Have you ever had a piece of food stuck in your teeth all day long? You saw lots of people throughout the day but not one of them told you the truth. Perhaps they thought you’d be embarrassed or offended; maybe they believed you already knew it was there. Regardless of why they didn’t tell you, you wish you could have known so you could have fixed the problem.
This scenario is similar to the pitfalls leaders soliciting feedback from their teams may encounter. Perhaps you want constructive criticism about your management style, your operations, or your policies, but your team is too nervous to be honest. Or, they might believe you’re already aware of the problems.
This happens more than you might think. A recent survey from VitalSmarts found that 80 percent of respondents talked to their colleagues about their managers’ weak points but didn’t share what they found lacking with those managers.
To seek honest feedback, you need to create an environment that encourages your team to respond honestly. To promote this atmosphere of trust, demonstrate that you’re taking their feedback to heart – even if what they say isn’t something you’re thrilled to hear. Here, we’ll discuss how to develop an honest environment for feedback.
Create a healthy space for sharing.
Your colleagues are going to be more willing to share honestly if you develop a culture of connection with them. During the pandemic, managers became more mindful of checking in with their teams’ emotional health, as well as providing constructive feedback.
This is a great first step to developing a workplace culture of honest sharing. If you care enough to give them feedback that identifies both their strengths and weaknesses, you are demonstrating that you want to receive the same type of feedback in return.
Develop a structure for soliciting feedback.
The first step in promoting feedback sharing is creating a structure for it. Will you meet with everyone one-on-one? Will you meet with your managers who will then solicit feedback from their teams?
It’s also important that your team knows what the purpose of each meeting is. So, brief them ahead of time about why you’re meeting and what you want to know.
Also, make sure that your meetings are private. A bruised ego can prevent an employee from processing your feedback, and they may fear the same in delivering feedback to you. A closed meeting also prevents the issue of nobody wanting to be the first to speak up, creating an awkward, silent meeting that could become about praising and reassuring you instead of giving you the information you seek.
Be open about weaknesses you have identified in yourself and your operations.
One of the ways you can encourage honest feedback is by asking specific questions about what you think are weak points in your management style or in your team’s operations. We often know what it is and isn’t working, but that understanding doesn’t always mean we know how to solve these problems.
You don’t need to hide what you think needs fixing from your team. Instead, when you have these one-on-one meetings, ask if they can provide specific feedback on problems you have already identified. Perhaps they will have insights on what is causing these issues or how to fix them.
Specifically, ask them to be prescriptive, not just descriptive. If you have a more immediate purpose for your feedback, your colleagues have more direction in providing feedback. Also, they won’t worry about offending you if they know you recognize the same things they do. This timeliness also adds a sense of urgency. If you have a problem that you want to solve, and also create a timeline for remedying that problem, your team is likely to be more honest about offering up their thoughts.
Respond maturely to feedback.
If you do receive feedback, listen to and implement your colleagues’ feedback. For instance, if a team member says that you don’t delegate effectively and take on too much work yourself, develop a plan with as much specificity as possible. Create a timeline for implementation, as well.
Then, follow through on the ways that you have promised. Especially when you’re just starting out collecting feedback, make sure the team knows that if they tell you something, you’ll act on it. Otherwise, they won’t make themselves vulnerable enough to give you feedback again.
At the end of any feedback session, thank the other person sincerely for their insights.
Encourage an environment of feedback in other ways.
The more frequently you ask for feedback, the less intimidating it will be for your team members to provide it. This is especially true if you use their suggestions to drive your own progression, as well as accepting what they’ve said without malice or defensiveness.
HBR shares this method for continuing to ask for feedback:
“Make it normal. Make employee-to-manager feedback a regular agenda item at team meetings. If you have made commitments to improve, take a moment to report on what you have done, and then ask team members to rate your effort on a scale of 1 to 10. They’ll struggle the first few times you do it, but frequency will overcome timidity. Make it normal and it will feel less risky.”
The Value of Honest Feedback
Without unbiased, honest feedback from your team, you might never know if you’re hindering their personal performance or your team’s progress in some way. Collecting this type of feedback is imperative for improvement. Using constructive criticism to improve isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it is one of the most necessary.