When polled, American workers will reliably cite “a lack of meaningful, two-way communication” as one of the top three reasons for workplace dissatisfaction. If gathering input and feedback isn’t part of your day-to-day workplace culture, it’s uncomfortable or awkward to ask for it. We typically grab the tool we are most comfortable using for a job and your leadership style is a tool. You’re laid back or directive, inclusive or the answer person, hands on or anti micro-management — one of those styles, or a variation, is likely your “comfort zone.” During static periods, even an autocratic style may well suit you, but when the company plans to downsize, upsize, or launch a new line, a manager needs to be more collaborative than normal to help employees buy into the new goal or weather the unexpected detour, and you probably will need to cycle between many different management styles in the course of a single day.
Our measure of success in a company is making the right decisions, with as much information and as little fallout as possible. When you ask for input before making a strategic move, you imply that the decision about x, y or z has not yet been made and that the providers may actually influence your direction. Feedback occurs after a decision has been made – not to judge the wisdom of the decision, but rather to measure its impact and any potential need for modification. A manager needs both input and feedback to most effectively guide an organization, but how can you encourage interactive dialogue from a staff that normally tools along in their jobs and showing their expertise while leaving you to yours – running the business end of the company?
Here are five suggestions (beyond the most obvious one of holding one-to-one meetings) to create and/or encourage input and feedback going forward.
1. Send out a weekly email asking employers to answer three questions germane to their areas. Examples might be: “What single thing might we do to better serve clients?” or “What’s working the best in your department?” or “Who deserves more recognition in the company, and why?” Change the questions weekly and ask the ones that matter most to you.
2. Change the backdrop. Leave the restaurant backdrop with clients, or the office setting with employees, to instead take a walk in a nearby botanical garden area. Walking changes everything, particularly if there is a bench at the end of a short hike where you can relax and talk for a few minutes. It equalizes the dynamic so that both parties better communicate across artificial barriers like titles or roles.
3. Call a “town hall” meeting wherein employees can submit anonymous questions to be answered by company leadership, including the president. Gather the questions beforehand and assign each to the best person to answer. Encourage and answer the tough questions at that meeting and people will believe you are sincere. If you use it as a whitewashing exercise, you will defeat the purpose. Town hall meetings can set a tone inviting more dialogue and trust going forward; eventually they can question spontaneously at such a meeting without needing anonymity. However, the first one will flop if you don’t lower the risk of asking questions!
4. Let your staff rate staff meetings. You don’t want or need witnesses to join you at the table; you need participants. Are your meetings covering topics that everyone can or should participate in? You set the agenda, but how does your line staff perceive the experience? At the end of each meeting, let them anonymously circle these numbered choices: 1 (great meeting); 2 (routine but necessary); or 3 (waste of my time). As they get used to the exercise and rating scale – and see that you use the feedback to design more productive meetings in the future, or stop making them mandatory for people for whom it actually is a waste of their time — staff will be more comfortable simply holding up fingers at the end of the meeting and owning their ratings.
5. Bring in an outside facilitator to do a 360-degree review. This is the exercise where all staff reporting to you have the opportunity to (anonymously) chime in – as well as your boss. And who is your boss? Did you include the customer? Add them, as well as vendors. How successfully do you motivate people? How could you better the relationship you have with persons a, b and c? A 360-degree review is the most hated and resisted management improvement opportunity known – and yet one of the most powerful change instruments. Certainly it is the strongest statement to staff that you welcome feedback. Anonymity absolutely must be guaranteed, which is why you want outside expertise. Experienced facilitators can conduct interviews or set up surveys which will weed out personal attacks and move the dialogue toward behavioral recommendations rather than personality assaults from disgruntled employees. Don’t neglect to absorb the positives along with the areas for improvement. A good facilitator will include opportunities for praise and positive feedback, as well as coaching for areas of concern or growth.
Doing even two of these five on a regular basis will communicate to your team that you value their opinions, experience, and review. What you do with that feedback will be the topic of an upcoming blog!
Have a business question you’d like addressed in an upcoming blog? Email me to start the dialogue!