7 Ridiculously Easy Ways Leaders Get Honest Feedback From Their Team
Do you think you can get your team to give you honest feedback? Like no-holds-barred honest? One particular aspect of communication trips up more leaders than anything else; and that is getting feedback to those they lead. It’s tricky terrain to navigate. Here are seven ridiculously easy ways to get honest feedback from your team.
If you are a boss, your employees are probably hesitant about providing you with feedback — real, helpful feedback.
Without input that helps you see yourself as others do, you won’t be able to make adjustments in your behavior that enable you to be more effective and successful. Furthermore, the higher up in an organization that you sit, the harder it is to get the unvarnished truth.
Getting employees to give honest feedback can be like pulling teeth.
After all, no one wants to upset their boss with complaints, criticism or suggestions. But just like employees, employers need to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. While positive feedback encourages people to continue doing what they do well, it’s the constructive feedback that helps people — and businesses — grow.
Open communication is key to good company culture, but it relies on one thing: honest feedback.
Employees need to feel comfortable enough to share ideas, voice opinions, and influence company decisions — and valued enough to want to contribute. But giving feedback isn’t always straightforward, and managerial encouragement alone won’t create an open workplace.
For active and honest employee feedback, here’s how to build a feedback culture that actually sustains itself.
The good news is that there are easy ways to solicit honest, useful, and timely feedback from your team. Here are seven tips and strategies to help you collect feedback and insights from your stellar team!
Call Yourself Out First
Leaders play an enormous part in feedback culture — in defending as well as creating it. So managers need to lead by example, setting the boundaries for what’s desirable feedback behavior and what’s not. If you want to encourage open communication, frank feedback and transparency, you need to be very careful not to do anything that might discourage it.
Most of us don’t like giving negative feedback, regardless of professional relationships.
It’s no wonder, given the obstacles to providing constructive feedback. We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we don’t want our relationships to get messy, we worry about the possibility of an emotional outburst, and, if we’re communicating with our boss, we worry about the possible career repercussions of speaking with candor.
A good way to create a culture of healthy and honest feedback is to model it yourself.
If you desire to create a feedback-rich culture, you must become comfortable receiving feedback yourself. At my company, for example, we recently implemented a regular review at any level of our organization, but we also make an effort to seek in-flight feedback from our teams.
Always be the first to ask for feedback on yourself…and thank them for it, react well to it, and act on it.
Clearly communicate that if you don’t get feedback, you can’t improve as a leader. Only giving top-down, management-driven feedback can be perceived as demeaning and arrogant (i.e. “I’m the leader, I’m here to use my brilliance to tell you how to do things better”) and certainly doesn’t build respect.
If you’re a leader and you’re not forthright with your employees, why should they be forthright with you?
Give others frequent feedback, both on what they’re doing well and how they can improve. To create an environment where others feel comfortable giving open and honest feedback, you need to create psychological safety, and the best way to do that is to take the first step yourself.
As a leader it’s always better to model the behavior you want your team to follow.
Leaders must seek opportunities to provide feedback to team members in a constructive manner and establish a model for the team to follow. Additionally, a leader should encourage team members to provide feedback to each other. The more the team provides feedback to each other, the more likely this type of communication will become commonplace. Once that happens, the stress around providing feedback diminishes, and it will be a more natural occurrence.
How employers elicit employee feedback is irrelevant if they don’t follow up with employees. When it comes to giving employers constructive feedback, the greatest motivator is to show employees their feedback is being considered or, better yet, applied.
Employees will stop giving feedback if they think it is a futile process.
Follow-through is far more important than the approach used to get the feedback in the first place. Thank employees for their feedback, share decisions that were made — even if you went a different direction than was suggested–, and be sure to explain the “why” behind those decisions.
Once you get the feedback, do something with it. Follow through it.
Do something with the feedback they’ve mustered the courage to give you. If several people mentioned that your meetings run too long, figure out how you can make them shorter. And make sure your team realizes that you’re making these changes because of their feedback. Awkward as it may sound, you might have to specifically point out that you’re making a change based on their input.
As a leader, you may understand how frustrating it is to see a team member receive feedback and do nothing in response to it. The same is true of upward feedback.
