Continuous improvement is dependent on feedback, and in most situations, we feel confident in the feedback we are giving and receiving.
However, sometimes people will tell you what they think you want to hear, and the feedback is not very useful or effective. In order to garner authentic feedback from your employees, and return the favor, the stage needs to be set for open two-way communication.
Use tools and methods that ensure employees can give open and honest feedback without feeling self-conscious. Feedback that they perceive as negative to the current state can be hard to share but is usually quite important to the employee or company as a whole. Also, don’t wait to ask – have a system for continuous feedback where people can go when they have some valuable ideas.
Building and supporting an environment of psychological safety will build a trusting and open environment.
Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, first identified the concept of psychological safety in work teams in 1999, “Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”
By giving people the ability to share without the fear of repercussions or ridicule, they will be more apt to give their feedback and know that they will be heard and valued.
Sometimes, the best way to implement something that can be intimidating is to use a formula or framework. A popular tool that managers can implement into their Individual Focus Meetings is the Start > Stop > Continue framework. In a meeting with your direct reports, ask three simple questions that both of you can answer:
- What are the things I am currently doing that are not helpful and that I should STOP doing?
- What are some ideas and actions I can START doing to improve performance?
- What are the things I am doing that are valuable and should be continued?
It's important, that the person asking the question does not try to explain or defend their actions, simply ask questions for clarity and take in all of the information. After you have had a time to process the information, be sure you are both clear on the message and discuss the steps you will each take to implement the changes.
Be an Authentic and Human Leader
Historically, work had been a place where people sought to fit into the image set for them and left the human parts of themselves at the door. Work and organizations have evolved and now welcome the diverse skills and ideas each person brings.
As a leader, it is important that you set the example that it is OK to be a human. Share your strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to admit you aren’t perfect or relate failures you have experienced. This level of humility will help others open up and feel comfortable giving feedback, and it builds accountability too.
Open Creative Channels
When tackling a problem or brainstorming a new product or solution, take the guardrails off and let the ideas flow freely.
Ask the question, “What does the ideal future state look like?” Allow responses to be given in a variety of ways: documents, videos, drawings – however they would like to express themselves.
This playful and creative way of gathering ideas and feedback highlights the diversity of thought and embraces the multi-faceted ways a problem can be approached, and feedback can be gathered.
You can set up all of the correct channels and gather fantastic feedback, but if employees feel it is falling on deaf ears, that pipeline of information will quickly dry up!
First, and foremost be appreciative of the feedback and thank those who willingly contribute; it goes a long way.
Second, take some action around the ideas and input they have given. And when an idea is or isn’t implemented, be transparent about the WHY. Maybe it’s not the right time, or there may be a hidden barrier that needs to be fixed before progressing with the idea.
The important thing is to keep the communication flowing and keep people in the loop to keep the momentum going.
You Have to Give to Get
As a leader, it is important that you are always open and honest with your employees, giving them frequent feedback that is impactful and actionable.
Remember to tell them what they are doing well and give actionable and constructive advice on how to improve. If your feedback feels punitive or always focuses on the negative, you can’t expect your employees to give you helpful, positive, and impactful feedback.
Feedback is an important ingredient in progress and positive change, but only if it comes from a place of respect and authenticity. As a leader, build a culture that encourages and embraces open and honest two-way communication that consistently includes feedback. When we share ideas, observations, and our own experiences, we create a stronger culture where the ideas and creativity are free to flow!