How We Did It: Implementing an Executive Feedback Process

The Need

Focused on driving a new business strategy centered on innovation and sustainability, a new CEO needed to quickly gauge the capabilities and dynamics of his senior team in alignment with the strategy.

The Solution

Partnering with DDI, the company implemented an executive feedback process utilizing a combination of 360 feedback and personality testing to identify the team's strengths and areas for development.

The Result

The results gave the CEO a better sense of his executive team's strengths and development areas, allowing him to put an action plan in place to strengthen business-critical skills.

I think the magic started to happen when we really tied the individual results to a broader view of team results.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek, Consulting Manager - Europe, DDI

In this How We Did It video, Dorothea Mueller-Stassek, consulting manager in Germany, explains how one company worked with DDI to implement an executive feedback process so the new CEO could learn more about his executive team. With DDI by their side, they used a combination of 360 feedback and personality testing to identify the team's strengths and development areas.

Find out how the CEO learned to best work with his executives by using both personality and performance data to help guide their development. 

Learn more about how DDI can support your executives.

Transcript:

Beth Almes:                        

Hi, everyone. And welcome back to How We Did It, where we talk about really great projects we've worked on with amazing companies and how they've turned out. 

Today, I have with me Dorothea Mueller-Stassek, who is one of our German consultants leading in our German office. She's going to talk with us about how she worked with a group of executives to give them the feedback they need to advance their careers and really grow into their executive role. Dorothea, so wonderful to have you with us.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Oh, very glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Beth Almes:                        

So you had a client who was working with their executives. Tell me a little bit about what prompted them to start to say, hey, our executives, they need a little bit of development to help them get going.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Yeah, absolutely. And it's a pleasure to talk about this example because I think it is quite an interesting one because it just started prior to COVID. And then COVID hit and it changed the requirements a little bit, so it's spot on. 

And, I think the initial call was from the HR manager just inquiring about how DDI would set up a feedback process for an executive committee consisting of seven senior executives. And we just got talking and obviously my initial question was why do you want to do that? And she said, very bluntly, that we have a new president, a new CEO, and he asked me to reach out and, and he wants to get to know the team better.

Also he's thinking about restructuring. He had a couple of new hires in, so it was quite an interesting, so half of the population was well established, people and executives who have been in the organization for a couple of decades even, and then completely new ones. So it was his request, and then we, we just started to talk to the HR manager about it, clarifying how everything would be working. 

Pretty quickly I asked whether I could have a first conversation with the CEO, because I wanted to understand the business drivers a little better and what kind of challenges he has with the team. So that took place then only a couple of weeks after we had our first connection. So it was an interesting start speaking to the CEO immediately.

Beth Almes:                        

So really common when there's a new president or CEO who comes in, they want to get a better handle on their senior team and understand everyone's strengths, weaknesses, everything like that. Tell me a little bit about why they chose the path that they did. So we did 360 degree feedback. I understand we did some personality testing and feedback with them. What made them choose that particular approach?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

I think they did a bit of shopping on the market and they were keen in doing some diagnostics in the first place. And then it broke it down to the investment and the CEO had a certain kind of budget and it was clear that he was wanting to do two things, enabling the committee to have a good understanding about their team performance, their team's strengths and their development areas. And immediately, I think he would've liked to put each and everybody through a full blown assessment center, as I was indicating the budget wasn't there. 

Still there was an urge so we got talking about those alternatives and he was a big fan of 360 because he's seen it in the past with a large rollout in his previous organization. So he was a big fan of that, of not only creating a thorough feedback culture, but also enabling each participant of that 360 to have a clear understanding of how they are perceived in their group of colleagues, but also with their peers, with their other peers and with their team member.

And that was the main driver for the CEO to have that group report that we were planning out for. But the 360 data wasn't enough for him. So we were looking at alternatives, he said, that's a good start, but I want to have a bit more to the bone. So I really want to dive a little deeper. So we are talking about different personality inventories and we just were talking about the opportunities to identify derailers, but also strengths. So it works similar, but yet different. 

I would say it's a level deeper. So that was the decision he took and the investment was considerably lower to have that personal inventory done and the 360. So this is what the solution then eventually was that we implemented with that team.

Beth Almes:                        

Great. So executives were getting feedback both on some of their natural tendencies through personality that might explain why they were doing certain things, as well as the feedback from their colleagues and others about how they were actually performing, how things were coming out in their work on a day to day basis. 

What were some of the findings or what surprised you about the way that they responded as you gave them the feedback and they started to put that to work?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Yeah, it, it was a two step process. So they ran through the personality inventory first. So they each had 90 minutes individual feedback on their personality, and that was in a very safe environment. So for me, it was very interesting to see at what level they were coming into that feedback especially when we differentiate between the new people and the ones who had the long lasting history in the organization.

And I think what they all had in common was a bit of uncertainty, why this CEO was doing that. So the people who were in the organization were driven by what is this good for? So probably a little anxiety around am I at risk? And the new ones were unsure about what's in for me. So why am I doing this? So for all of them, it was a complete new approach to look at their personality, which was unusual for me, because I see a lot of leaders at that level have experience at one stage in their career with personal inventories.

Also the CEO needed to come in afterwards to give them reinsurance. So what I've learned from it and I think the organization for most is that when a new CEO comes in, you really have to be bold in your communication skills and stand up and convey a clear message. Not only to the whole organization, but very important to that inner circle of people working in your team. So that was the first and important takeaway for me. 

