Courageous Leadership: Hosting Effective, Inclusive Conversations
Dr. Gayle Juneau-Butler, Studer Education Leader Coach
As the world and our workplaces grow in complexity, our need to connect across differences and be inclusive of varying perspectives and experiences increases. It might seem as though discussions across differences are a normal and relatively easy action to accomplish — especially for groups who are accustomed to working together. However, 85 percent of the workforce report that workplace conflict is the norm in their respective professional spaces, often as a result of differences in perspectives, experiences, values and perceived power. You may strive to lead effective and inclusive conversations about topics ranging from establishing standards of practice in emerging virtual work environments to examining discrimination in hiring practices. This toolkit is designed to support you to bridge the gap of communication and effectively facilitate these challenging conversations.
Inclusion is not bringing people into what already exists; it is making a new space, a better space for everyone.
– George Dei
This toolkit is divided into two sections, providing practical resources to help leaders and teams self-assess, plan for and host inclusive conversations:
Assess and Achieve Readiness
Step 1: How Ready Are You?
Step 2: How Ready Are Potential Participants?
A Model for Inclusive Conversations
Step 3: Approach the Conversation
Step 4: Make Space and Place for the Conversation
Step 5: Follow Up With Action
This toolkit provides practical resources to help leaders and teams self-assess, plan for and host inclusive conversations. Inclusive conversations require approaching discussion in such a way that everyone understands the why of the topic; everyone feels safe physically and psychologically to contribute in authentic and truthful ways; and everyone knows that seeing beyond self to seek to understand the point of view of others is important. Developing the right mindset as a leader with and for your team regarding inclusive conversations is not a one-and-done project. The promising news is that the steps in this toolkit can be used to host conversations about any number of topics.
Prepare for the Rollout
Inconsistent and optional training = inconsistent and optional results
– Quint Studer
A successful rollout depends on your planning and preparation. Once the survey is complete and the data are collected, train all leaders on how to explain the results of the survey and facilitate the development of an action plan based on the priority areas identified in the rollout meeting(s). Tool A is a sample agenda for leadership training, and this toolkit provides excellent content for the training session. For example, key words a principal might use about parent satisfaction survey results might include:
On [date] the Parent Satisfaction Survey went to all parents of the [school district]. Parents answered 17 questions about how satisfied they are with the school and their child’s learning at the school. XX% of our parents completed the survey.
I appreciate you being here today to discuss the results and your continued participation in the process as we develop a plan to help us improve the experiences of our parents at our school. The goal of the survey was to determine how satisfied our parents are with their treatment and the treatment of their children at our school.
We kept this a confidential process by using an outside firm to facilitate the survey process. They implemented and monitored the survey and gathered the data. We did not see a single response, only the results in statistical form.
I consider the results of this survey the report card for our school. It is our responsibility to provide a great place for students to learn and parents to send their children for a good education, and I hope you will help me be responsive to their needs.
As an organization’s executive leader, you should be involved as this process begins to show your support of the survey process as well as its importance to the organization. Before next level leaders (supervisors, managers, team leaders) roll out their results, the executive leader begins by rolling out the overall results to the senior team and all leaders.
The executive leader will communicate the steps that will be taken by each leader in the rollout process. This demonstrates executive sponsorship as a visible part of the process and sets all other leaders up for success. Leaders also use video, podcast, email or other methods to preview information concerning the rollout process for each organizational location and stakeholder group.
Tool B provides a template for a written communication of this information.
Key items to include in this step include:
- Purpose of the survey
- Organizational participation and overall results
- Timeline for rollout process
- What stakeholders can expect in the rollout process
Host Rollout Meetings
Once the executive leader has introduced the rollout process, next level leaders should schedule meetings with their stakeholder groups to roll out the data. Ideally, all stakeholders are invited to attend the rollout meetings, and more than one meeting could be scheduled to include as many individuals as possible. If the rollout is being done during a regularly scheduled meeting, multiple meetings may not be needed. Tool C offers a sample memo to a staff group about participating in the rollout of employee engagement survey results.
Make decisions about the type of meeting, the number of meetings and how you want stakeholders to provide feedback. You can meet with large groups or small groups can work separately in a large group and then you facilitate a report-out. Prepare to use 3×5 cards or sticky notes to have individuals who do not want to speak out provide feedback and input. Think about what will work best with your stakeholders and the organization of the session that will allow people to provide the best input to ensure continuous improvement.
Before starting the meeting, take some time to prepare mentally for the rollout meetings. The discussions at these meetings are not personal; rather the information from these meetings should inform your practice and point you in the direction of continuous improvement. Prepare yourself by thinking proactively:
Communicate “why” you are holding the meeting. Sample statements include:
- Help me understand, what specifically did you mean when you scored the item…?
- I do want to tell you that I’m committed to making this a better school and to being a good leader.
