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Using feedback to change leadership behaviours

3 min read: An ex public sector organisation identified that they had a gap in leadership ability. Many of the managers and leaders had grown up in the organisation and were heavily technical. Despite ongoing programmes to develop leadership competencies and all the usual process and procedure in place, there was little change in the day to day behaviour of leaders, most were simple too busy doing a day job.

As part of an improvement programme the leaders decided to use behavioural techniques to address stagnant employee opinion survey results. A behavioural review of annual employee opinion survey narrowed the focus to identify key results and behaviours for change that would also deliver a performance improvement.

So from 108 questions to four target behaviours that they wanted to make it more likely line managers would engage in: setting expectations, asking for upward feedback and providing positive and constructive feedback on at least a monthly basis. Here’s how they did it:

Set expectations via the consequence chain - although the intervention was designed by a support department all expectations came via the leadership team. For anyone who's learnt anything about behaviour, you'll know that the local environment creators have most influence over behaviour. Support departments are much weaker consequence providers. Whilst it is their job to provide the expertise, it is the local leaders job to implement (or at least appear to) the changes. The role of the support department is to engage, support and influence the local leader, so that the leader does the behaviour necessary to engage, support and influence the managers within his or her team.

Provided optional support for managers in the form of interactive workshops on planning feedback - whilst some mangers had previously not been engaging the in the required behaviours due to lack of expectation or reinforcement, for many their ability or confidence in their ability to deliver meaningful feedback was a barrier. Simple workshops were designed to set expectations on the purpose of positive and constructive feedback, pinpointing, linking results and behaviours. Each manager left the session with a results based plan to align their feedback to.

Collected and shared monthly feedback on manager behaviour - A monthly survey was set up where every employee was asked four questions: my manager agreed expectations with me, asked for upward feedback from me, provided positive feedback, provided constructive feedback, during the last four weeks. The survey results were collated and shared, so each line manager could see their personal results from their direct reports, but also so that they could see the rolled up performance of each of their direct reports. They could also see how they performed compared to the overall rating for their peer group. This regular data based feedback was key in creating behavioural momentum.

In summary this intervention used monthly expectation setting and upward feedback to get line managers doing more of the behaviour of expectation setting and soliciting and providing feedback.

Outputs included an increase of 27% in favourable employee ratings for target behaviours compared to only 7% improvement across the remainder of the business where traditional interventions were adopted.

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