Then it's the openness that really stood out for me, for receiving information on how I am perceived and how that influences my day to work on that level of stress management. The whole organization is under an enormous pressure, as all organizations are at the moment. They're in the food industry, food packaging, and they did it really well through COVID.

So the numbers are not bad as though they have to focus on sustainability because of all the plastics and stuff. It's really a complex thing. And I think to maneuver in there, the difference between those people who have been in the organization, they had a bit of an attitude. We've been here before and we've seen it before and we will survive. 

Still the stress level was increasingly high on other topics, for example, they were all sent home, right? So this was as we went through it and they were looking after a huge plant and they were not able to go there every day. So that and security was really driving them and you could see that through their personality. So it was really interesting to unleash some of that. And with those, it was a lot of conversations around hybrid working.

So really when and how can I trust my virtual leadership skills and how do they differ to those leadership skills that I have when I'm in the plant, right? And the new ones were really talking about was this expected from me? So it was just a different approach towards personality and how can I put myself in the spotlight of bringing all my strengths to shine. That's probably a bit of a description of what I've experienced from the personal inventory feedback, which was a separate work stream and on a very personal level involvement.

Beth Almes:                        

You mentioned, they came in with a little bit of trepidation, a little bit nervous, whether they'd been at the company for a really long time or whether they were fairly new, they were coming in and saying, I'm not really sure why I have to do this, what is it going to mean for me, what it means for my career. 

What happened after they got it? So they've gotten all this feedback. What was their experience then and growth on the other side of it?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Yeah, I think the magic started to happen when we really tied the individual results to a broader view of team results. And we had to be very careful on that because that was the CEO's aim to understand what he could leverage more, right? And what he could really drive in terms of development, right? 

So we were sitting together and I think that team meeting where I was invited was the most in depth ones. And for me, very impressive because what took place was a very candid approach of the committee members to speak out what they were thinking to really address their fears and to really ask each other how they can accommodate the situation. So what I think made this situation very specific at that time COVID had hit, right? So we started prior to COVID then it had hit and the whole uncertainty of the initial situation that new CEO coming in rearranging stuff, really driving his change management agenda, brought the uncertainty.

And then on top of that, the COVID uncertainty hit. And what was really needed was to vent all this inner, psychological, safe environment. This is what we teach at the frontline, but it's equally needed in the C-suite to allow and to create that space. 

There was a bit of coaching between the CEO and myself going on in advance because I had feedback of what I heard from my feedback/coaching sessions. And he was really well prepared to set the tone and to invite everybody to share. What was nevertheless very challenging was the listening aspect, a lot of people were still and I think that was the biggest outcome for me, that we conclude together and that everybody was agreeing to that we should be more careful about listening. 

It's one thing to be bold and convey. This is what I fear, this is what I think needs to be done, this is what I want to leverage, this is what I want to develop. So this was the conversation, right? But to really understand what the other person was saying and to allow that person to speak and have a conscious moment, that is what they concluded as a team they want to focus on.

Beth Almes:                        

What a powerful lesson. It's easy to skip those basics at the senior level, but it sounds like getting that team dynamic, that method of listening to each other, understanding one another, and their strengths really changed the dynamic of that senior team fairly radically. 

So this all started when the CEO wanted to get a better handle on his senior team, understand the long-term players, the new folks coming in, how everybody worked together. How did he feel about the results of this? Was he satisfied with where the team is now headed?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Well, I think as a CEO, you are never really satisfied. At least that is what I've observed over the years of consulting CEOs. He was very happy with the outcome of the actual session that I was talking about, but we still had that idea of that performance feedback and him really wanting, create a more thorough picture of that. 

We had a challenge because as indicated somewhere in the organization they were really easy to nominate their reviewers. But the new ones were only here for six months. So we still decided to give them all an equal opportunity because we just created that momentum of trust and we shared, and we discussed why there's a certain challenge to it and then they did that. So I think the initial finding for the CEO was, yes, I need to engage the hearts as well as the heads of committees, very clever, very smart people.

They're all doing their jobs, the finance and the sales and the operation guys and, and one lady in sales. So he said, yeah, I need to engage them with their hearts. So we did. And then let's look at some performance data based on competencies. So we selected together a set of competencies, which are success critical to the organization. 

They have a big topic of a business driver around inventions. So how to be inventive because of that whole sustainability thing around plastics. So he really wants to drive that innovation agenda. And we just got a couple of competencies out there and we got the results. And again, to cut a long story short, there was after the 360, again, that is another round of feedback, which we could nicely combine with the personality feedback we had had previously.

And then we had both personality and performance data based on competency behavior. So how am I leading? How am I doing delegation? How can I create a culture of innovation in my team? So, and then from there, we were really working on thorough action plans on how to develop these kinds of critical skills further. So that was really kind of a little bit short of the second step. And we're still in process. 

We're now talking to the CEO about ongoing coaching because he sees it success critical for those people, which I now have an excellent relationship with to continue our work. And with some, I'm just speaking bimonthly, with other, I'm speaking biweekly. So I think that is equally important. Not only talk about plastic sustainability, but also learning sustainability. So have that in mind too.

Beth Almes:                        

This is a great story. Thank you for sharing. I love how this CEO came in and was so invested in the growth of his team that he got something started, but it's not ending there. It is about the ongoing growth as they position themselves for this new future in innovation and more environmental sustainability. I'm excited to hear where they keep going. So thank you for sharing with us. It's a really great story.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:         

Wonderful. Thank you for having me, Beth. And I could not agree more. This is definitely a state-of-the-art CEO, and I wish we would have more of those who really take it very seriously to have this connection to the heart in place.