We talk a lot about how to give constructive feedback to employees. But what about encouraging employees to give you, the boss, negative feedback?
Employees are often hesitant to give a boss honest feedback … keeping complaints and criticism to themselves. But, bosses (just like everyone else) need to hear both positive and negative feedback. Are you supporting your team the best way? Is something you’re doing holding them back?
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my company’s HR director when I was a young manager. A departing employee named me as the reason she was leaving. The employee felt I was unfairly assigning projects and was “playing favorites.” I was surprised … angry … and much, much later (after my young ego came back down to size) regretful. Even now, I know I was a fair, objective boss. But the trouble was, she didn’t see that. If I had done a better job of encouraging her to share her thoughts sooner, I could have explained my choices or made corrections that made more sense … to her.
You might hear an occasional negative comment from an exit interview, but what about from existing employees? Here are some ways to encourage constructive feedback that can make you a better boss:
- Create a culture of open and honest communication. Talk with individual employees often. Ask questions about how they’re doing and what they think. Done correctly, you’ll empower your employees so they feel a stake in the success of the team, and see the importance of making suggestions. Set the tone in the way you, yourself, give negative feedback. Don’t make it personal. Keep it fact based and with the purpose of helping your team improve. (Here’s more information on giving negative feedback.)
- Designate feedback coaches. (This is from entrepreneur.com.) Giving a boss constructive feedback can be intimidating. So, sometimes it might help if rather than having employees give negative feedback directly to their bosses, they can choose to talk with someone from a list of designated “feedback coaches” who can pass the information along.
- Pay attention to non-verbal signals. When you speak, what expressions do you see? Ask questions if no one’s making eye contact or you see anger, frustration or a host of other unexpected funny faces.
- Ask for feedback from your team and from trusted colleagues at your same level. Be brave. Put yourself out there to become an even better boss. Ask questions of employees one-on-one that signal that you’re looking for honest input. Here are some suggestions (a few from entrepreneur.com):
- “If you were in my shoes, what would you change tomorrow?”
- “What are you hearing from clients (customers) about our business?”
- “What do you enjoy most about your job? Least?
- “How can I help you be more successful (reach your goal)?”
- “This project has been challenging. How can I do a better job to support you next time?”
- Don’t be defensive. Control knee-jerk reactions. To encourage ongoing feedback, you need to respond in a controlled, appreciative way. Even if you don’t like what you hear, pause before you react.
- Take responsibility for your mistakes. Be quick to apologize when you need to.
- Follow up. If you gave constructive feedback to an employee, you’d probably want to see progress or hear from them about their efforts to correct the behavior. Show the same courtesy to your employees by letting them see that you’re considering their input, idea or negative feedback.
Creating a work environment where feedback goes both ways is a win-win for you, your organization and your employees. Sure, negative feedback is hard to hear—but it’s also hard to deliver, especially to a boss. Don’t let an employee’s exit interview be the first time you know about complaints and criticism. Bravely face the music and grow as you go.