, everyday life seldom, if ever allows receiving equally systematic feedback on one's behavior.

WOPI360 - competent behaviors

As displayed in the figure below the WOPI360 questionnaire is used in appraising the individual's behavior in five areas of competence. The person himself or herself and a collection of surrounding people use 50 competence descriptive statements to appraise the target individual's behavior. All behaviors represent competence and the appraisal outcome points to the areas where the person has shown competence or lack of it.


Independent action

Competent independent action comprises two sub-areas the weight of which varies with each job. Focused, quality seeking and controlled behavior style is useful in many jobs. However, in other jobs competence is marked by efficient, results seeking and even risk-taking behavior.


Competent leadership is built of three different sub-areas. Setting direction refers to determined and decisive leadership of others' behavior. Inspiration is about uplifting and inspiring the thoughts and feelings of others. Resourcing in turn reflects taking care of others' access to sufficient equipment and resources.


Competent collaboration is made of three separate sub-areas: active communication and liaison, advisory and support of others and listening to and serving other people.

Planning and problem solving

Competent planning and problem solving includes two main lanes: capitalizing on the existing, tried-out processes and planning and problem solving based on creation of new, creative processes. The competence value of each lane varies with units, teams and single jobs. Solutions based on existing or new processes are implemented with caution or by taking risks.

Handling change

Competent handling of change concerns the readiness to step into new things and determination in facing new, changing and ambiguous situations and challenges.

Appraisal results

The appraisal results are displayed in line graphs along the competence areas from independent action to handling of change. The tables include three profiles on 1-7 scale: the target's own appraisals, averaged appraisals of all external appraisers and the immediate supervisor's appraisals. Although the individual's own but inevitably subjective appraisals are important, the appraisals by external people are needed to create an objective picture. Although the target person may be appraised from several external vantage points, with the exception of the immediate supervisor, the output derives from the average of all external appraisals. Aggregating all external appraisals together creates a consistent wall for the target person to lean on. External appraisals are the benchmark observation in indicating how the person's behavior is perceived by external observers. Averaged external results create the most generalizable picture of the person: "this is how the world sees my action".

Accordingly, perusal of the results progresses through comparing one's own appraisals with the averaged appraisals of all external appraisers. Comparison of the personal appraisals with external appraisals tells about the realism of one's behavioral self-image. People tend to both underestimate and overestimate one's own competence. The supervisor's appraisals always have particular importance in communicating his/her satisfactions and desires for improvement. "Me-Others-Boss" is the triangle for competence development.

The area-specific tables are followed by the summary page displaying the individual's most important strengths and development points ie., competencies and competence deficits. They derive from the highest and lowest averaged external appraisals. The appraisers have also had the opportunity to give verbal commentaries on the person's strengths and development needs. Such commentaries tend to reiterate the table results and work to "spice up" the results in the tables.


People vary in terms of their competence strengths and development needs and there is no individual competent or good in everything. Despite the unrealistic requirements set for candidates in job postings, in all reality jobs don't require superindividuals. Most often people manifest competence and its deficits in particular areas. For example, an individual may manifest himself or herself as a focused quality seeker in independent activities but may resort too heavily on existing and time proven processes when the particular job calls for renewed processes in planning and problem solving. Another individual may show determination and direction setting in leadership but manifest minimal listening to and consideration of others which undermines trust.

As mentioned earlier, both under and overestimation of one's own competence occur. In both cases there is reason to stop for a moment for weighing the results by seeking for examples of one's behavior in work situations. In the case of overestimation, true courage lies in the ability to encounter even painful appraisals and learn lessons from them. The biggest beneficiary of competence development is the person himself or herself, while it is important also for the organization.

In everyday life getting feedback on oneself can be inefficient for many reasons. 360° programs offer an opportunity to be seized but which easily passes by. To develop their feedback culture, organizations have begun to offer opportunities for people at the start of their managerial careers to measure and correct their leadership course. Travel on a known course enjoys tailwind while avoiding reefs and collisions.

Tornow, W.W., London, M. & CCL Associates. (2000). Maximizing the value of 360-degree feedback. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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