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How to invite feedback from employees to managers

1st October 2021

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How to invite feedback from employees to managers

October 2021

For a business to succeed, employees need to feel supported and motivated to reach their targets. But how do you know if your management approach is succeeding? Chances are, your staff aren’t forthcoming with feedback.

The higher up a company you get, the less likely you are to hear regular feedback. Even if you’re involved in an annual 360-degree feedback process, it’s rare to find honest, constructive feedback from employees to managers.

The reason? No one wants to get in trouble.

Many employees worry that giving negative feedback to managers could create animosity or damage their chances of a promotion later on. As Harvard Business Review found, the fear of giving management feedback is often systemic.

They cite the case of the COO of a global bank. It took him years to realise that the light, informal suggestions he made when walking the trading floors were causing chaos. Staff automatically took his suggestions as instructions because they were scared to offer a different opinion.

Although he’d never imagined that people would be scared to talk to him if there was a problem, his senior position at the company was automatically intimidating. It’s a testament to how unnerving it can be to question a senior figure.

Now imagine you’re a junior employee and you witness this senior figure reacting poorly to a challenge – perhaps they ignore negative feedback or belittle someone else’s idea. It’s unlikely that you’ll have the confidence to be honest if the same manager asks for feedback in future.

We look at why feedback is crucial for leadership development and how you can encourage honest feedback from employees to managers.

Feedback is essential to managers’ growth

Famously, employees leave managers, not companies.

Businesses often use exit interviews to find out how the employee felt about their manager and what could be improved in future. However, by this point, you’ve already lost your employee and had to spend time, money, and effort on recruitment.

It’s never too late for a manager to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. But with a good feedback strategy, you could have learned the information earlier and been able to provide the correct support for the departing staff member.

Don’t underestimate the value of employee feedback – it’s an essential part of becoming a better leader. By understanding where your weaknesses are, you can build stronger relationships with your team and resolve any issues before they grow into something bigger.

How employees can give managers feedback

Sudden change rarely works well. If you push your staff to give feedback, you’ll probably end up hearing the things they think you want to hear.

Instead, you need to create a culture where your employees feel comfortable giving honest, effective feedback. Here are a couple of places to start.

Recognise your own mistakes

A good first step is to acknowledge why your staff members might be reluctant to give feedback.

Think about your past behaviour. Have you found it difficult to criticise your own performance? Are you dismissive of other suggestions or opinions?

It’s important to be open about any mistakes you’ve made. If there’s a particular conflict that you think has caused lingering animosity, be explicit about it and apologise.

Let your staff know that no one’s perfect and you rely on their feedback to keep improving as a manager. Encourage them to call out your mistakes and reassure them that there won’t be any repercussions.

Show genuine interest

In your one-to-ones, find out how your staff are feeling, what challenges they’re up against and how you can help. Take action to resolve these challenges, rather than just writing them down – if staff know you genuinely want to help, they’ll be more likely to open up to you.

In these one-to-ones, you can also ask a couple of questions about your performance. It can help staff to feel more comfortable talking about the topic.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • What do you need from me?

  • How can I better support you?

  • Is there anything I can do differently that will help you?

It’s crucial that these questions are framed in a way that relates closely to a key project or task of your employees. You don’t want to be mistakenly perceived as a narcissist or someone that needs a lot of reassurance.

Act on feedback

It’s natural to become defensive when you receive negative feedback. However, giving feedback to a manager takes a lot of courage. One poor response can ruin all your efforts and dissuade staff from giving you feedback in the future.

If a staff member gives you feedback, thank them for having the bravery to be honest with you. Show your team that you handle feedback positively without any negative repercussions.

Above all, make sure you act on any feedback you get. There’s nothing more demoralising than having someone ignore your opinions. Taking action to change your behaviour will demonstrate that you take your employees seriously and are keen to keep improving as a leader.

Using surveys to get feedback

Surveys are a popular way to get feedback on your performance as a manager. It can be difficult to give face-to-face feedback, so written surveys give employees the time and space to articulate their feelings.

Anonymous surveys

Anonymous surveys are useful if you’re really struggling to get staff to open up. Employees are more likely to share their personal opinions if they know it's anonymous and comments can’t be linked to them.

The biggest challenge of anonymous surveys is knowing how to respond. Once employees have opened up to you, how do you let them know that you’re taking action?

Unfortunately, it usually means biting the bullet and talking about your feedback in front of your entire team. Even if it’s difficult to do, talking openly about the responses is the only way to let everyone know that you’ve really heard them and you’re taking their suggestions on board.

The Google approach

Laszlo Bock, Google’s former HR chief, opened up about Google’s approach to manager evaluations in his book Work Rules!. 

One of Google’s approaches involves an anonymous management evaluation survey. It helps the company reward their top managers and improve those that are underperforming.

Each statement in the survey is scored on a scale of 1 to 5: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree and Strongly Disagree.

The statements provide a good place to start if you’re creating your own manager feedback survey:

  1. My manager gives me actionable feedback that helps me to improve my performance

  2. My manager does not micromanage

  3. My manager shows me consideration as a person

  4. My manager keeps our team focused on our priority results and deliverables

  5. My manager regularly shares relevant information from his/her manager and senior leadership

  6. My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about my career development in the last six months

  7. My manager communicates clear goals for our team

  8. My manager has the technical expertise required to effectively manage me

  9. I would recommend my manager to other people in the business

A manager’s scores are compared with their previous scores and the average management score at Google. It means they can check if they’re improving and see how they compare with other managers.

In the survey, Google looks at common measurables like competence and execution of tasks. But it also focuses on judging key characteristics of a good manager, like the ability to give staff autonomy and help them grow in their careers.

It’s a helpful reminder that there’s more to leadership than getting results – your managers should be giving staff the motivation, support, and direction they need to build successful careers with your company.

How should I invite feedback about management from my employees?

Getting feedback from your employees is an essential part of becoming a better leader.

Think your employees would feel comfortable giving you feedback? Think again. There are a number of reasons why your team probably won’t give you honest feedback:

  • They’re worried there might be negative repercussions

  • Your seniority or experience is intimidating

  • You’ve reacted badly to criticism or different opinions in the past

How to change your culture to encourage feedback

You need to create a culture where staff members feel like they can be open with you.

Here are a few steps to start:

  • Recognise your own mistakes. Apologise for past mistakes and let staff know that you rely on their feedback to keep improving as a manager

  • Show genuine interest in staff. Ask about the challenges they’re up against and how you can help. Take action to resolve these challenges

  • Thank your staff member for giving you feedback. It probably took a lot of courage, so show team members that you’re grateful for their honesty

  • Take action on any feedback you get. This will demonstrate that you take their opinions seriously and are keen to keep improving

Using an anonymous survey to collect feedback

Anonymous surveys are useful if you’re really struggling to get staff to open up:

  • Your employees are more likely to be honest if they know it’s anonymous

  • It gives people the time to articulate what they really want to say

  • Less confident employees still have an outlet to provide feedback

However, it can be hard to respond adequately to an anonymous survey. You need to let your staff members know that you’ve heard and value their individual input.

The solution? Bite the bullet and discuss the feedback you’ve received in front of your team. It’s difficult but talking openly will let your employees know that you want to take action and improve your leadership abilities.