Imagine if we could offer formal leadership feedback to all leaders in Healthcare

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It is widely accepted that effective leadership is critical to the success of the healthcare industry. We also know that regular and constructive feedback is key to developing leadership effectiveness. Despite these critical links, healthcare organisations face many barriers providing managers structured leadership feedback and development due to limited resources, time and budget. But imagine the possibilities if we could offer insightful and constructive feedback to all healthcare managers, more regularly and earlier in their careers.

Effective leadership is critical to the success of the health care industry

Firstly, we should recognise the countless positive outcomes and advancements in healthcare, many of which are implemented by a tirelessly dedicated workforce (and we should do more to promote these stories as well). However, we can’t escape that our industry also faces unprecedented pressures that have been coined by some as the ‘perfect storm’. Rising care and medical costs, changing community expectations, increasingly complex care requirements, workforce skill shortages, government funding pressures, ageing populations, and shifting legislative requirements.

Tackling these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach, however there is strong consensus that leadership is a key ingredient to success. Research into effective leadership in health care settings has shown to increase patient satisfaction and staff engagement, while lowering levels of hospital mortality and patient complaints. In other words, effective leadership saves lives, make employees and patients happy, whilst improving the bottom-line (e.g. reducing attrition costs, increasing staff productivity). It is no wonder that in addition to the empirical research, numerous Government and peak body organisations highlight the role of leadership to improve healthcare organisations and outcomes, for example the Interim NHS People Plan.

So effective leadership is critical to the sustainability of our healthcare industry, so what are healthcare organisations doing to support their leaders to be more effective?

Feedback is critical to leadership development

Feedback provides leaders insights into their strengths and blind spots and provides them direction on how to improve. Feedback comes in various forums (regular catch-ups with direct reports and managers, performance and career conversations, leadership development programs) and formats (1-1 and group conversations, surveys).  Organisations have sought to embed ‘healthy feedback cultures’ for decades, and feedback is often front and centre of these efforts (think Google’s psychological safety and Steve Job’s fearless feedback).

360-surveys have been a popular feedback format due to the ability to collect insights from various sources and levels in a structured and anonymous way. For example a 2018 Workforce Strategy for Australian Aged Care published by a Government Taskforce recommended implementing 360-leadership surveys to improve care standards. However the report also recommends targeting the feedback for ‘Senior Leaders’, and this highlights one of the key limitations of leadership 360’s; this highly valuable leadership development tool is often out of reach to those leading at the ‘front-line’

Structured leadership feedback and development is ‘out of reach’ for many healthcare managers

360-surveys are a powerful way to deliver insights and development planning for leaders, however traditional implementation methods means that most healthcare managers will not experience their first 360 survey until they reach more senior leaders. Some of the common limitations of existing 360 leadership survey methods include:

Too complex: 360-surveys are often based on complicated leadership models containing multidimensions and sophisticated concepts. While conceptual models resonate with some, our diverse workforce presents with a broad spectrum of leadership maturity and learning styles.

Rigid experience: The 360 Survey assessment and development process has remained largely unchanged; raters assess a leader’s capability using an online survey, once complete a report is generated which is debriefed by a trained coach. This process is typically a once-off rating, and the leader is often on an individual journey to development plan.

Time intensive: It is a common approach for leaders to receive multiple coaching sessions to translate survey results into a meaningful development plan. The combination of the 360 survey and coaching sessions often results in a ‘high-end’ development solution that limits its target audience to the Executive.

Relies on individual willpower not collective action: Making meaningful and lasting change to leadership style is not easy, but it can be made easier when others are involved. Without peers or team members to learn with, support and hold a person to account for self-improvement it is no surprise that well intentioned development initiatives struggle to get results.

Healthcare organisations and customers would benefit if we made formal feedback accessible to more leaders

To provide the benefits of structured feedback to more leaders in healthcare organisations, we need to evolve the tool and how we implement it. We need a leadership feedback tool and development method that:

  1. Offers a highly practical view of leadership that is easily understand by a diverse workforce
  2. Can be debriefed in group settings and leverages a collective approach to behaviour change
  3. Development planning that puts the leader in control of their own learning
  4. Enables the leader to run their own pulse surveys to track individual change and impact.

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