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Evaluating leadership through structured team feedback

December 1, 2016 - Leadership, My learning

Creative Commons licensed from Michael Porter - https://www.flickr.com/photos/libraryman/As the year draws rapidly to a close, the thoughts of many a manager turn to that most dreaded of annual tasks – the performance review. Often ignored, frequently monolithic, a good idea that has been lost in translation to some awful Word document template. Dislike them or loathe them, they are out there. Sadly, this kind of prescriptive process can often discourage what should be a worthwhile activity, that of providing some sort of formal feedback to staff on their year in review, hopefully as a supplement to the regular feedback they have been getting throughout the year (wishful thinking, I know).

But what about feedback going the other way from staff given to their managers, particularly in the case of senior level managers?

In my fifteen years of reporting to senior managers or executives, not once have I been asked for formal feedback on their performance throughout the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some really good managers (and some bloody awful ones), but not once has any of them given me a formal opportunity to provide structured feedback. This year, to show that I’m willing to lead by example, I’ve set up a formal feedback process to give my senior leaders the chance to share their thoughts on my 2016.

The interesting part of this process for me (aside from their stunned faces that they were actually being asked to do this) was working out what were the right questions to ask to help me assess whether I am doing a good job at an appropriate level for my role. A quick google search of ‘what makes a good leader/manager’ gave me plenty of ideas, some sensible, some little more than management consulting buzzwords. There were plenty of consistent themes though, and it was fairly easy to construct a sensible list that seemed relevant to our area.

Working at a senior leadership level needs a little more though. At a senior manager or executive level, you (hopefully) have capable, intelligent, experienced people as your direct reports, and this necessitates a different leadership focus compared to, say, a mid-level team leader role. At this level, I believe the most important thing is to create an environment where already skilled team members can make the most of their skills, knowledge and experience.

…the most important thing is to create an environment where already skilled team members can make the most of their skills, knowledge and experience

With this in mind, I settled on the following list of KPIs for myself, and shared it with my leadership team, asking them individually to provide me with feedback (good, bad or indifferent):

KPI Description
Vision Do I set a clear vision for where Flinders Connect as a team is heading?
Role clarity Do I give you clear expectations on your role, behaviours and performance?
Communication Do I give you enough information to help you feel that you know what is going on around you?
Empowerment Do I give you enough control to make your own decisions and operate with a level of autonomy commensurate with your position?
Leading by example Do I demonstrate the kind of behaviours I expect to see in others?
Decision making Do I make rational decisions in a timely manner and with appropriate consultation?
Support Do I provide you with the kind of support (whatever that might look like) that you need from a manager?
Career growth Do I support you enough in progressing your career path?
Organisation Do I demonstrate that I am capable in the logistics of managing our portfolio from your perspective?
Enjoyment Do I promote an environment that makes work an enjoyable place to be (as much as it can be)?
Feedback Do I give you enough feedback to give you a clear sense of your own performance?
Other Anything else I’ve missed that warrants feedback.

What I was shooting for was a balance between the strategic needs of the organisation (in setting the vision), the capabilities I demonstrate in my own right (such as communication and organisation), and the level to which I allow/encourage my leadership team to work to the best of their capabilities, now and into the future. I think the first and last of these three are the things which are more specific to senior managers, and worthy of self-reflection: as a senior leader, are you setting a clear vision and expectations, and then getting out of the way of your highly skilled staff to let them turn the vision into reality?

…as a senior leader, are you setting a clear vision and expectations, and then getting out of the way of your highly skilled staff to let them turn the vision into reality?

Combine these things, and it describes fairly well the kind of team culture I strive to create – and thankfully I work in an environment where I am given enough latitude and support to do just this. The feedback I got gave me plenty to reflect on in terms of where I am as a leader, and how we’re faring as a leadership team, and I will build this in as a part of our annual review process in future (along with the more traditional performance reviews of the team, which I’ve not touched on here).

If you’re a senior manager reading this, then consider seeking feedback from your team using your own (not necessarily the same list as mine above) set of evaluation criteria – it will be a useful addition to your own self-management routine, and help you clarify what you believe is important in your role as a senior leader in your organisation.