Feedback provides managers with the information they need for sound decision-making. Indeed, it’s important for bosses to stay in touch with their employees – that’s where many winning ideas come from. As well, feedback acts as a kind of early warning system about potential problems and grievances. Unfortunately, many managers don’t realise that achieving this form of upward communication requires a good deal of intelligent activity on their part…

1. Know why you need feedback from your staff.

Feedback from employees alerts you to what may be going wrong, to discrepancies between how your staff see their jobs and how you see them, to conflicts, to inadequate workflow, to deficiencies in supervision, to low morale, and to other emotional staff issues. And just as importantly, feedback lets you hear about what you’re doing right, so that you can then continue in or refine these areas.

2. Tell people you want feedback and be prepared to get it.

Tell staff in various ways that you value their feedback. If necessary, specify where information is required for the good of the organisation. Your task then is to make it easy for employees to gain access to you. An ‘open door policy’ is one approach. Visibility and accessibility are important; so some managers prefer management-by-walking-around (MBWA). The best way to understand what’s happening in the workplace is to be part of it, they argue.

3. Provide regular avenues for feedback.

More formal feedback strategies require structure, planning, and effort. Some organisations set aside certain times when top executives are available for phonecalls or visits from employees on any topic. Others train facilitators in the mechanics of information-gathering and presentation. Elsewhere, staff meetings are used for the delivery of regular oral or written status reports. Formal exit interviews with employees who resign or retire are also revealing, as are employee-opinion surveys and questionnaires. Many employees are sceptical of the value of suggestion boxes.

4. Try informal get-togethers to encourage feedback.

From time to time, informal gatherings – staff breakfasts, morning coffee conferences, parties, barbecues, dinners, and picnics – can be used effectively to stimulate the free flow of communication on work-related matters.

5. Show that you’re serious.

Whatever strategy you adopt, a positive and interested response from you will guarantee staff acceptance and determine the quality and frequency of future feedback. So you should:

  • Listen. Give the employee your undivided attention and the clear impression that you are interested in what he or she is saying.
  • Take notes. Use a palm card or diary to take immediate notes.
  • Promote understanding through questions. If an issue requires clarification, ask such questions as ‘What did you mean when you said…?’ or ‘Is this what you mean…?’.
  • Encourage elaboration. By using such leads as ‘Tell me more about…’, ‘Tell me what you think about…’ and following up with statements such as ‘As I understand it, this is what you are saying…’, you clarify important issues and show your interest.
  • Never react badly when you hear something amiss. Try not to ‘kill’ the bearer of bad tidings. Tell staff that the only bad news is the news that is not communicated upwards. You need to hear both the good news and the bad.
  • Thank people for their feedback.

6. Obtain as much specific information as possible.

People usually tend to offer vague responses or comments. The more specific the information provided, the more useful it will be. If you intend to use the feedback to make changes to your organisation’s performance or program, it will normally need to be detailed and specific.

7. Communicate results.

Employees don’t expect that every one of their suggestions will be adopted, but they do expect that, at some stage, you will give reasonable consideration to their comments. If employees’ suggestions are acted on, let them know – and such feedback will be more effective if made publicly in the presence of colleagues. As well, commendation is a powerful motivator for encouraging feedback from others.

8. Stay clear of unprofessional issues.

At times, you will no doubt receive feedback through the company grapevine. When this feedback takes the form of malicious gossip, indicate that you do not want to become involved in unprofessional issues and unproductive behaviour. Your assertive stance may encourage employees to reassess the quality of grapevine communications.


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