Smart organizations strive to create a culture of open and honest communication where feedback is a continuous loop that plays out between employees and management. Good business leaders recognize that their job is not only to provide feedback to employees, but also to receive an evaluation from them as well.
Employees are a company’s greatest asset and it is important that their voice is heard. Feedback gives leaders the information necessary to course-correct when going down the wrong path as well as offers a different viewpoint when trying to solve a problem. Engaged employees help companies come up with better and stronger solutions. Without feedback, it is difficult for people and organizations to develop to their full potential.
But feedback can be tricky. Do employees feel comfortable enough to give honest opinions and are managers and organizations ready to accept criticism? How can businesses truly create an open culture of communication? There are many mechanisms to gather feedback from employees, such as performance reviews, team meetings, suggestion boxes, and employee surveys. However, none of these methods will be successful if there is not an overarching culture of openness.
How can you create a feedback-friendly environment at your workplace?
Be Authentic. Employees know if a manager is just providing lip service. It is important that you ask for feedback genuinely. If you struggle with how to obtain the information, consider asking specific questions about how your employees feel about their environment, workload, and team or a general question that is non-confrontational such as, If I could wave a magic wand right now and change one thing about our company, what would it be?
Be Vulnerable. Believe me, it is hard not to get defensive when employees tell you ways to improve your management style and your company processes. My business is like my baby and it hurts to receive negative feedback. But I have learned the hard way, that if I react defensively to feedback, it will take me a long time to build back the rapport where employees feel like they can communicate openly again. Feedback is essential for growth and constructive criticism must be viewed as a positive.
When an employee offers a suggestion, how tempting is it to immediately explain away the comment instead of sincerely listening? When an employee provides a new idea and her manager tells her that is not how the company does things, her suggestion immediately feels invalidated. Most likely, she is in the trenches of the work and has a different perspective on the problem and therefore, she has a unique viewpoint for a possible solution. As a manager, it is important to stop, focus on her, and listen.
Get Out of Your Office. To understand what employees are thinking and saying, executives must get out of their office and walk around. It may feel less productive in the moment, but the time spent away from your desk provides you with insight about the company that is invaluable. As you walk around, ask employees questions to better understand their daily jobs and what they need to improve efficiency. Ask what they are excited about and what part of their job they are struggling with. Employees may be more apt to provide feedback in quick moments in the office hallways rather than a formal performance review.
I have always struggled with receiving feedback and it is one thing that I constantly work on. I recognize that I tend to get very focused on my own work, making it difficult to slow down and listen to others. I can also get defensive quickly and try to solve the problem my way rather than gather feedback from the full team. Despite these shortcomings, I do have a genuine interest in learning and growing and I recognize the value in my team. With this in mind, I am trying something different this year at Propel HR to foster a feedback culture.
Lunch with Lee officially kicked off at the beginning of the year. Each month, I invite four to five employees from different departments to share lunch with me. It is a chance to get out of the office with colleagues and get to know each other in a non-work environment. At the end of the meal, I ask specific questions to the group and just listen to the feedback.
In just a few short months, I have learned so much and already made changes in our company based on the feedback I have received. Some changes have been simple, such as changing the waiting period on our 401(k) and adding information to our monthly meetings. While some suggestions are going to be works in progress focusing on processes and communication workflows. But, if I had not had the chance to receive the feedback, the work would never have begun.
The lunches have been positive for me and the team. I am very excited about learning how I can grow as an individual and how Propel HR can grow as a company. I still have lots of work to do, but I am determined to foster a culture that uses feedback as a growth strategy.
Lee Yarborough and her father, Braxton Cutchin, founded the company in 1996. She has served on the Board of Directors of NAPEO and currently serves as the Chair for the NAPEO Carolinas Leadership Council. In 2015, she was named a Fellow of the eleventh class of the Liberty Fellowship Program and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Lee also serves on the Executive Board of Public Education Partners and is the founder and director of Read Up Greenville, a young adult and middle grades book festival in downtown Greenville, SC.