- I hope you’ll help me….
- Our organization is committed to providing leadership training in areas that are scored lowest on the survey. Your input will help provide more specific feedback on how I can improve as your leader. This is my goal—to improve as a leader.
As a leader, it’s particularly difficult to roll out unfavorable results. Sample key words used by a leader with negative results on an employee engagement survey might be:
Remember the key is not just to present the results, but to allow stakeholder involvement in the discussion of the results. This is your opportunity to facilitate the conversation and allow the group to identify priorities and strategies for reaching the priorities. Please keep the following in mind:
- Avoid debating the data
- Listen, probe, listen
- Ask open ended questions
- Allow silence
- Encourage everyone to participate
- Do not agree to anything until you are sure you can do it
In the process of having more candid, mutually respectful conversations, your team will become more cohesive and able to work together more powerfully.
– Paul Axtell
Tool D provides the steps for rollout meetings and a space for you to script your approach. At a high level, the steps are:
- Invite team members to the Survey Results Roll-Out Meeting.
- Introduce and set up the meeting.
- Present overall organizational results, including 3 highest and 3 lowest scored items for the organization.
- Present the results from your unit reports.
- Engage your team in a conversation about the results, including the 3 highest and 3 lowest items or the results that show the biggest increase or decrease since the survey was last administered.
- Select an area to work on, ask for possible solutions, and then prioritize the one or two solutions to focus on.
Close the meeting by thanking your team, summarizing the meeting, evaluating the meeting, and identifying next steps.
By asking employees to evaluate the rollout meeting, you will accomplish three objectives:
- Hardwire the rollout process by holding leaders accountable.
- Provide stakeholders an opportunity to share additional feedback about the process from which the leader can learn.
- Monitor the success of the leader in the rollout process so the leader’s supervisor can provide additional coaching as needed.
At the end of your session, distribute an evaluation form (Tool E) to each participant to measure the effectiveness of the session. You may choose to leave the meeting setting and ask that the evaluations be placed in a sealed envelope and sent to your office.
Take Action and Communicate
Once agreement about the top opportunities for improvement has been reached and strategies to improve these areas identified at the rollout meeting, you will determine the highest priority action items (select 1 or 2 only) and place the items and actions in a written action plan to be implemented over the next 30-90 days.
Set a goal of improving one of the priority items and select 1-2 strategies identified in the rollout meetings to make improvement. Helpful approaches to short-cycle action planning and adjustment are included in our Return to Learn: Organizational Excellence and Improvement toolkit, and Tool F provides a simple template for the action plan. A sample action plan in response to a student engagement survey could be:
Post and share your action plan with stakeholders to document the value of their input and your commitment to improve. This can be accomplished by using a variety of strategies, like:
- Record a video message
- Write a newsletter article
- Report to the board
- Report on an organizational website
- Post paper copies in schools/ departments
- Communicate in existing meetings— an agenda item to explain rollout process and wins with the action plan
Check in weekly or monthly on the progress of that action plan and make adjustments to the actions as necessary. At each of these inflection points, communicate about your progress and what next steps you will take. For example, an executive leader might share the following about a support services survey action plan:
In the survey results and the rollout conversation, there will be information to celebrate. As you take action for improvement, you will also have wins to recognize. Report out at regular intervals on the success or the revision of the plan. Celebrate these successes as an organization and as individual schools/departments to sustain the team who is making new efforts and to remind stakeholders of your strong commitment to their satisfaction.
Summary and Final Tips
Again, the key to a survey is not the data itself. The key is how well you share the data with the stakeholders, how you communicate the action based on their feedback, and how you follow through with an action plan for continuous improvement. This process can be customized, but these actions create a systematic approach to drive results across your organization.
The following are some additional tips gathered from implementation of the rollout process in different organizations that you may find helpful.
- Seize the opportunity to report all future positive change as a result of the survey.
- Share survey success stories at employee forums/ board meetings/committee meetings.
- Provide a survey update in the newsletter: “You Asked For It, We Listened”. Connect the dots as often as possible to show actions that are a direct result of input.
- Keep survey return results high to sustain. Post return rate and thank stakeholders who participated.
- Require action plans from all principals, managers and directors. Without accountability there will be no change.
Resources and Additional Information
Axtell, P. (2019). Make Your Meetings a Safe Space for Honest Conversation. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2019/04/make-your-meetings-a-safe-space-for-honest-conversation.
Callaway Karr, E. (2020). Roll Out Survey Results With Employees. 9P by Studer Education. https://9principles.com/learning/results-rollout-employee-meeting/.
Studer Education (2020). Results Rollout: Why Every Organization Should Implement This Process. 9P by Studer Education. https://9principles.com/learning/implement-results-rollout/.
Studer, Q. & Pilcher, J. (2015). Maximize Performance: Creating a Culture for Educational Excellence. Firestarter Publishing.