When it comes to getting feedback on how you’re doing as a leader, manager, or business owner, the saying, “It’s lonely at the top,” was never more true.
Too many leaders have no idea what their employees think of them and their leadership until an employee leaves the organization and decides to take a few parting shots on his or her way out. Asking directly doesn’t usually help much either. Leaders who try often get false, positive feedback, or feedback so vague they can’t act on it.
So how can you find out what your staff really thinks about your leadership? Here’s a few tips:
1. Show genuine interest by asking great questions
In last year’s post, “14 Powerful Questions You SHOULD be Asking Your Employees,” I shared some of my favorite questions to ask employees about their work, their progress, and how you as a leader can support your team. The answers to these questions will give you some great ideas about what you’re doing as a leader that’s helpful and about what you’re not doing that you should be. Question 12 – “If you were the (insert YOUR job title here) for the next three months, what would you stop doing, start doing, and continue doing?”, is a great question that allows employees to share what they’d do if they were in your position.
2. Pay attention to nonverbal feedback and “Perception Check” it!
Let’s face it, most employees aren’t going to just come out and tell their bosses what they really think, especially when what they think is negative. However, our negative thoughts don’t just disappear because we don’t open our mouths and share them. They often “leak” out through our nonverbal communication. Therefore, the next time you’re in a staff meeting, or having a one-on-one conversation with one of your employees, take special note of their facial expressions, body language, and vocal qualities. Do their faces look grim or frustrated? Do they avoid eye contact or have you caught them rolling their eyes at your ideas? Do they speak up, hesitate, stumble on their words, or clam up when you ask for their input? Any or all of these behaviors can be signs of trouble ESPECIALLY when the behavior directly contradicts their words, or doesn’t seem appropriate to the situation. When nonverbals are sending a different or opposite message from the words coming out of their mouths- this is the time you need to do a little investigating. Using a Perception Checking Statement is a great way to find out what an employee might want you to know, but may be too afraid to say directly.
3. When you hear their truth, respond non-defensively
When you open the door to receive feedback, the worst thing you can do is to slam it shut in the employee’s face by getting defensive. Regardless of how you feel about the feedback, how it’s delivered, or whether you agree or disagree with it, for your employee, what they’re sharing is their truth and you must respect it. Therefore, avoid saying things like:
“I suppose you could have done better.”
“What do you expect me to do when we don’t have a budget?
“That’s not true, I’m always here for you guys!”
Instead, first thank the employee for letting you know how they think or feel, then ask for more information so you can better understand the feedback. Once you fully understand the feedback, only then should you determine it’s validity and/or whether you should take action on it.
“Thank you for letting me know how you feel Sophia. Can you give me a specific example of what I do that causes you to feel that I don’t value the customer service staff?”
4. Stop trying to be perfect and admit when you’re wrong or when you’ve screwed up
It’s hard to be honest with a boss who never admits to his or her foibles. If you want to create an environment of open, honest, communication, start with yourself. Apologize to your employees when you make a mistake or a decision you regret. Then, if it’s appropriate, ask them what you can do to fix the problem or avoid it in the future. This approach helps get employees used to “Performance Improvement Feedback,” type conversations and begins making these conversations part of your cultural norm. As a result, they’ll be less inclined to be fearful and defensive when it’s their time to admit mistakes and have discussions about how to fix them or avoid them in the future.
5. Follow up on the feedback you receive
When employees are brave enough and willing to take the time to provide you feedback, their feedback deserves a response. We’ve all given feedback to someone who has said, “I’ll think about it,” or “I’ll take that under advisement,” and then we see no change or action as a result of our feedback. When this happens, we can feel like giving feedback is a waste of time. If you don’t want your employees to stop giving you the gift of feedback, then it’s important to “close the loop” and get back to them once you’ve considered the feedback. When the response is favorable, such as “Thanks for the idea Dan, I’m happy to start having weekly staff update calls,” then life is easy. However, even if the answer to the feedback might not be what they want to hear, employees would rather hear “Dan, I loved your idea about XYZ, but we just don’t have the funds for it in this year’s budget. I’ll do my best to try to fund it next year,” than to have their suggestion disappear into a black hole.
What other tips or suggestions do you have for getting employees to give you honest feedback about how you’re doing as a leader? Comment and let us all know!