Not as easy as it sounds! You can put out suggestion boxes, provide employee hotlines, tout your open door policy from the roof of the building, and still, your team members hesitate to contribute. And – here’s a newsflash for you – it’s likely those people have valuable information they’re not sharing. How do you get it out of them?
The reasons why employees are unlikely to share information about bad bosses, poor processes, or even ways to improve current operations, are pretty logical. People are generally afraid to speak their minds in a work environment – they don’t want managers to take their feedback personally or seem disrespectful. In some circumstances, they don’t want to risk reprimand or dismissal. On the other end of the spectrum, they think, “Why bother? Nothing’s going to change.” In order to create an environment where employee feedback is given freely, a manager (and his Revolutionary Assistant!) needs to mitigate these conditions.
The payoff is excellent. If employees feel comfortable sharing and provide feedback regularly, those companies usually experience a higher employee retention and usually higher performance. Here’s how you can increase feedback in your office.
Don’t rely on the anonymous feedback opportunities – If no one knows who said what, then employees won’t be scared to contribute ad you’re going to get honest feedback, right? Perhaps. But consider this: it’s not very easy to follow up on a serious issue when protecting the anonymity of the employee who submitted it; even more difficult if you don’t know who submitted it at all. So this method is not entirely helpful. If that’s not bad enough, consider that “anonymous opportunities” like a suggestion box or a 360 assessment can make it seem like employees need the protection of anonymity.
Make your manager (and yourself, as his assistant) available – Like, REALLY available, in the work area of the employees on your team. Be curious (in a good way) about what’s going on, and be helpful. You two are the start of a culture of sharing and open dialogue in your office. Be accessible all the time and…
Encourage your manager to be talkative and express his/her own opinions as an example for others – If your manager behaves like he or she is in the culture of sharing and open communication, employees are more likely to follow suit. Transparency is key here, as it’d be easy for employees to think that your manager has a personal agenda if they’re not used to this behavior.
Make feedback a regular part of the routine – If your manager is holding weekly meetings, set aside a part of that meeting to encourage feedback as a part of the conversation. Welcome all of it – even the bad ideas will get you to good ones, so no criticism and no picking on ideas that aren’t totally up to snuff!
Provide resources to address issues that come up – When you hear feedback that requires action, put someone on the case. If employees aren’t sharing because they think nothing will be done, it’s your manager’s duty to make sure they aren’t right about that.
In order to encourage employee feedback, your manager has to work toward shifting the culture so that employees feel comfortable. Once the suggestions start rolling in, take good care of them: put adequate resources on them to see that good ideas come to fruition, and treasure even the bad ideas that come in. Remember, you could work in an office where no one says anything at all!
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