Encouraging Candid Employee Feedback
Obtaining candid feedback from employees is not always an easy task. Employees may be reticent to give negative feedback, and leaders may be disinclined to expose themselves to criticism and put themselves in a position of potential vulnerability.
However, feedback can be hugely valuable to organisations. Gallup’s study of 469 business units, found that units with managers who received strengths feedback exhibited a higher profitability of 8.9% following intervention. Additionally, encouraging feedback could strengthen the employee voice, which research has linked with greater organisational employee engagement. So, how can organisations build impactful feedback processes and the type of cultures that encourage honest feedback?
First, it is important to cultivate psychological safety and trust. If the culture and leadership does not actively encourage constructive feedback, employees could worry that expressing negative opinions could lead to backlash, thus deterring them from expressing their thoughts frankly. Alternatively, if a positive culture is established, employees may feel more inclined to proactively raise concerns or suggest improvements.
One way of gathering feedback that could benefit teams and organisations is through ‘Skip–Level Meetings,’ which involve leaders sitting down with employees without management responsibilities to listen to their thoughts, suggestions or concerns. This can be a great way for senior management to understand how high-level decisions impact the workforce as well as how things are going on a divisional level.
It is also important to gather feedback that is actionable, as this helps to achieve concrete changes, improvements, and organisational impact. Utilising effective question framing techniques can be a good way of ensuring that leaders come away with feedback they can act upon, such as the SKS method: Stop (S), Keep (K), and Start (S). According to Harvard Business Review, this involves the person thinking of 3 points they would like the other to stop doing, keep doing, and start doing.
Equally important as how the leader invites feedback is their external response and listening skills. The way they react – including spoken responses and body language – can affect whether the exchange ends up being a productive experience or not. For instance, reassuring employees that their feedback is welcomed, appreciated, and a matter of organisational priority may go a long way in encouraging employees to be honest and open.
It is fundamental that feedback is followed through with action where and when possible, as employees will want to see that their feedback has been taken seriously. If employees feel it is merely a ‘tick-box’ exercise, and that their feedback is not being truly considered, this can damage trust and disincentivise future engagement with formal and informal feedback processes. By contrast, if employees have a positive experience with feedback at work, this can help motivate and engage them.
Finally, it is important to create regular feedback opportunities. This can help to ensure constructive feedback is acted upon in time and help to build a culture that encourages employees to give candid feedback.