Most of us have experienced being the recipient of the corporate leadership survey. Someone nominates you to give them feedback, if you’re lucky they mention it to you in passing, you receive a link, wade through a load of questions and then never hear any more of it again. Or even worse, you do hear more of it. In one organisation, a manager received some feedback in their survey that they didn’t appreciate, so they hauled the person they considered responsible in to their office and made it rather clear that they were not happy. In another example, the manager’s assistant let it be widely known that both he and she could tell who had written which comments from the words that had been used.
In each outcome, no follow up at all or the manager responding badly, that’s a whole lot of activity, cost and time that hasn’t added any value or has actually made things worse.
So how can we be more deliberate in creating something that adds value as intended?
Well, the objective of running an upward feedback survey is to reinforce and strengthen desirable leadership behaviours that are already happening and to prompt new behaviours that are not. A critical requirement for this is that the manager (recipient of the survey data) must be engaged in the process. Not only so that they want to do something with the feedback, but also so that they can create the environment where their team participate and provide useful feedback in the first place.
This is often a piece of work that is completely overlooked when it comes to rolling out upward feedback surveys.
Based on our experience below are some simple steps we have learnt make manager and participant engagement more likely:
Involve the managers in the question set, be flexible, give them a choice from a pick list, with the option to create a handful of their own.
Provide coaching to support the manager through the process. This stuff is hard, don’t ever assume that just because someone is an experienced leader they know how to or are even comfortable with doing the behaviours required successfully participate in this process.
Get the manager to set expectations locally with their team about the survey. Help them step into the shoes of their team and have them think about the best way in which they can set the expectation that the survey is coming, the purpose of it and why they personally would really value the feedback of the team.
Once the survey results are returned, it’s critical that both the manager and the team find the outcome reinforcing so that they will engage in the process again in future.
Survey results should be collated and explored constructively in such a way that reinforces desired behaviour and provides direction for change in less desirable areas.
Support the manager through the process of feeding back to the team. Talk them through the process of prioritising reinforcing the behaviour of the team participating. Again never assume that a manager will be skilled in these behaviours, this is scary stuff for so many people, you may have to remind them to just say thank you without feeling the need to rationalise every piece of constructive feedback they received.
Now, for the most important piece, if the team have gone to the effort of providing constructive feedback, work through the process with the manager of identifying an area that they want to work on and coach them through a personal improvement plan. I always encourage people to be realistic and pick just one thing to change. The plan should build in a mechanism for measuring behaviour change.
Using this method, we’ve been able to get a voluntary uptake from managers choosing to participate in leadership surveys of almost 90%, an average participant response rate of 80% and with 60% of the managers going on to run their own measurable improvement project to address areas raised.