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Evaluate your leadership through dialogues rather than numbers and create more value

29. September 2017 - Jacob Sønderskov, Manager at Mannaz, and Magnus Friis Pedersen

When evaluating leadership, measurements and quantitative data are typically the most popular methods – the question is, however, whether they create the value we want? Together with Glostrup Municipality, Mannaz, has developed a dialogical evaluation method, which replaces cold data with development-oriented dialogues that create nuanced results. The value is created through practice-based dialogues about the most crucial topics, which bring about nuanced results that you can act on.

Good leadership and development is very much about being in dialogue with your organisation. Hence it might seem a paradox that the vast majority of leadership evaluations are based on quantitative measurements. Yes, quantitative measurements may be justified as well, but there is a risk that management is left with a data report that requires translation, complicated interpretation and a great deal of preparatory and follow-up work before it adds value. The following describes a method of evaluation that, with dialogue as the driving factor, creates a common thread in the evaluation work and, based on five phases, establishes a powerful starting point for the development of leadership in organisations.

1. Conceptualisation: identifying evaluation topics

The first step is to identify the strategic topics that should support the evaluation process. Initiating an evaluation sets a symbolic management direction, which is why the topics should not be too generic or random, but rather the organisation’s leaderships’ key strategic topics. In Glostrup Municipality these topics came to light during a half-day conceptualisation seminar with the executive board and representatives from the management group and HR. The result of the seminar was four evaluation topics that pinpointed the most important strategic areas that the top management wanted to learn more about. The facilitating method makes it possible for the topics to become the product of dialogues and joint examinations, which create a stronger common thread for the organisation as well as the opportunity to act appropriately when the results are finally implemented.

“Having a common starting point, based on which we could develop together, added value straightaway, and it was also qualified by the fact that we took our starting point in the most important topics.”

Vivi Rydahl, HR Consultant

2. Involvement: selecting a representative sample of employees who prepare with dialogues within the organisation

Once the evaluation topics have been determined, the next step is to prepare the qualitative data collection. At this point, it is crucial to consider what perspectives and people in the organisation to includein order to contribute with the most valid and constructive data. In Glostrup Municipality a broad sample of employees was selected ranging from a broad variety of employees, managers from various levels of the organisation, city council representatives and the collective management group. The participants were split into six focus groups, and, in addition, the politicians were interviewed individually. When putting together the focus groups, we considered two things to be important: the participants should not be too familiar with each other, which would enable the dialogues to create something new; but they should still hold similar positions, so that they would be able to have dialogues on a common basis.

 “You notice that the participants’ reflection space is different to how it usually is, which makes the employees aware of each other and the organisation that they are part of. This will help them understand the organisation and the organisational membership better.”
Morten Winge, City Manager of Glostrup Municipality

3. Carrying out facilitated focus groups

In the dialogical leadership evaluation, we wanted to do something different to the well-known and static interviewing method that often characterises classic focus group interviews. “Facilitated focus groups” use facilitation and recapitulation, rather than a classic interviewing method, as a data collection method. The advantage is that data appears through nuanced, qualifying and reflective dialogues across the focus group, rather than through the interviewing method whereby an evaluator subsequently draws the conclusions. In other words, data is qualified by employees and managers who are part of the organisational context, rather than by an external evaluator. Furthermore, it is very valuable that the participants reflect together regarding the evaluation topics and in that way become sharper in their own role themselves, hereby producing a valuable process product. In practice, various dialogues take place across the participants – both individually, in pairs and everyone together – which brings about a reflective space that qualifies the qualitative data on an ongoing basis. The dialogues are continuously documented by a facilitator who writes down specific statements, and joint reflections are retained on flip charts with cues and quotes.

“By sending out the questions in advance, you prompted some thoughts and, together with the reflection along the way, it made us become more specific. The phase of talking together in pairs with someone from somewhere completely different within the organisation and where we really had a chance to ask what it meant to the other person was really good. We also got better at arguing our own case.”
Lene Jensen, Glostrup Municipality

4. Analyses and patterns: condensing data

Preparing for the focus groups and the dialogical method along the way means that the data that is produced in the facilitated focus groups is already categorised and processed by the participants. Furthermore, the data has an inherent capacity for nuances and various interpretations, as it consists of and captures concrete dialogues. The condensation is therefore less about interpreting and concluding, as that is primarily done by the participants themselves. As an evaluator, it is more about grouping the facilitated focus groups’ statements into topics and identifying the cross-disciplinary patterns in relation to the selected evaluation topics. The dialogical evaluation method thereby drives the analysis work to a greater extent, which creates a closer connection to the organisation.

5. Results and dialogical anchoring

When the results are available, the value creation within the organisation is already underway in the evaluation process. Hence the follow-up on the evaluation process is a natural extension of the many diverse dialogues that have already been established, and the results have thereby already been translated to the pertinent organisational context. The results are thus qualified and nuanced, so that they can create a strong starting point for dialogues within the management and the organisation. In Glostrup, a number of dialogues were established within the top management and the HR department, and visible future focus and strength areas were quickly created. Finally, the comprehensive involvement of the organisation’s employees dictates that they are thanked for their efforts and contributions, and results and future efforts are openly declared.

 “It’s a powerful result, which has taught us something we didn’t know before and something we knew, but in a different way, but at the same time also in a way that means you have something concrete that you can continue to work with.”
Morten Winge, City Manager, Glostrup Municipality

Why dialogues rather than numbers?

Leadership evaluations will undoubtedly grow in popularity in the coming years, which is why it is crucial that we critically discuss and consider which type of evaluation can help create the value that we want to create. With the dialogically founded evaluation method, we aim to create a richer and more nuanced picture of what evaluations can look like, while adding value during the process for everyone involved by producing more nuanced, action-oriented results.