Recently, an executive was asked, “How much do you spend each year on leadership development programmes?” He replied, “Tens of millions of dollars!” He was then asked, “How much do you spend on follow-up?” He replied, “Tens of dollars!”
More effort needs to be placed on the follow-up required to ensure positive, long-term change. By developing processes that ensure ongoing feedback and follow-up, we can help leaders develop in a manner that requires fewer resources and produces more change.
When we designed and implemented a leadership development process for one company, every manager received anonymous feedback.
Later the managers reviewed the feedback with outside consultants in coaching sessions designed to help the managers understand their perceived strengths and plan for improvement.
Are you asking the right questions: Today’s leader needs to know what their team needs from them to maximise their performance.
Achieve positive change
Based on direct-report feedback, each manager was encouraged to pick one to three areas for improvement, develop an action plan for desired change, respond to direct reports concerning the areas for improvement, ask them for help in changing behaviour, and follow up with them to check on progress and receive further assistance.
In responding to direct reports, managers were asked to spend only five to 15 minutes in a focused, two-way dialogue. In following up, managers were asked to spend only a few minutes in a dialogue concerning their progress.
After 18 months, direct reports were asked to again provide feedback. Three questions were added:
- Do you feel your manager has become more effective as a leader in the past year?
- Did your manager respond to previous feedback?
- How has your manager followed up with you on areas that he/she has been trying to improve?
Follow up or fail
In leading people, impact is not determined by what leaders think they say. Impact is determined by what direct reports hear. In our study, of those managers who were seen as not responsive to feedback and not following up, over half were rated as unchanged or less effective.
Managers who were responsive but did no follow-up were perceived as no more effective than managers who did not respond at all. In fact, this group had the highest percentage of managers who were seen as getting worse.
Leaders who respond to feedback, promise change, and then do nothing different are perceived by their direct reports as less effective. Raising expectations without delivering results is a formula for increased dissatisfaction and decreased respect.
Even a little follow-up has a positive impact. And, 95% of the leaders who ask for feedback and engage in frequent follow-up are perceived as much more effective.
Peter Drucker says, “The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.” By asking for feedback, analysing the results, developing a focused action plan for change and following up by asking again, leaders are perceived as more effective by direct reports, team members, and customers.
Leaders often have a constant need to know, be right, and win. The higher up you go, the more you need to let other people be winners and not make it about winning yourself.
Many leadership development efforts focus on the front side of the process — impressive training, well designed forms, clever slogans, and lots of ‘flash’.
They fail to focus on the back-side — ongoing application of what is being learnt. And yet what leaders do back on the job is a lot more meaningful to people.