Five Ways to Collect Honest Feedback from Employees
Think back to the last time you had a boss, or an organization, that was not receptive to feedback. What signs were there that you were in this situation? Perhaps mistakes were treated as something that should be covered up as quickly as possible. Perhaps when executives came to meetings, they bee-lined to the conference room with no interaction with team members on their path. Perhaps it was standard practice for most leaders to work with their doors closed, and only accept visitors by appointment. These cultural signals send messages to employees that their feedback is not welcomed by leadership.
If you were in this situation, how did it feel? Were you engaged? Did you feel inclined to put in 100% effort in your role, knowing that your organization likely wasn’t concerned about your thoughts about the place you spent so much time? If a project required extra effort outside of your typical core role or working hours, were you likely to give it? The answer to many of these questions may have been no.
On the contrary, think about an organization where you felt valued and respected by its leaders. In this situation, you may be more willing to put in a bit more effort when its called for, given that you know your leaders care about you as a person beyond just your productivity and work output.
This blog is meant to help you as a leader build that second culture – where your team feels comfortable providing honest feedback, using constructive, actionable tools. These tools can be used standalone, or even better, layered, to allow multiple opportunities for feedback from team members. As these strategies become truly integrated into your culture, your team will come to expect them. And more importantly, as they see you act on the results and make meaningful changes in your organizational culture, your team will feel compelled to continue providing constructive feedback in an open and honest manner.
Tool One: Create a Culture of Positive Feedback
We alluded to this already, but our first “tool” is really the goal of all of our remaining goals, as well: to create a culture of positive feedback. However, if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you’ll know we’ve discussed this in the past. Previously, we’ve discussed how to boost accountability in the workforce. If you haven’t read the post already, take a look – but we’ll sum it up as well.
In the blog, we discuss six steps to boost accountability:
- Get comfortable having tough conversations by learning what good feedback looks like – we provide some examples in the post.
- Provide feedback consistently – this gives you an opportunity to follow-up regularly, which should give many opportunities to praise employees for their successes (in addition to fast feedback on opportunities).
- Encourage leadership to lead by example by asking for feedback themselves.
- Implement peer feedback loops – both through performance review processes, and as a regular part of the culture.
- Use 90-day, forward-looking conversations to discuss and plan performance.
- Conduct regular check-in conversations.
Once your team is used to the idea of feedback being sought and given regularly, it becomes much more normalized and integrated into the culture.
Tool Two: Use Technology such as Pulse Surveys
Different than more traditional annual employee surveys, pulse surveys are typically short, more frequent surveys delivered to employees to take a “pulse” on the culture in an organization or a particular subset of an organization. Third party vendors can assist with development of a survey and implementing and rolling out a survey across a team. Of course, even with a third party partner, there are still several steps an organization will have to take to prepare.
- Determine the audience
- Determine the information sought
- Determine the appropriate question set to best deliver results
- Determine a communication strategy with your team
- Deliver the survey
- Analyze the results and develop an action plan
- Communicate the results and action plan
Tool Three: Ensure Regular Implementation of One on One Meetings
Quick pop quiz: are your leaders all engaging in regular 1:1 meetings with their direct reports? With what frequency?
Chances are, depending on the number of leaders in your organization, you may not know the answer. Without a set policy or best practice around 1:1 or developmental conversations, that is perfectly fair – most leaders wouldn’t be able to speak about such practices organization-wide. However, hopefully you did at least feel confident answering that they are happening on a reasonably consistent basis.
If the frequency is uncertain, or the completion in certain areas is uncertain, it is worth checking in. Check-ins between a supervisor and their direct report are absolutely vital for so many reasons – and in the example of this particular reason, the frequency is of particular importance. If conversations are infrequent, they’re likely to be packed to the brim with agenda items and business needs to discuss. Also, a personal relationship with comfort to disclose information may not be present. One-on-one conversations must be occurring frequently enough that the supervisor has time to check in on how the direct report is doing, and whether there is anything that could be improved. The more frequently this question is asked, the more likely they are to get a genuine response.
Tool Four: Develop Truly Anonymous Feedback Channels
Again – utilize technology to your advantage here. There are plenty of tools to allow employees to submit feedback anonymously. For example, an anonymous email account could be set up that allows employees to submit feedback forms with masked information. Or, free services like Free Suggestion Box allow organizations to request information and receive anonymous results.
The benefit of having an anonymous option – especially to start – is that it allows employees to gain comfort with the process of providing feedback and see the end-to-end process all the way through. Again, this reiterates the importance of follow-through. As your employees provide their anonymous feedback, it will be essential that you analyze the results and create an action plan that is not only used to drive results but communicated back to the employees. This way, the employees see that their feedback was used for something, and they’ll feel much more inclined to continue providing feedback in the future.
Tool Five: Execute Custom Employee Surveys
Of course, the traditional approach in many ways is traditional for a reason – it works. Custom employee surveys take time and effort, but if those resources are available, they do offer a wealth of information about the culture within a team. One critical piece to effectively developing and executing a custom employee survey is ensuring resources are available not only to develop the survey, but to track the participation rate of the survey. Employees will need to be repeatedly communicated with throughout the survey time period to continue to drive participation up to the goal rate. It can be quite challenging to reach a participation goal in lengthy employee surveys but if the goal is reached, there is typically a great pay-off.
Once again, an essential component is following up with an action plan and communication. The more consistently your team can see progress following the survey, the more likely they will be to participate in the future, and in future feedback requests via other tools and strategies.
These five strategies may sound resource-intensive – but remember, you don’t need to do them all at once. While they can be stacked, you can certainly choose the strategy or strategies you think best fit your organization for a first implementation – and then make a plan for additional efforts in the area as you gauge the team response.
While the resources required may be high, the pay-off will be too – and at a time when the need has never been higher.