Employee feedback is an essential form of insight to increase employee engagement, company culture, and happiness within your organization. Many leaders have historically overlooked the necessity to seek, synthesize, and acknowledge employee feedback. Or, for those who have embraced how valuable employee feedback is, they are sometimes met with the frustrating problem of withheld information out of fear of identification or retaliation. For organizations who solicit and receive employee feedback flawlessly and act upon it, cheers to you! For every other organizational leader out there, we’ll explore how you can cultivate a culture of open communication, foster trust, encourage feedback, and honor it through action.
If there’s one thing you read in this article, read this:
Tell employees that you hear them. We're getting right to the point because this truly is the most important takeaway. One of the number one issues we encounter isn't that leadership hasn’t solicited feedback, but that they haven’t done anything with it. That sends a message to employees that their time, feedback, vulnerability, and ideas aren’t worthy of consideration or even appreciated. Even if the feedback can’t or won’t be acted upon, simple acknowledgments, thank yous, and clear communications around “what comes next” go a long way.
If you want your employees to be transparent in airing their concerns or sharing their best ideas, you go first. Leaders should set the communication style they hope to see in their teams. Be open and forthcoming with praise, recommendations, or alternative suggestions. Exemplify what it means to take blame and embrace accountability. Another great tool is brainstorming often. Verbalizing ideas, building on others’ thoughts with “yes, and…” statements, and challenging concepts are muscles that get stronger with time and effort.
Empower Employee Voices
What happens when an employee pipes up about an issue or provides an alternative solution? Some leaders go on the defensive, shutting down the idea altogether, explaining it away, or showing irritation toward the interruption. Better leaders see all feedback as an opportunity and valuable input, despite any momentary ego bruising. By working every day to become the latter, your team will feel welcome to speak out and share when they have something to offer. You will gain trustworthy, honest feedback when you make space for it.
Make it Easy
What is the current process for your employees to share feedback? While meetings and huddles are great for some people, not everyone’s feedback is appropriate for an audience, nor is every employee comfortable with speaking up in that atmosphere. By creating anonymous, 1:1, and even digital ways to gather employee feedback, you can eliminate friction and resistance.
Ask More Insightful Questions
A general “how is [this project] going?” or even “how do you think we could improve our workflow?” isn’t necessarily going to inspire most employees. They feel put on the spot to provide an all-knowing, problem-solving answer, and it can feel more like a test than a genuine call for feedback. Instead, dig deeper into your employee's feelings towards the organization overall:
- How likely are you to recommend your company to your friends or family as a place to work?
- Do you feel that you receive an appropriate amount of feedback about your performance?
- Do you feel that you have the freedom to decide the best way to get your work done?
- Are you proud of our brand, products and/or services?
- Is this an exciting place to work?
- Do you understand how your role contributes to the company goals?
- Why did you join this organization? Why do you stay? (Interestingly, these are usually different answers.)
These type of questions not only get your employees sharing more readily, but they can also uncover discouragements, roadblocks, or concerns that would have never registered before. After all, you can’t fix problems that you don’t know exist.
Act on it
Once you have your team talking and sharing, the best thing you can do is take action. Not every piece of feedback from every employee can be acted upon, but it’s a show of good faith when realistic, constructive criticism is at least elevated to upper management, brought up in a roundtable, or thrown a bone. This active approach to feedback will encourage more of it.
How to Act on Employee Feedback
Step one: Identify common or high priority problems first.
If you get the same type of feedback from multiple employees, safe to say you’ve identified a theme, and it deserves attention. Similarly, if an issue is bottlenecking high priority work or interrupting collaboration, move it to the top of the pile.
Step two: Strategize solutions and timelines.
Your proposed solution as a leader may have high-level organizational insight but may not necessarily be the only (or best) option. Inquire if employee(s) who raise issues have ideas for solutions. Seek propositions from multiple sources and consider various angles. Once there are multiple avenues on the table, poke holes in each until you find one that stands against your primary concerns. Be open to the idea that the best solution may not be the first.
Step three: Involve employees in resolution.
If you want to cultivate an all-hands culture where employees pitch in to change the process, they must also be ready to get their hands dirty to build the machine. When employees realize that they can trust their leaders, and also truly feel part of the growth process, they’ll be more constructive from the start. Similarly, employees who help reframe processes or make improvements will feel more rooted in your organization's success.
Step four: Follow up.
Whether feedback resulted in a notable positive change, or it’s more of a ‘not right now’ situation, or if it’s something the organization would never act on, all scenarios warrant attention and action. Communicating the “why” behind decision making when possible is a huge element in building trust and aligning organizations. Revisiting solutions is also a great idea to ensure they’ve had the projected impact--pulse surveys can be a great way to keep tabs on that.
Use Your Team
Finding time to foster trust and solicit feedback is key to understanding the truth of your organization. It's also a great avenue to increasing your employee engagement and happiness. As Richard Branson says, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” So trust your employees to have the company's best interest in mind, even if their critiques challenge your initial plans. Your employees have perspectives that you may not. Consider that an asset.