How to get honest feedback from your staff

Communication is one of those things that you can never have enough of. If your company has undergone big changes, perhaps a sale, merger or takeover, it’s important for management to receive honest feedback from the staff on many sensitive work-related matters.

One sometimes forgets that employers need feedback just as much as employees do, and if this can be a two way affair, then everyone’s a winner. But, as we all know, getting employees to give honest feedback can be rather tricky – after all, no one wants to upset their bosses by raising issues that might be regarded as negative or non-constructive.

So, what can a company have to do to elicit honest feedback from its staff? Here are 5 strategies that might just work. 

1. Meet individually and ask insightful questions

Many businesses will tell you they have an ‘open door’ policy’ and that’s all very well, but how does it motivate employees to come forward with suggestions, criticisms or concerns? It doesn’t really.

To obtain honest feedback you need to gain you team’s trust, and one way to do this is to meet with them in an informal, one-on-one setting. Try to put them at their ease and be sure to ask the right kind of questions, because knowing what to ask is key to drawing out honest and constructive feedback.

Here are some of the kind of questions you might like to ask:

  1. If you were in my shoes, what would you change in the business tomorrow and why?
  2. What do you enjoy most about your job?
  3. What do you enjoy least about your job?
  4. What are you hearing our customers say about our business?
  5. What can I do to help you be more successful? 

2. Do away with the suggestion box

Does your office still have an old fashioned suggestion box? The thinking always used to be that this would encourage employees to come forward with open and honest comments. Is it working? Probably not.

Instead, it’s up to the corporate leadership to develop a culture of open communication, so that staff feel empowered to claim a stake in the current and future success of the business.

One example of how this could work was initiated by the successful marketing agency Quirk. By creating a public process, in the form of a flow chart on the office wall, employees were openly invited to suggest ideas, gather support for those ideas by collecting signatures, and to see the ideas through to implementation. Inspired.

3. Audience response system technology

Another innovative method of obtaining feedback from employees is to use an audience response system. These individual electronic polling devices are easy to use and can be used for important meetings for obtaining quick and anonymous feedback on all sorts of questions. A bit like ‘ask the audience’, the responsive handheld devices can also be used for audience participation and voting during workshops and conferences.

At a recent meeting of a large accounting firm, all the senior partners around the country were supplied with keypads, so that they could forward ideas, comments and suggestions on various issues. Once all the issues were identified, groups were then formed so that the appropriate action could be taken.

The response system provided the partners with the means to submit feedback in an open and honest way so that effective action plans could be drawn up. They were able to deal with the issues quickly and candidly whilst at the same time remaining anonymous. 

4. Appoint some feedback coaches

Receiving feedback from the boss is all in a day’s work for an employee, but the other way round – be it a suggestion or some form of criticism – is another matter entirely. The key to obtaining candid opinions from employees may be to allow them to give the feedback to people other than the boss.

Instead of having employees face their superiors, why not encourage them to talk to one of a few designated ‘feedback coaches’? These coaches are well-versed in handling employee feedback and, more importantly, take the fear out of the communications process. This method of handling employee grievances could be key to eliciting honest feedback in your company.

5. Follow up with employees

Finally, whatever happens, whenever feedback has been provided to the management, it’s vital that it’s followed up, and soon. If the team member’s suggestions have been taken on board and this is communicated back to the individual, the motivational effect could be huge.

The fact that a staff member has been heard, and his opinion been listened to, goes a long way to building a company that truly values its employees. Even if some suggestions will not be acted on, it’s still a good idea to follow up with the employees and let them know that their feedback is always appreciated.