Why The Feedback Your Senior Leadership Is Getting May Not Be Good Enough!!

June 26, 2012 by Shweta Handa-Gupta

Feedback is a common topic of discussion with most top leaders. Most are happy to get some unbiased straight talk about themselves but there are also those who are reluctant to question their self-concept.  However, when provided real examples, many embark on a self-realization journey.  In the Indian context, in fact in a lot of other places too, honest improvement feedback is rarely forthcoming for people who’ve reached a significantly high position. Juniors don’t want to offend you and seniors, if any, don’t really supervise your activities that closely.

Enough and more has been written about how leaders can obtain feedback – 360 degree feedback mechanisms; identifying and creating relationships with juniors who can give feedback etc. etc. So we now have leaders who pride themselves on being “open” and believe their juniors can walk up to them and offer feedback, who have invested in taking online tests, who have implemented a 360 degree mechanism etc. But who are still not getting the quality of feedback they need for self-development. This raised an important question for me – Even for leaders receiving feedback, why were there such obvious blind spots?

Working with leaders is by no means an easy job. Recent research by See, Morrision, Rothman & Soll has shown that “powerful people are less likely to take advice from others, in large part because they have high confidence in their own judgment and don’t feel the need to incorporate outside views.”  They also observed that confidence was perceived by many as an important attribute of leadership. Thus they concluded that “many powerful people, over time, come to see taking advice as a sign of weakness, assuming that they should project total confidence in their views alone.”

This provides important pointers for us regarding how the feedback should be positioned, assessments undertaken, feedback shared and who should drive the process.  Here is what we have used to create fruitful and successful feedback mechanisms for Leaders and Organizations:

PRE-PREPARATION

  • Create acceptance for the feedback by aligning leaders’ expectations regarding the purpose of the feedback which should be purely developmental.
  • Keep developmental feedback separate from the appraisal process.  Especially for senior leaders keep the appraisal process focussed on targets and results and have a completely independent process for leadership development.
  • Identify the right people to drive the process. This should be someone whom the leader can respect, perceive as neutral and not having an organizational or personal agenda; and someone with the relevant expertise.

USING THE RIGHT TOOLS… IN THE MOST EFFECTIVE MANNER

Advanced organizations have it all – 360 degree, psychometric or behavioural assessments, Assessment Centres, Coaches on call. But do all these interventions talk to each other? Is anybody integrating the outputs from the external assessors and internal feedback mechanisms to paint a larger holistic picture for the leader?

Mostly feedback from the various interventions is shared completely independently. So on one hand, a psychometric assessment is providing the leader feedback about his/her personality of which he may only accept the part that is in congruence with his larger self image and beliefs. On the other there are 360 degree feedbacks. Studies have clearly shown that these surveys are often not taken seriously or that the intensity of feedback is much lower for senior members.  It also doesn’t help that organizations integrate this with the annual appraisal exercise or at least time it together. Then there are the standard assessment centres which most senior leaders ace, having experienced so many.

Breaking These Feedback Silos is the solution that has worked best in my experience. While independently these are not so effective, if you have an integrated team of experts that drive all of these and correlate them at every step, they can be brought together to create superior feedback the leaders can actually work with.

  • The psychometric tool generates the adjectives, the higher level personality assessment and anticipated areas of improvement
  • In parallel, the assessment centre gauges the demonstrated ability and behaviours in a controlled environment and responses to scenarios and situations.
  • At the same time, 360 feedback provides examples of demonstrated on job behaviours. This should not just be an online process which, as discovered by research, is not always taken seriously. It should be carried out in combination with introduction and sensitization by the expert team driving the process. In fact, where feedback is being sought from very senior people, one could use a neutral, external expert who can maintain a high level of confidentiality to collect feedback in person.
  • The expert team would then integrate outputs from all interventions to create a comprehensive and usable feedback.

The adjectives and characteristics identified being backed by real life examples will create the acceptance leading to higher self awareness which forms the base for any incremental transformation activity.

SHARING THE FEEDBACK

The manner of transmitting the feedback to the leader is an important determiner of whether it will be accepted and used. Unfortunately, leaders receive politically correct, very tactful and safely worded feedback both from internal people who don’t want to offend them and external consultants who don’t want to spoil the chances of getting future business. The ideal person to share this feedback should be one who:

  • Has been part of the complete assessment process, therefore having developed an understanding of the leaders’ strengths, blind spots, behavioural styles etc.
  • Can inspire respect from the leader
  • Is unbiased and whose only agenda is development for the leader
  • Is bold enough to show them the mirror in a manner that drives acceptance and inspires change

If this person also has the necessary expertise to take the relationship forward by being a coach in the leader’s developmental process, that would further strengthen the outcomes of the intervention

This approach will enable the organization to provide leaders tangible feedback they can work with, drive self awareness and inspire them on their improvement journey.

The author is a Transformation Expert, Executive Coach, Trainer, Change Management Consultant and also CEO of a small business group. To know more, contact the author at shweta@shwetahanda.com

This post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column




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