How to Get Useful Feedback from Your Employees

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Sep 14, 2017

Chances are that if you are in a position where you supervise or manage employees beneath you, you’ve put a lot of effort into giving your junior team members the feedback they need to grow and improve. But have you worked to get feedback from them for your own growth?

Research has shown that feedback from multiple sources is useful for professional growth in the workplace. Too often, the only feedback we receive comes from our direct superiors. While this feedback is certainly valuable and insightful, don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is the only valuable and insightful feedback out there. How often do supervisors overlook the feedback opportunities of their junior team members? In some ways, our employees know us better than our supervisors do, and they have a unique perspective that allows them to see how our managerial styles are working. It can be humbling to ask your employees for feedback, but the best managers out there know that it’s necessary for their personal growth.

The key is to tap into that resource without making your employees feel like they have been given a license to walk all over you. Yes, the experiences and insights of employees are valuable, but at the end of the day, the boss is still the boss, and it’s important they know that. Here are few ideas about how to give your employees permission to speak freely about what is and isn’t working without undermining your own authority.

Set the time and place

You want to get feedback from your employees, but don’t declare open season on yourself. There is a time and place for receiving feedback from your employees, and it’s up to you to decide when and where that is. Face-to-face conversations can be difficult, but even the most thorough questionnaire cannot replace a real conversation with your employees.

Many supervisors will ask their employees for feedback about their managerial style at the end of a performance review. While this is a step in the right direction, it’s not often very fruitful because the employee isn’t usually prepared to answer. Giving feedback to your boss can be scary, so don’t put your employees on the spot. Instead, let them know a day or two beforehand that you would like to receive feedback from them. Consider also sending out a few questions about how you are doing as a manager and ask your employees to prepare to answer them in your meeting. By allowing time to think and prepare, you signal to your employees that you are serious about wanting their feedback. If they believe that you really want the feedback, they’ll deliver.

Ask the right questions

Before you send out that list of questions you want to address, think about what types of feedback would be useful from your employees. Decide where you most need direction, then ask for direction in that area. Instead of sitting down in your performance reviews and asking, “How am I doing?” ask something like, “How has my style of conflict management worked for you?” Tailor the questions you ask to the type of direction you’re looking for.

Another component of asking the right questions is to keep your employees grounded in their own experiences. Harvard Business Review suggests to employees that when they give their supervisors feedback, they “focus on what [they] are seeing and hearing, not what [they] would do as the boss.” Tailor your questions to get this type of feedback. Unless you really want to hear the answer, avoid asking questions like, “What would you do if you were in charge?” Instead, center your questions about what your employees are experiencing and observing like, “When I reacted that way, how did it affect your work environment?” These sorts of questions encourage employees to speak from their experiences instead of telling you how they imagine they would do things. Focus instead on what life is like in the office for them. The experiences they share will tell you what is and isn’t working without giving them license to tell you how to do your job.

By making it clear to your employees that you are actively seeking their feedback, you’re sure to receive some new insights and make new headway. While at first it might be a bit humbling and uncomfortable, good things will come of it. Really encouraging and listening to what your employees have to say will build trust at your company and push you towards your goals.

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