by Chris Lennon, Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR
Smart employers know it’s as important to get feedback as it is to give it. Employees see things that managers don’t, and have an inside perspective on what is working and what is not. Without their feedback, your organization could be running into problems it doesn’t even know about.
But getting honest feedback from employees can be tricky. Many employees don’t want to tell their manager or their manager’s boss what they really think, for fear of repercussions. They may be afraid of being passed over for a promotion, or getting a reputation as a squeaky wheel.
Too often, the only time employers get an unvarnished opinion from an employee is in an exit interview—and by that time, it’s too late to make any changes that may convince them to stick around.
Receiving honest employee feedback requires a culture of openness, honesty, respect and trust. Here are some ways you can build this culture and get your employees to tell it to you straight.
Acknowledge the Fear.
It’s hard to speak up and be honest with someone higher up the chain than you are. Explicitly tell your employees that you know this. Tell them you know you make mistakes, and that you need them to point out those mistakes so you can learn, just the way you point out their mistakes so they can learn.
When employees do provide you with feedback, reassure them that you appreciate their honesty. Clearly and consistently show your employees you understand and appreciate that they are overcoming the fear to be honest with you.
Ask Good Questions.
Getting the right feedback requires asking the right questions. Having an open-door policy is good, but it won’t always motivate employees to come forward with their thoughts.
What will be more successful at getting employees’ thoughts is asking for them. Get in the habit of having regular, informal conversations with your employees, whether over coffee or at lunch. Ask them insightful questions like:
- If you were me, what would you change tomorrow? Why?
- How can I help you do your job better?
- What do you hear clients/customers say about our business?
- What do you think we as an organization could do better?
Don’t forget to ask for examples to illustrate the points they’re making. This will help make the feedback more concrete, and also help you verify that what you’re hearing is true.
Take Feedback Seriously.
Act on the feedback you receive. If employees don’t believe their feedback will be taken seriously and acted upon, they will stop giving it. In fact, one study found futility was nearly 2 times more common than fear as a reason that employees didn’t speak up to their managers.
After receiving feedback, report back to your employees what was done. If nothing was done, explain why. But whatever you do, don’t take the feedback and then disappear.
No one wants to waste their time doing something that won’t matter. Your employees need to know their feedback matters and has an impact in their workplace.
Actions speak louder than words. If you claim to take feedback seriously, your actions must show it.
Read Between the Lines.
More than half of communication happens through body language. Your employees’ facial expressions, gestures and postures convey a lot. Don’t miss these important cues, as they can tell you when you need to dig deeper.
For example, if you notice many crossed arms or tense expressions when you announce an initiative, it can be a sign of tension and frustration. This may indicate it’s a good idea to approach a few employees individually and ask what’s going on. You may not believe their frustrations are warranted, but in every case it’s better to know why an employee is frustrated than to be in the dark. You can only address something when you understand it.
Equally important when soliciting feedback is to hear what’s not being said. If you ask an employee how she is getting along with her team, and she is enthusiastic about some colleagues but doesn’t mention one at all, it may be a sign of tensions brewing. Ask a few thoughtful questions when it seems someone is carefully omitting certain information.
Make It Fun.
Feedback won’t feel threatening if it feels fun. The Harvard Business Review describes how one director created a feedback culture with a bit of humor and ingenuity:
For those who were more hesitant [to give feedback], she used humor. Each person on her team was given a set of green, yellow and red cards — to reward or penalize behavior as a referee would in a soccer match. For example, if someone was listening well in a team meeting, a colleague lays a green card on the table and explains why. Similarly, if someone interrupted a co-worker, a third person would call out the behavior with a red card. [She] made it clear she expected to get as many yellow and red cards as she deserved.
Sometimes asking for feedback elicits a ton of negative feedback. This method is good for soliciting positive feedback as well as negative feedback, and having some fun along the way.
Remember, creating a culture of feedback doesn’t happen overnight. But with a bit of time and attention, these six tips will help you encourage honest feedback from your employees.
Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. He is responsible for ensuring the BirdDogHR Talent Management System meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of our customers. He does this by working directly with customers and partners, identifying key market opportunities, developing product strategies and bringing exciting new products, features and partnerships to market.