Employers can bet that once an employee has taken the time to give their opinion on a matter, they’ll be watching to see if their opinion is truly valued. Even if an idea or suggestion remains just that, follow up with employees and let them know that their feedback is always appreciated and encouraged.
Collecting information and honest feedback is ultimately useless if you don’t do anything with it.
In fact, asking employees for their opinions and then disregarding their input is probably worse than not asking at all. While you can’t fulfill every request of course, honestly acknowledging their input and thanking employees for their contributions goes a long way. Employees need to know that their concerns are being heard, that their insight matters, and that they make a lasting difference.
Let employees know about changes and then keep your word to the best of your abilities.
At team meetings, share feedback that you have received from your staff. Share what specific things you have learned and how you may have benefitted from the information. Follow up by acknowledging how difficult it can be to provide upward feedback and thank the person for mustering up the courage. By sharing this story and the positive impact of the feedback, you recognize the courage it takes to speak candidly, but at the same time, you encourage others to do the same.
Don't Get Defensive
When your employees offer you feedback or suggestions for improvement, simply listen to what they have to say. You may feel defensive or think their ideas or feedback don’t have merit, but this isn’t the time to rebut or critique. Doing so will only shut them down in the future.
Expecting criticism is only the first step in taking criticism well, though. If you feel yourself getting defensive, you should refrain from reacting to what you hear in the moment.
Give yourself time to process what you hear, and allow yourself to return to the feedback in a more reflective way later on. There is no shame in saying something like, “Thank you for that information. I will take it into consideration and would like to talk further with you once I’ve had a chance to process it.” Of course, if you say you want to talk further, make sure you do.
Feedback can reveal flaws that we don’t see in ourselves. It can be painful, but it’s essential.
If we respond with defensiveness, we shut down a valuable tool for building an honest, thriving relationship. Some people respond with anger, putting the blame on the person giving the feedback. Others withdraw or change the subject so they don’t have to face the issue. Still others roll into a ball like an armadillo, withdrawing and pretending to be dead. Only healthy people see feedback as a gift to help them grow.
At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything — stop. Really.
Try not to react at all! You’ll have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm.
Learning to step away from the need to defend yourself in any given interaction is one of the most powerful relational skills you can develop.
There are very few scenarios in which we truly need to defend our point of view. Rather, we are mostly driven to do so by the desire to be right. In these moments, we are held within the grips of the ego, which acts as a barrier to authentic communication and connection. There is no difference between defensiveness and defending yourself.
Own it. There’s no denying it, it’s tough to hear ways that you’re not perfect.
So really absorb the criticism. Feel it all the way to your bones. And then take responsibility for what went wrong. Lots of people don’t own up to their mistakes. They put the blame on someone else and it keeps them from improving. Once you own it, you can get better.
Workplace feedback is often attained through varied traditional methods. But what sometimes happens is that the employees provide the feedback and nothing gets done to address, or even corporately share their suggestions and concerns. Honest and genuine feedback comes from fostering an open-door environment where leaders are approachable and conduct retreats, lunch with the boss and family days.
As a leader, you set the tone for how your team members interact with one another — and with you.
Establishing an open-door policy with your team is a good first step toward communication, but in and of itself, it will not result in getting honest feedback from your team. Engendering a culture of open, honest communication means setting an example as to what upward feedback looks like. You will want to acknowledge the discomfort they may feel around offering feedback to a boss.
Great leaders facilitate trust by showing employees that communication isn’t just a one-way experience.
When people feel trusted they are much more likely to offer it in return. Being open with employees means including them in both the positive and negative experiences. While it can feel safer to hold onto bad new as long as possible, being blindsided by a layoff, a lost client, an organizational rearrangement, or any other kind of setback is always a worse experience.
Respond, don’t react. Unapproachable people get that moniker often because they snap at people who give negative feedback, or offer new ideas.
Instead, listen to the end of what he/she has to say, and pause to reflect on your response. Usually, asking a non-threatening question is way better than leading with an emotionally-charged statement. Play with their idea; don’t smash it.
Folks need to know that you will be receptive to feedback.
