As Leader: Learn What to Start, Stop, and Continue
One of the hallmarks of a great business leader is that they seek feedback from everyone they interact with, and one of the most important groups they seek feedback from is the team members they lead.
We believe all leaders should seek feedback from their employees (and act on it) to become the best leader they can possibly be for the employees they lead.
Seeking feedback is one of the few ways for you, as a leader, to find out things about yourself that you don’t know.
Receiving feedback and acting on it can positively impact your career, and it’s one of the only ways to know if you are effective at:
- Supporting your staff
- Removing barriers
- Motivating your staff
- Treating your staff fairly
One very simple, but powerful tool for gathering feedback on your leadership effectiveness is the Start-Stop-Continue tool.
Start-Stop-Continue can be used in multiple contexts, including:
- Improving working relationships between and among teams and/or team members
- Comparing different strategies or tactics
- Generating new ideas
While it’s most often used as a tool for work, it also can be used in any relationship where feedback is important. However, we want to share it with you in the context of becoming a better leader.
Start-Stop-Continue – Three Simple Questions
One of the earliest mentions of this method is by Thomas DeLong, who says he learned it from Phil Daniels, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University. It’s also used in agile methodology. Whatever its origin, Start-Stop-Continue boils down to three questions:
- What should I/we start doing?
- What should I/we stop doing?
- What should I/we continue doing?
That is: “What might work better?”, “What’s not working?”, “What is working that we should keep doing?”
As with any feedback tool, do not use Start-Stop-Continue if you don’t intend to act on the feedback and share what you’re doing to improve with your staff. Seeking feedback sets up an expectation for change and asking for it and not acting on it demonstrates a lack of commitment to those you lead. It can be very demotivating to teams and individual employees.
A Start-Stop-Continue survey can be done verbally, brainstorming style with a team, via email, via Survey Monkey (or other online survey tool), or in a one-on-one discussion. The survey gathers powerful information, but keep in mind that people may not be completely honest or as direct as they might be with an anonymous data-aggregated Likert scale survey.
If you want to conduct an anonymous survey, you can use other tools such as the 360-degree Assessment or leader-specific questions on an employee survey.
In fact, a Start-Stop-Continue survey is a great first step toward creating readiness to do a 360-Degree Assessment.
A Practical Start-Stop-Continue Example
One of our Leadership Coaches supported a Vice President of Sales, we’ll call her Jackie, in implementing a Start-Stop-Continue survey to seek feedback to improve her leadership skills.
To begin the process, Jackie let her staff know that they would receive the survey via email and asked them to respond honestly in the spirit of helping her be a better leader. She assured her staff that she would receive their feedback openly and that she would develop action items and shifts in her leadership approach based on their feedback.
She also promised to share her action items and leadership shifts with the team and seek their help in prioritizing her actions. Jackie also let them know that she would need their support in making these changes. In addition, she shared what her Executive Coach had told her about the process and the need for patience: The road to leadership excellence can be bumpy. It’s not unusual to see initial improvement from the change efforts, followed by a misstep, then more improvement, then plateauing, and then more improvement.
Here’s one of the responses Jackie received:
- Start: Giving us more positive feedback for our accomplishments and improvements.
- Stop: Getting angry when we make a mistake or don’t make a sale.
- Continue: Teaching us sales tools to increase our success.
The leader came up with the following action items and intentions based on this and similar survey responses.
- I will read the book Encouraging the Heart to learn about how to be a more encouraging leader and identify ways of giving more positive feedback, recognition, and encouragement. I will share what I learn from the book with the team.
- In one-on-one meetings, I will add an agenda item to remind me to recognize your successes and improvements.
I apologize for displaying aggressive behavior when missteps occurred in the past. I’m sorry that I made many of you uncomfortable. I’m dedicated to changing this behavior. Please let me know via email if I make you feel uncomfortable in the future. My actions will include that:
- I will try to avoid becoming frustrated and apologize if I display aggressive behavior.
- I will work with my Leadership Coach to explore why I get frustrated when missteps are made.
- Together, we will work on ways to shift my attitudes and beliefs about missteps, which will support me in improving my behavior.
- With my Coach, I will identify behavioral interventions so that I can better regulate my emotions.
- My boss will give me ideas and tips to help me improve in this area as well.
- I will add an agenda item to our staff meetings for me to share a sales best practice. That way you will receive a sales tip every week.
- And will ask that you share sales challenges you encounter so that we can all share our sales wisdom to overcome the challenge.
This Start-Stop-Continue survey helped Jackie, a Sales VP, become a better leader as evidenced by:
- Increased productivity from the team
- Reduced complaints to Human Resources about team members
- Increased Employee Survey scores
Additionally, some of the employees talked to their boss’ boss about how they liked their boss more and were happier working for the company.
How a Leadership Coach Can Enrich the Start-Stop-Continue Process
A Leadership Coach can help a leader prepare for the Start-Stop-Continue process and help them handle the process in the most effective way. With the Start-Stop-Continue survey, we find that, while all leaders agree that feedback is valuable, some are hesitant to ask for it, fearing that some of the feedback will be negative on a personal level.
When a leader is concerned about personal attacks, we advise them to have someone else read the feedback and group attacks together at the end of the survey (and possibly reword it in a way that makes it easier to hear). This person needs to be a neutral party (possibly the leader’s Coach).
In addition, we suggest that the leader seek to receive the attacking feedback with the intent of seeing what is helpful in it and letting go of what is not helpful.
Further, we suggest that the leader review their Start-Stop-Continue with their Leadership Coach and seek help from their coach in letting go of any negative feelings they experience from the comments their employees make.
We also suggest that leaders look at the results on a Friday afternoon so that they have time to process their feelings and thoughts. If a leader is concerned that they may be hurt or angry about the results or may not be able to control the impulse to verbally retaliate, we recommend that the leader review the results with their Leadership Coach, not on their own.
Finally, we let them know that strong leaders open their minds to feedback and the strongest leaders open their hearts and truly seek to be the best they can be.