Getting Feedback from Your Staff

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. And feedback acts as kind of early warning system about potential problems and grievances. Unfortunately, many managers don’t realise that achieving this form of upward communication requires good deal of intelligent activity on their part…

1. Tell people you want feedback and be prepared to seek it
Publicise in various ways the fact that you value feedback from staff and, if necessary, identify those elements 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 considerations and, for that reason, 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.

2. Install 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 phone calls or visits from employees on any topic. Others train facilitators in the mechanics of information gathering and presentation, while elsewhere staff meetings are used for the receipt 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 as to the value of suggestion boxes.

3. Try informal get-togethers to encourage feedback
From time to time, informal gatherings, such as 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.

4. Show that you’re serious
Whatever the strategy you adopt, positive and interested response from you will guarantee staff acceptance and determine the quality and frequency of future feedback. Accordingly, you should:
* Listen. Give the employee your undivided attention and the clear impression that you are interested in what your employee is saying.
* Takes notes. Use palm card or diary to take notes, there and then.
* 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 “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. Get the message across that the only bad news is the news that is not communicated upwards. You want to hear the good news and the bad.
* Thank people for their feedback
5. Seek as much specific information as possible
People usually tend to be vague with their 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 programme, then it will normally need to be detailed and specific.

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

7. 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 have no desire to become involved in unprofessional issues and unproductive behaviour. Your assertive stance may encourage employees to reassess the quality of grapevine communications.

Management memo
Seeking feedback is very important part of being good manager. Like everyone else, you are dependent upon feedback to find out how you are performing. You should be seeking feedback actively, every day, from everyone in your working environment – your boss, your peers, your staff and your customers. If you don’t you run terrible risk – the risk of coasting along and never fine-tuning your direction.

From Just about Everything Manager Needs to Know, by Neil Flanagan & Jarvis Finger, Plum Press. Copy information to email:[email protected]; fax: (04) 528 9916

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