Every leader knows they need to encourage a culture of professional growth at their company. A big part of that, of course, is understanding the skill gaps your executive team may have that need to be addressed.

But for obvious reasons, many executives are hesitant for their weaknesses to be exposed. This is especially acute when you're conducting 360 assessments, a common tool in organizational development. A 360 is a process to gather data in a confidential manner about you from sources such as manager, peers, and team members.

In the work I do as an executive coach, I see a lot of resistance when it comes to being part of the 360 process. Some executives drag their feet and don't respond to their self-assessment; others refuse to provide feedback for their peers because of the fearful stories that they create surrounding a 360. 

It can be a difficult process; there is always a lot of trepidation of what others will say about "me." For some leaders, they relive past experiences of some tough and painful conversations about their leadership style and work.  

When your team seems to be lagging along in the process or outright stating they won't participate--here are two ideas to help make it a smoother time for all and, more importantly, a productive exercise.

1. Look at how you communicate about the assessment process.   

You must focus on the kick-off of the process.  The key area is how you initiate the conversation that a 360 process is underway. It is important to insure that the team believes and understands that a 360 is part of their development and a lever to be more effective. This is not the time to link 360 results to bonuses or annual raises.  

More importantly, assure everyone that this is a confidential process meant to only help him or her.  A conversation you might share could look like this--"As part of our learning culture, we are going to undertake the confidential process of utilizing a 360 to help you flourish as a leader.   We are committed to invest in your development and growth."

2. Create a culture of consistency.  

Part of making sure that this assessment goes along smoothly is not to use a 360 as a "one-off" in your learning culture. Your executive team wants consistency in messaging from you. Part of that messaging process is to continually speak about learning as a key value in all corporate communications such as a town hall or other group meetings.  

One company that I worked with took an interesting approach to the 360 process. The CEO believed that learning began with him so he kicked off the process with a 360 for himself.  Then the process cascaded down to his executive team and other senior leaders. By starting with the CEO, this signaled and emphasized a culture of learning and development with his focused commitment. This gave all the senior leaders the chance to rally around the fact that it was starting with him. As a result of this action, leaders felt much more comfortable to be part of the process because this was a company-wide initiative.

There are times that being part of a 360 can be difficult. But if you make sure to consistently communicate the learning and development process, you will have a much smoother assessment program.