Alright, now you’re on the right track. You have decided that feedback is essential to your success. And you’re title/position is anything from an entry-level staff member to a C-level member of executive leadership. Good for you!
In my attempt to make these posts direct and useful, without further ado, here are some specific ideas about where and how to gain feedback –
- Always end the conversation with “what can I do better for you?” The job of an effective manager is to communicate a strategy or direction to staff members, provide the necessary tools and/or guidance to reach that ultimate goal and – get the heck to of the way. But before getting out of the way, keep tabs on performance by ending discussions with questions about what YOU can do for the staff person.Don’t make every interaction a coaching session. What you really want is your staff to coach you.
- Schedule one on one’s with people across your organization, as time permits. And when you meet, don’t discuss project status. Ask the person questions about how they are feeling, their stress level, their notions about whether the job is engaging or not, where they want to be in three to five years, what you can do to help them be successful (see #1 above). Keep it casual and interactive during the engagement. And don’t force the discussion to meet any particular time frame: don’t cut it off at thirty minutes but also don’t stretch it out to thirty-minutes. Get to a point where it feels like you’re wrapping up, and then wrap it up! Take notes if need be.
- Setup “Fireside Chats” with groups of your staff members. When I used to do this, I’d have my assistant set up groups of four or five to meet with, and pick a cross-section of people who may have varying opinions. She’d then schedule monthly Fireside Chats, each with a different group. If one of the people selected for a group was generally a “complainer”, we’d also invite someone who was more positive as well. This keeps the group from moving in too extreme in any particular direction. That being said, you could also do the exact opposite and say, invite only people who are concerned or unhappy. It’s challenging, but it allows you to receive feedback directly on the cause of concern. It also could make the group more comfortable because they are speaking in a like-minded way. Caution: if you do this, you want to make sure each person doesn’t simply build on the other’s input to create an artificial angry mob. Make sure you diffuse discussions because people are shouting – or stop the meeting and reconvene using one-on-one’s, should this occur.During these chats (and you can call them Fireside Chats, because it sounds friendly), if you have the option, supply fountain drinks or light snacks. You want people to be comfortable in speaking to you and open up about their concerns. And everyone likes free food and drinks!
If specific people come up in the discussions, ask that the group speak more generally and then speak to you later to provide more specific information. After all, if someone on your team is causing problems, you want to know so that you can independently verify what’s going on.
Finally, take notes. Spend the time listening, NOT speaking or defending – no matter how direct the feedback is. Ask probing questions. Bring out comments from members of the group who are not saying anything. At the end, review the notes / action items you took. You’re not promising you can address every concern, but in my experience most of the concerns will be fairly straightforward to resolve.
- End all staff meetings / stand up meetings with an “open floor”. Set aside fifteen minutes or more at the end of the meeting to take any questions about anything. Ask if staff has heard any good rumors.If you have managers and staff reporting to you, remind your managers before the meeting that this is about staff feedback and not theirs. If you have managers who want to provide feedback, use a one-on-one, or get all the managers together without staff and ask for their direct feedback.
Note: if you have managers that may intimidate your staff to not speak, first, don’t invite your managers, and soon thereafter, change their behavior or move the offending manager out of the organization.
- Install a suggestion box. There’s no shame in having a simple way for people to provide input. Make sure paper and a pencil is nearby and check it periodically. And take the time to acknowledge any suggestions you do receive – especially those that you cannot practically address.
- If you are the leader of an organization, create and distribute a “climate survey”. Make sure the survey is not too lengthy. Search for samples on the Internet and give people time to complete their surveys. Include open-ended questions where staff and management can supply unstructured feedback.
- Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation casually when you run into someone in the hall. Listen to me: if you have a large team, it does not matter if you have forgotten the staff person’s name. Just say “I’m sorry, I just don’t recall your name” It won’t be taken as hard as you think. BUT, if you forget their name repeatedly, then I suggest you practice some memory games.In this hallway conversation, ask honestly how things are going. Or ask about a specific project or something noteworthy that occurred in your organization. Make it a casual two to give minute “hello!” and part with “good speaking to you”. This makes your staff comfortable in seeking you out to provide feedback.
I’ve always used the story that I want my staff to be comfortable saying “hello” when they see me out of the building, or at a store or restaurant. I use Target as an example as in “if I see you in Target, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable to say hello – or try to avoid running into me.”