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How to get Constructive Feedback from Employees
As someone with many years of experience in administrative office work, I have observed that managers sometimes feel as though they are working in a vacuum and that they need to open the door to more feedback from their employees. Their group, after all, are like a panel of experts on the job. Managers may be concerned, however, about what the quality of the feedback they receive.
On one hand, employee input can help improve the way projects are handled, and spur well-formed and thoughtful ideas that are useful in the workplace. On the other hand, busy managers do not want to hear harmful feedback such as complaints about the job and co-workers or useless comments. They may receive ideas that are not feasible to implement that are based on ignorance of job procedures or personal biases.
Benefits of employee feedback
When employees feel free to provide constructive feedback to management, however, they benefit the workplace in various ways such as:
- Be more likely to be engaged in the job
- Take more ownership of their position
- Feel more job satisfaction
- Show enhanced creativity and innovation
- Have fewer accidents at work
- Have safer workplaces
So how can you as a manager get the input that you need to improve your workplace? You may see increasing ideas in a suggestion box or open-ended comments on office surveys as an effective way to increase input, but these methods may not work. Not all feedback is useful, and going through a lot of drivel can be a big time-waster.
Here are some tips for improving the quality as well as the quantity of employee feedback.
Limit management support: Managers are the most powerful persons in their employees' lives. They affect employee commitment to their work, stress leave, absenteeism, job satisfaction, and staff retention. They create the organizational culture. Staff are more likely to receive helpful feedback if managers appear to be open, receptive, and supportive of their employees.
When managers support any kind of feedback, however, they are sending the message that all input is considered equal. Instead, administrators should clarify that they value thoughtful feedback and emphasize that while all input will be considered, ideas should be fully-formed and practical.
Ensure staff that they are heard: When employees feel that management is listening, they are more likely to provide feedback. They want to be heard, and can accept that the potential rejection of their idea.
Set time aside for brainstorming: Managers can set aside some time during staff meetings for brainstorming and suggestions. In some situations, an off-site retreat can be used to create a concrete action plan to address any issues. One issue should be selected. Managers can email staff ahead of time about issues such as workload and ask for input.
Sample script for an individual interview:
Describe what led you to set up these interviews
Explain that the conversation is confidential
Explain what you intend to do with the content of the interviews
Conduct the interview, probing when needed
Conclude by re-stating the purpose of the interview and explaining how the information will be used
Thank them for their time
Sometimes managers will meet with staff individually to receive their feedback. The agenda of the meeting with a set objective should be set ahead of time to ensure that topics are covered and that the session is not sidetracked by personal conversations on other topics. A list of questions should be prepared ahead of time that are simple, short, and relevant.
Some possible questions are:
What is currently working well?
What do suggest will help us build on this?
What can be improved?
Managers should follow up on these sessions and explain the results clearly.
Encourage staff to see the "big picture:" Some staff suggest ideas that are based on their own biases. Others give feedback that is not helpful because they lack knowledge about their job or a project they are doing. They may, for example, suggest that work procedure be implemented that has already been tried in the workplace and failed. Employees should understand the big picture of the company's policies, work procedures and mission statement when possible, in order to provide useful input. Their ideas should be fully developed from start to finish.
Discuss expectations with your team: Some of the issues that come up may result from improper or unrealistic perceptions of the situation. Staff sometimes make suggestions based on their own biases and view their job position from a narrow perspective without even realizing it. Managers can improve the staff's input by helping their staff to see the ways in which they are biased.
Demand a high level of accountability: Managers should hold employees accountable for their suggestions. When a suggestion looks promising, managers should encourage staff to take some ownership of the implementation of ideas, work methods or policies.
Recognize staff with valuable and useful ideas: Some staff will show themselves as being more innovative and creative than others. In certain situations, managers can approach these people for specific ideas.
Explain to staff why ideas are not accepted: When staff give feedback, their ideas may not work for a number of reasons. The suggestions may have been tried and failed, present
significant problems if implemented, or go against company policy. Employees should be let down gently and be encouraged to keep on providing input.
Be transparent: Tell the truth in a gentle manner. Allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of your employees and do not be afraid to admit that you do not always have all the answers. Give your staff an overview of the situation from your perspective, express your concerns, and any alternatives. Make sure staff understand how and why you make decisions.
In the end, the way managers communicate with staff, set limits, and lay out realistic expectations will determine the type of feedback that they receive.
© 2015 Carola Finch