Cultivating relationships outside of serious conversations is important. Grabbing lunch or coffee, or chatting about things other than work can help communicate “Hey, I’m a real person who is approachable.” When you are in the process of receiving feedback, you need to be in full listening mode. One of the most important aspects to receiving feedback is to not immediately disagree or interrupt.
Approachable leaders encourage open communications and candid observations.
An open and candid environment is a key element in creating a unit poised to recognize and adapt to change. Approachable leaders show respect for others’ opinions, even if contrary or out of the mainstream of thought. Some leaders specifically recognize others to provide a critical viewpoint to guard against groupthink. A positive leader remains calm and objective when receiving potentially bad news.
Employees observe whom their leaders spend the most time with and how comfortable they are around different personalities, genders, and ethnicities.
A leader must be mindful of how he or she treats that very vocal employee: does the leader keep their distance from that individual, while gravitating towards employees who are considered safe or those who only tell their superiors what he or she may want to hear? A leader should not be afraid to spend more time with employees whom they are not naturally inclined to correspond.
Ask For Ideas
Having an open-door policy is great, but it doesn’t always motivate employees to come forward with their comments, suggestions or concerns. The key to bringing out truly honest feedback from employees is to take the time to meet with them in an informal, one-on-one setting.
Never ever underestimate the expertise, knowledge, and intelligence of your employees.
One of the biggest pitfalls of some leaders is that their ascension to the top gives them “airplane ear,” which impairs their ability to hear what is going on across their organization. Instead, leaders should take a humble approach, proactively and openly seeking insight from all levels, as various insights are imperative for growth.
Allow employees to provide a picture for the ideal situation.
This allows them to be creative, communicate in a non-threatening way and permits ideation. Leaders should allow employees to respond in writing, video, with graphics or other creative methods. A true assessment of feedback will allow the ideas to implemented. Then, ask them to identify the top three challenges they face and suggest specific solutions or recommendations. This approach allows leaders to obtain critical viewpoints from employees on specific issues and how to fix them.
Open-minded leaders encourage their people to challenge their thinking.
If your team holds back from dissenting your ideas, you will only ever walk away with what you started with in the first place — your own untested idea. Actively encourage people to debate and improve your ideas, finding ways to ensure the quietest voices in the team are heard. Practice being the last to speak, so you can get ideas from others before they are un-moderated by your opinion.
Rather than asking your team for feedback on what you did wrong, ask them for ideas on how you could be more effective in the future.
This takes them out of the uncomfortable position of judging you and into the role of brainstorming partner for a better future. By demonstrating a growth orientation, you may be able to parlay the dialogue to uncover other growth areas. Just ask: “What else should I do to be more effective?”
Last but not least: you want genuine, honest feedback?
You need an online rating system that is easy to use, but complex enough to create a thorough evaluation. Ask for input and allow for optional anonymity. You want to make it a regular part of the job, done monthly, so improvements can be acknowledged, ideas tested and issues rapidly addressed and corrected by management.
If you want specific and actionable feedback, you need to ask questions that elicit specific information. Generic questions, such as “Anything I can do for you?” are too broad and place too much burden on the employee to guess what you are seeking. Your questions should be open-ended (not yes or no) and encourage specific responses.
Tell your people why you want this feedback in the first place and what you hope to do with it.
Explain your goals as a leader and how their feedback can help you, the team, and the whole company. If your team understands how impactful their feedback can be and how important it is that they’re forthcoming, they’re more likely to be honest about where there are opportunities for growth.
When you ask for feedback, be specific and timely.
It is helpful to ask for feedback in context and in a timely manner, it can make it easier for the person you’ve asked for feedback to recall specific behaviors and examples that can facilitate your learning. For example, if want feedback on how you are developing on a certain skill it can be helpful to ask after a project or moment where you specifically used this skill.
Whatever you do, don’t start off by asking, Do you have any feedback for me?
The answer is almost always NO and you learn nothing. Instead ask you could ask: What’s one thing I could improve? so it’s clear that you’re asking for and it’s clear that you assume there’s at least one thing you can work on. You can also tailor the question to the specific situation: What’s one thing I could have done better in that meeting or presentation? You should also avoid asking questions that are likely to result in yes or no answers.
