To tell, or not to tell … that is the question!

Anand Kasturi blog

It started with a seemingly innocuous question from a coach – “In your 360º feedback report, do you provide stakeholder category-wise scores, that is, scores based on peer feedback, on subordinate feedback, and the like?” I straightaway confirmed that we do just that. I provide an online 360º feedback tool at, and so do most providers of such assessments.

I asked the coach why he wanted to know this fact. He said that he was concerned because the receiver of the feedback – his coachee – had only one boss, and so those scores would reveal exactly what the boss thought about him, and how the boss assessed him. Even though the survey was ‘confidential’ and ‘anonymous’, the boss’ thinking about this person would become transparent.

And so began some reflection and discussions around the question – is such transparency a good thing or a bad thing?

My instinctive thinking is that it is a good thing. If someone asked me “What does your boss think, about you?” and I were to reply “I have no idea,” that would not be a great place to work, definitely not for me. Those of you who believe you really don’t know what your boss thinks of you, the question is wouldn’t you like to find out? Your boss definitely has some perception about you, and isn’t it better for you to know what it is? Once you know what that perception is you can work on it, work around it, cope with it, or whatever it is you want to

do about it. What’s the value in keeping it hidden, and generally behaving like an ostrich?

The second benefit of knowing what the boss thinks of you is that you can initiate conversations with your boss. These conversations can be powerful, and can lead to many good things such as greater self-awareness, learning, change, growth, and higher engagement.

I had a coachee who had the following conversation with me:

Coachee: There are some aspects of the feedback I’d like to ignore, for example the aspect of helping team members grow.

Me: Why do you feel you should ignore this aspect of the feedback?

Coachee: Well … I have given myself a fairly high score on this because I genuinely spend time and effort helping my team members grow. Secondly, my subordinates have also given me a good score on this – they see the value. Only my boss has given me a low score on this, which I’m inclined to ignore.

Me: I see your point about the scores from your team members endorsing your own views. But let me ask you – why has your boss given you a low score?”

Coachee: Actually, I don’t know.

Me: Would it help you to find out?

Coachee: Hmmm…. you have a point. I could just ask him, right? I stayed silent.

Coachee: Ok … makes sense … let me set up a meeting with him, and share these scores, and ask him to elaborate on why he’d given me a relatively lower score. He had the conversation – and of course, it helped him with some new insights on what he could do differently to increase his impact on team members’ growth! I cited this example to the coach who’d asked me the trigger question, and he agreed that there are many benefits in sharing the boss’ scores in the 360º report.

Much later, when the 360º feedback was all gathered, I compiled the data using the framework we’d discussed.

At that point, it hit me in the face – the boss’ scores were significantly lower than everybody else’s scores on 40 out of 43 parameters!

I shared this observation with the coach. We talked about the possible reasons for this, such as the boss having very high standards, the boss having a different basis (culturally speaking, the boss is from a different country) for scoring on a given scale.

The coach, however, confessed that whatever the reasons may be, such a report was likely to increase the gap between the coachee and the boss, and more importantly lead to a sense of negativity and defeat in the coachee. The coach expressed his frustration at the possibility that the boss may have been using this opportunity to ‘fix’ this person (his coachee).

And so we come back to the question – Should one share the feedback as-is, even if it means the boss’ feedback can be clearly identified and, in this case, is problematic (being lower than everyone else’s scores across most parameters)?

My strong belief is that the answer to this question is “Yes!” there can be no other way. It makes the task of the coach that much more challenging – to help the coachee deal with such feedback in a mature and grounded way … but then, whoever said coaching was easy? Or, the process of learning and growth, for that matter?

What do you think?


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