At this point, it’s no secret that employee feedback provides company leaders with uncomparable visibility inside the worlds of their employees. Asking your team for honest feedback surfaces challenges, concerns, triumphs and ideas for improvement from the people who know your business best. But simply asking questions at regular intervals is not enough.
Without a strategy in place, collecting feedback can do more harm than good (for example, receiving feedback without offering an acknowledgement opens up a whole other can o’ worms). But as part of an overall employee communication plan, nothing is more valuable for increasing engagement, retention, and success.
As Chief Culture Officer, I have learned that giving feedback means investing in relationships and taking an active stand for your team’s development and satisfaction. You are inviting people – who you may not know that well – to communicate (often vulnerably) about all aspects of their jobs and even their personal lives. This can feel rather daunting for employees, who can perceive a higher emotional risk if things don’t ‘go right’.
The foundation of this feedback is trust. In the professional sense, this is the understanding that transparency will benefit rather than undermine the working relationship. Rather than just expecting employees to come to you truthfully at the onset, consider ‘What must I do to gain trust’?
I recommend having an opening conversation about how you as a manager are truly invested in learning about their experience and making it better. This might seem obvious to you but communicating this explicitly lets employees know your intentions for collecting candid information.
Once you explain your motivations in a way that make employees feel safe, supplement your first several 15Five’s with questions that are fun and engaging, and to which there’s less likely to be negative judgement around the answers.
For example, you can ask “What would you like to be doing in 6 months that you aren’t currently doing?” This question is clearly geared towards an employee’s personal and professional development. You aren’t just telling them that you’re invested in their wellness, you’re showing them. This goes a long way towards building trust.
Then you can use the application as a virtual starting point that integrates into non-virtual communication methods or routines. Our most successful clients use 15Five to gather insights, and then find ways to deepen the conversation in 1-to-1 meetings, department gatherings, even company events that center around the collective contribution.
Despite the wide range of goals and cultural values that different companies establish, all leaders can benefit from a framework of solid communication practices. And with 55,000 different questions being asked in our customer base, we distilled the following 8 “buckets” that will offer incredibly fruitful insight for any organization:
1) Asking employees to share their triumphs is a great morale booster.
2) Uncover employee challenges so that you can offer support.
3) Find out what’s going on in their personal lives that might be affecting work performance.
4) Uncover issues before they become full-blown problems.
5) Ask for ideas and suggestions to improve the company or its products/services.
6) Inquire about the office environment or the team. Check in on the morale and cultural health.
7) Solicit opinions about your leadership.
8) Ask if people understand their priorities to always maintain alignment with company goals.
Receiving feedback in these areas has tremendous value, and there are simple and effective ways to respond that create an authentic and positive experience for employees:
1) A little feedback goes a long way. Don’t feel compelled to respond to every 15Five answer. Simply ‘liking’ a couple of answers and marking the report as reviewed lets employees know that you actually saw it, instead of it thinking it is lost in a black hole.
2) There is no such thing as too much appreciation. In the general “Report feedback” section, just making a comment like “Great report!” can do wonders for encouraging people to give useful feedback in subsequent 15Five’s.
3) Put the @ in te@m. Using the @mentions feature is a great way to enroll other relevant people into the conversation. If there’s a great answer I want someone in the company to see, I always @mention them so they can both see the answer as well as chime in. This also has the person who wrote the answer feel seen and appreciated.
4) Ask clarifying questions. If there’s an answer that proposes an idea or roadblock, asking that person follow up questions like “What do you think is the best way for us to implement this?” Or “What resources and support do you need to make this happen?” Or even “Tell me more” can do wonders to help people know that you care and desire further articulation of the idea.
5) Start a dialogue. People love to fulfill their purpose and contribute to organizational growth. When someone offers a great idea, keep the discussion alive within the app or flag the response for follow-up. One of our employees was excited when, after several weeks, the leadership team resumed the discussion on his suggestion within his 15Five and let him know that he helped shape the company.
6) Complete the feedback loop. When good ideas come through reports, do your best to either implement them and let that person know it’s been done (one of the best feelings in the world), or let them know it’s a great idea and while we can’t do it now it’s something to revisit in the future.
7) Next steps. If there’s a big issue that comes up, or it’s clear someone is experiencing a lot of negativity, this is a great time to reach out and set up an in-person conversation. Something like “Thanks for sharing. I’d love to learn more. How about coffee next Tuesday?”
8) Stay positive. Care should be taken to not respond negatively to input which comes from an honest place. That will build animosity towards the feedback process, will result in attrition and/or neglect, and ultimately will lead to decreased quality in employee feedback.
When you respond positively and graciously to employee feedback, you are letting the team know that answering these questions is an important aspect of their role. 15Five’s offer employees a voice and a soap-box to stand on. Instead of griping around the water cooler, they can get their concerns addressed by management.
By building trusting relationships with employees, you encourage candor to access feedback. But by knowing how to respond to feedback, you will learn how to cultivate their genuine love for their work and dedication to your company.
Shane Metcalf is Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Shane has spent his career studying organizational & human development, which now translates into the high performing 15Five culture.
Leave a comment below and tell us your employee feedback story. Did the employee feel heard and appreciated, or misunderstood?