Last time we talked about accepting staff who bring forward problems. But, what if folks aren’t doing that?As leaders, we’re used to giving feedback to our teams. But when was the last time you asked for employee feedback?
It might feel strange, particularly if you’ve worked for bosses who never sought your input about their own performance. But without feedback, it’s hard to gauge how you’re doing.
Massively successful and powerful people have the confidence to check in with their teams to see how they’re doing. Leaders who ask for feedback to improve their own performance also build credibility when they offer feedback to their team members because they don’t dish it out if they can’t take it.
Bill Gates famously said in a TED talk about education: “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”
Now, some of us might dread asking for employee feedback. It feels uncomfortable and it might even make you feel threatened.
If we operate above feedback, we’ll never know if we could do things better or differently.
There are times when you lead an organization that you will benefit from having team members who don’t tell what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. The challenge is to make decisions based on the best information possible.
When you have a really good foundation of trust with your team, you can guide the feedback process so that it’s beneficial for everyone.
How to encourage staff to speak up
First, outline what kind of feedback you want. You don’t want to leave things wide open if all you really want to know is how the last project fared. Setting parameters upfront will help everyone know what to share:
-Is everything fair game?
-Do you want to know how people view your leadership style?
-Are you interested in just the company operations?
-Do you want input about certain projects?
Explain that feedback doesn’t have to be positive. You can learn a lot from feedback that isn’t positive! However, feedback should be honest, authentic and kind. Remind people this isn’t an opportunity to vent frustrations, but rather to help improve things.
Be clear about their expectations. In other words, ensure your employees understand what happens after people give you their feedback. Will you have a follow-up meeting to discuss next steps or are you taking things under advisement but you will decide? Will everything change? Might nothing change? Who decides? When?
Consider what this process means to you. Ask yourself: At the end of this meeting, what do I want? Practice keeping a neutral tone and listening to understand (not to respond!). If people begin venting rather than being constructive, guide them to focus on solutions or end results they would like to see rather than just the challenges.
Invite groups to meet with you on neutral ground. Sometimes folks need someone else to go first before they’ll share their own thoughts freely. Invite a small group to meet with you over coffee in the boardroom, or to go for lunch somewhere with a private meeting space, to give you their feedback.
Engage one to one and see what you learn. On the other hand, sometimes folks don’t want to say anything negative in front of others, especially to the boss. And, since getting called to the boss’s office can be intimidating, try “management by walking around.” Go and actually talk with your front line workers at their place of work, asking them what works well, what doesn’t and what they would do differently, if they could. When you’re doing that, look the part of an engaged leader. If the frontline is dirty and loud, walk around in jeans and a casual shirt with sleeves rolled up. You want to meet your people where they’re at.
Be curious. Let employees speak freely and take notes. This is a fact-finding mission and you don’t have to resolve things right now – but you do want to encourage folks to be specific. Pro tip: Prepare yourself to handle any negative feedback with grace and professionalism by reading how good leaders handle criticism as a refresher.
Model the behavior. Speak up to your own boss when you have valuable feedback to share.
After you’ve asked folks to give you feedback, take time to review what has been shared and then make a point of looping back. Be purposeful about getting back to people to tell them what became of their suggestions and feedback. Even if the feedback couldn’t be implemented, loopback and explain why.
Studies show employees will continue to give feedback when they know what happened last time, but if they don’t hear back, they will start to think feedback is a waste of time – and they’ll keep their good ideas to themselves.
Going forward, build feedback from your team into some sort of regular schedule. Being asked to provide feedback that is valued and heard is an important way to keep your team engaged. To be effective, it can be formal or informal but it has to be sought with some frequency.
If you do want feedback on your personal style, your leadership abilities and how you’re seen as a leader you might consider an anonymous, professional feedback tool like a 360 assessment (or, 180, if you’re polling your staff). We use the EQi 360 to give leaders incredible insight into how they are seen by others around them, and to help them adapt in situations where other styles are needed.
When was the last time you asked your team members for feedback? What areas of your work could benefit from some honest feedback right now? How can you start encouraging honest feedback from your team this week?