When’s the last time you asked your employees what they really think?
About anything – their jobs, the company’s prospects, the physical space, what they get stuck on most.
Forget “brainstorming” – that’s not what this is. It’s an effort to find out what’s been making them tick lately, and whether you’re missing any subtle messages they’re trying to send.
Soliciting feedback can be as simple as telling employees about upcoming projects and asking what they feel should be prioritized. Or discussing company efforts toward a goal, and asking what they’d do to get it done.
Even though your team might not make the big decisions, this practice does two things: It gives you insight into how your employees think regarding their jobs and, more importantly, lets your employees know they’re more than just a number.
Someone (even if it’s just you!) cares about what they have to say. It can make a world of difference when it comes to motivation. And you might be pleasantly surprised at the depth of knowledge your team has.
Here are eight ways to get feedback that makes a real difference.
1) Start an ‘I’ Conversation
Bring up a subject you’d like the employee’s thoughts on, but don’t start with “you.” This puts people on alert, even when you’re noting something positive. By starting with “I” you take the focus off the other person and put it on yourself.
For example, say you want an employee’s feedback on a new attendance policy. Instead of, “What do you think of the new attendance policy?” try “I noticed that you’re always here early. Has the new attendance policy had anything to do with that?”
That way you get feedback on whether the policy works, not just the employee’s take on it.
2) Use 360-Reviews
A 360-review allows employees to choose other co-workers to provide feedback on their performance.
It’s an open-ended way of saying “How am I doing?” and provides a way for employees to express praise (or concerns) without the uncomfortable feeling that they’re going behind someone’s back.
3) Review Projects, Not People
If you know an employee has been working on a project either alone or with a team, use the opportunity to ask how he or she thinks the project is going.
Don’t just ask about that employee’s specific duties. Ask what the employee thinks will result from his or her efforts, and how it helps the department or company.
4) Use Tighter Self-Evals
Let employees evaluate themselves before they receive feedback from you or other team leaders. It gives them the opportunity to note improvements or adjustments to make, and to spotlight their successes.
It’s a transparent way to make sure you and your employee are on the same page with their work and progress.
Be sure you keep it simple. Self-assessments should be short and in number-ratings form, with space open for the employee’s thoughts.
5) Get Employees to Schedule Status Meetings
Frequently meeting in a one-on-one setting to discuss goals and expectations gives employees some control over the feedback they give and get.
Ask each employee if they prefer meeting weekly or monthly to review how they’re performing. Discuss what they need to improve their productivity. Give them enough time to really explain what would help.
The plus side: These meetings tend to decrease the amount of negative feedback you give because you’re discussing ways to improve on a regular basis.
6) Humanize Where You Get Feedback
Employees are only going to give you honest feedback if they feel comfortable doing it. Sitting around a long table in a boring conference room rarely inspires anyone.
People usually keep a more open mind when they’re in a relaxed setting.
Create feedback opportunities for employees in different settings; for example, over a lunch meeting. Practice some team bonding exercises that give the opportunity to listen to others give feedback. It’ll boost their confidence in speaking up, and they’ll learn ways to give (and get) negative feedback.
7) Focus on The ‘What,’ Not The ‘Who’
Focusing on a negative result, rather than on the negative behavior, stops people from getting defensive. If you’re the one giving negative feedback, point out the specific result of the behavior, and make clear the impact their actions have. Consider this statement:
“Since I didn’t receive a return call from you, I wasn’t able to submit our proposal on time.”
It puts the (bad) action before the (bad) result and puts the employee on the defensive: “Well, I wasn’t told there was a time limit,” is the likely response. Now, turn the statement around:
“I wasn’t able to submit our proposal on time since I never received a call back from you.”
This is more likely to get honest feedback on why the mistake happened, because it puts the (bad) result first: “Sorry about that; next time I’ll get back to you ASAP on proposals, so we don’t miss the deadline.”
8) Follow Up With Something Concrete
Feedback should be followed up with actionable tips on how to improve, and words of encouragement.
To use the above example, a good follow-up would be, “In the future, give yourself a reminder that proposal calls should be returned as quickly as possible, OK?”
Asking employees what they can do and what they need help doing to fix an issue or concern is always valuable feedback. After listening to what they have to say, you can make an informed suggestion to help them improve.
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Feedback should be part of a conversation, not a one-way dialogue. Regular feedback chats will strengthen your relationships with team members, and help them develop into stand-out employees.
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