Be clear about the feedback you’re requesting.
Employees deserve honest, straightforward messages. They should leave with a very clear understanding of what is being asked of them, not a sugar-coated or muddled version of what should have been said. Recap key points at the end of the conversation or ask the other person either to summarize their key takeaways or respond via email after the meeting.
Put yourself in your employee’s shoes.
If your manager asked you for feedback without being specific, it would be hard to come up with a response on the spot. This is why asking “do you have any feedback for me?” is great…but not enough. In contrast, when you ask specific questions, you’ll not only help your direct reports come up with better answers but help yourself in areas where you know you need some improvement or growth.
Timing Is Everything
Developing a healthy feedback culture takes time. But if you work consistently to build trust, you’ll enjoy a more productive, open culture in which people feel respected. You’ll also benefit from a more trusting and positive work environment.
The best leaders know when to ask for feedback.
Feedback — positive or negative — that is targeted, well framed and delivered at the right moment can make or break your organization. You never want to be kicked when you’re down. The ability to discern the proper time and place to get feedback is a skill that must be mastered in order to be a great leader.
Effective feedback has a very short shelf life.
It’s not something that should be delayed. Whether positive or negative, feedback should be timely, specific and objective (meaning we aren’t analyzing reasons why someone behaved as they did). When feedback can be delivered in frequent feedback cycles — or, better yet, in the moment — I’ve learned it often has less of a sting and is more actionable for the receiver.
By the way, it’s pretty efficient to solicit feedback regularly enough to make it part of your culture.
If you practice the tactics and strategies outlined above regularly enough, it will become part of your culture. Solicit feedback at every turn. Ask questions. And eventually people will realize this is not only a safe place to give feedback, it’s desirable and needed to advance the mission.
You will want to get feedback timely and ongoing. Maintaining a feedback loop is a virtue.
Getting feedback just once a year makes the entire interaction far more intimidating (or even downright scary) for both the giver and receiver. And doing so only when the sky is falling casts a negative cloud around the whole dialogue. Get ongoing feedback to establish a culture of open dialogue, and to reinforce positive behaviors and shift negative ones before they get out of hand.
Remember, you will need to ensure that feedback is perceived as a gift.
Honest feedback helps leaders do their best work and grow professionally. But feedback is only a gift when it is delivered thoughtfully. While many conversations can happen in the moment, more involved discussions should be planned with an agenda so that no one is surprised by the conversation’s trajectory. Get feedback to stay on track!
Effective communication and good leadership are synonymous. They are espoused. If the two ever divorce, efforts, organizations, and vision become orphans struggling to survive in a dysfunctional home.
Honest feedback is the breakfast of champions.
It allows those who seek and incorporate it to identify their blind spots, increase self-awareness, and become a better version of themselves. Unfortunately, some leaders skip this important “meal” to stay comfortable and avoid criticism that may compromise their psychological well-being.
If you’re truly going to develop as a leader, you can’t do it without great and honest feedback.
You need honest feedback from people who believe in your mission, who support you and who like working with you. More than anyone else, they are in the best position to see your faults and help you through them. Feedback from them is gold.
Relationships are not always easy. Honesty provides the steering wheel for a good relationship, as it helps you to stay on track when the going gets tough.
Honesty in relation to feedback is about caring for someone enough to give them valuable information that, if acted upon, will help them and the team be successful. It’s about respecting the person as well as the outcome. This is how strong relationships are built.
Developing a healthy feedback culture takes time.
But if you work consistently to build trust, you’ll enjoy a more productive, open culture in which people feel respected. You’ll also benefit from a more trusting and positive work environment. Over time, you will create the conditions for a feedback-rich culture that benefits everyone on your team.
Honesty, done the right way, fuels relationships. And relationships are what fuels business success.
Feedback is the not-so-secret sauce that can super charge your teams and organizations. Learn how to give and receive it better so that your community can grow trusted leaders and benefit from their strengths. How do you get candid opinions and honest feedback from your employees? Do you have any tricks or tips for promoting honest feedback among your team members? Be sure to let me know in the comments.