You know how the saying goes – there’s always room for improvement.
And when you’re a leader, this saying still holds true.
And who better to point out these growth opportunities than your employees? After all, they’re the ones who work with you day-after-day. They have first-hand experience of your strengths and weaknesses.
Moreover, when you ask them for their feedback on your work or leadership practices, you’re showing them that you trust and value their opinion. And when you give trust, you’re more likely to get their trust in return.
Here’s how to go about collecting helpful feedback from your employees.
Who to ask
If you rarely ask your employees for feedback, you might want to start with a close, trusted employee. Solicit his or her opinion on something minor. Use your first request to build momentum, and eventually you’ll be comfortable asking other employees.
The employee’s tenure and role don’t matter. Feedback is part of building respectful relationships with all your direct reports. Your approach to soliciting the feedback might be different based on tenure or role, but building a strong, collaborative team culture that includes your whole team should be your overall goal.
Once requesting feedback starts coming more naturally, experiment with asking for it during group meetings, as well as one-on-one meetings with individuals.
When to ask for feedback
You’ll also want to take timing into account as you get into the habit of soliciting feedback. In general, here are some good times to request your team’s opinions.
- Before or after important meetings, presentations and projects – Think of these times as an opportunity to develop your employees into an advisory committee. While experiences and challenges are fresh in everyone’s mind, engaging in the feedback process helps everyone collaborate and learn from the situation. When you’re just getting started, your questions might sound like, “What thoughts do you have about the meeting?” Then build to a full debrief of a completed project by asking, “What worked well? What didn’t? What can we do differently next time?”
- Along with performance reviews – You likely have a formal process for evaluating employees. Give them a chance to engage in a reverse review – let them evaluate your leadership. But be careful not to make it too formal. You’ll probably get more candid feedback in a casual setting, such as a coffee shop or restaurant, than you would sitting across from each other in the office. You could ask questions like, “What have I been doing that energizes others? Discourages others?” And don’t forget to ask how the good can be better. Feedback often focuses on improving what went wrong. Invite feedback on how to improve what you do well.
- In the moment – Small opportunities to ask for feedback often pop up during day-to-day interactions with employees. Capitalize on these moments of potential growth. They will translate into an ongoing feedback loop and build a healthier working environment. Eventually the feedback becomes a natural characteristic of a high-performing team.
Getting helpful feedback
To get worthwhile feedback, your employees need to feel like they can speak honestly and directly. Here’s how you can coach them through this:
- Keep things future-focused – You’ll get more truthful answers if you ask employees about what you or your team can do better going forward rather than asking about what you did wrong in the past.
- Be specific – Rather than asking, “What do you think?” which can feel vague and daunting, ask employees specific questions about the topic you’re discussing.
- Tell them not to hold back – Let your employees know their candid feedback is an extremely helpful contribution. Make them feel like they’re doing you a favor by being honest.
- Give them time – Some of your employees may need time to process your questions to come up with helpful answers. You may want to pose questions to your team, let everyone think them through, and then meet later to discuss their thoughts.
Your reaction to the feedback you receive from your employees can make or break your team’s culture. It’s better to go on not asking for feedback than to request it and react poorly.
Remember, everyone’s feelings of trust, mutual respect and collaborative energy is on the line.
Here are some tips to help you respond appropriately to your employees’ feedback:
- Don’t judge or defend – Resist any inclination to debate or argue. Check to make sure you aren’t giving off the body language of offense. Why? You’re trying to communicate that you accept what your employees are feeling, regardless of whether you agree.
- Really listen – Listen more than you talk. Maintain eye contact.
- Ask open, probing questions – Show that you’re listening by asking follow-up questions, such as “do you mean A or B?” Your goal is to understand your employees’ opinions more precisely, not to change their minds.
- Say thank you – After employees share their opinions with you, show appreciation for the courage it took them to be honest.
- Say you’ll think things through – Do not evaluate or analyze anything that was shared. Don’t make any commitments, yet. Simply promise to think through what they’ve shared with you.
- Make notes – After your conversation, make some notes for yourself, especially if you’re gathering opinions from different people at different times.
Responding this way requires an extraordinary amount of emotional intelligence. But the more you practice managing feedback, the easier it will become. And as you learn to take the “sting” of others’ honest feedback and respond well. By your example, your team will hopefully do the same.
Review your notes and make changes that you think need to be made as quickly as you can. If the way forward isn’t clear to you, consider going to a mentor to help you process feedback and talk it through.
Follow up with employees who have given you feedback. Talk through any decisions you’ve made as a result. Communicate any next steps or action items as soon as possible. If you’ve decided not to make changes, explain why.
Regardless of what you decide, you need to respond, otherwise your team may feel like you’re ignoring them or you didn’t really listen. This can be extremely demoralizing for your employees.
A real feedback culture
As you start inviting your team to share their opinions, you may find that excessive complaining or gossip will begin to disappear. You may find your employees asking each other for advice. And you may find moments of defensiveness being replaced by collaboration. That’s what a healthy feedback culture can look like, and as the leader, it all begins with you.
For more effective ways to lead a company culture transformation, get our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.