In a brilliant Ted Talk held in 2012, Ernesto Sirelli talked about his past failures as member of an Italian NGO in Africa. His first experience was to try and teach Zambians how to grow tomatoes in a fertile but uncultivated valley near the Zambeze river. How can there possibly be any link between employee feedback and growing tomatoes in Zambia? Since Zambians were reluctant, the Italian project leaders did it themselves. As tomatoes were ripe, one night hippos ate all of them and destroyed the whole field. Zambians told the infuriated Italians it was the reason why there was no culture there. When the Italians asked why they hadn’t told them, Zambians just answered: “you never asked”. There we are.
We are all looking for the purpose in the things we do. The feeling of making a difference and improving the surroundings with our work is vital for any kind of job. We cannot make a difference if we do not make our voice heard. Therefore, if employees feel that their opinion is not valued and their work is not improving or supporting the company, their motivation drops. This also leads to decreased engagement or even counterproductive or retaliatory behaviour. Lack of communication is a widespread evil at the workplace: a Gallup study in 2016 finds that only 17% of workers strongly agree that their company has open communication throughout all levels of their company. In particular, millenials require more communication due to their upbringing. They have grown up in an era of connectedness and are used to being able to ask questions, share opinions and give instantaneous feedback. Most companies are not yet in line with their expectations, since 56% of millenials (and 53% of non-millenials) meet their manager less than once a month.
“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better” – Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President.
Once employees feel that they are heard and their ideas are seriously considered and even implemented, they feel satisfied and much more motivated. The fact that their work makes sense and is of use for others can boost anyone’s engagement. The Workhuman Research Institute 2016 Survey Report states that employee recognition significantly improves engagement and creates a more human culture. What’s more, a human culture drives employee well-being and happiness. As shown below, employees are nearly twice more likely to love their job if they believe their leaders care about creating a more human workplace focused on employee well-being.
Now, how to listen to your employees’ feedback?
In practice: managers’ checklists
4 key principles to follow
Make it a priority
Listening to your employees’ feedback has to become one of your priority in order to improve communication and employee engagement. “You have to put it at the top of your list and acknowledge it’s a skill that’s important in your role as a leader. It has to be an active decision,” says Christine Riordan, a leadership coach and president-elect of Adelphi University.
Some people are naturally empathetic and good at listening whereas others are more assertive and extroverted. Strong leaders tend to belong to the second category, since they need to have strong opinions and take decisive action. This explains why so many employees feel that their opinion and feelings do not matter to the management. Take into account the influence of your early years to better understand yourself: were you taught that it is weak to listen and that you need to speak up? Then you will need to change your perspective. “As a leader, you need to have a strong voice and you need to know when it’s time to listen”, says Amy Jen Su of Paravis Partners, an executive training and coaching firm.
Create a positive feedback culture
Leaders should always make sure to establish a positive relationship with their employees. The feedback to their employees should highlight the positive aspects of their work.
Foster constant communication
Managers should try to keep up constant communication. Gallup Research indicates that engagement is highest among employees who meet with their manager at least once per week. Managers should try to quickly connect with their employees every day. There is no need for a daily 30-minute meeting – which would be both unrealistic and counterproductive. Just an email, a quick call or dropping by the employee’s desk will do the trick.
4 actions to take
Schedule regular one on one conversations
They are one way of listening to employees ideas, opinions and critiques. Frequency is a key factor for successful communication so that employees feel recognized.
Organize “innovation” team-meetings
Another idea is a regular team meeting where new ideas are discussed. This enables direct feedback from several people and a real-time implementation.
Create a suggestion box
This traditional and somewhat outdated solution can be useful if the content of the suggestion box is discussed regularly among employees, for example once a month.
Keep up the information
Once the employee’s food for thought is considered and changes implemented, it is important to keep up the information to the employee. People need to know that what they initiated is put into practice.
4 Behavioural Tips for Meetings and Conversations
Get rid of distractions
Put your smartphone and tablet out of reach. Looking at notifications will send to your employee the signal that his feedback is less important than your other tasks and that you are not listening. Indeed, you cannot really focus on the conversation if you are distracted. Moreover, you will miss an important part of the meeting, because if your gaze is elsewhere it’s impossible to pay attention to facial expressions.
Look for nonverbal signals
Your employees will tend to tell you what they think you expect from them. “How is your project going?” “Great!”. You can get very valuable information from their body language. It will express what they will not dare to say: the truth. “Are you sure it’s going great? You don’t look very convinced”.
Control your reactions
This can turn out to be very challenging because you may strongly disagree to your employee’s feedback or because you are hearing upsetting news. Yet, you should absolutely avoid to overreact, interrupt or snap. Practice sitting still and staying silent and avoid rushing to react or contradict before the message is fully delivered.
Validate and check
Ask clarifying questions and reformulate what the employee said to be sure that your perception is not biased and to convey the feeling that you do your best to understand. Always close the talk with a summary of points heard and next steps.
teambay’s question: Do you feel that your feedback is taken seriously and your suggestions are honestly considered?
This question aims at evaluating the bottom-up communication inside an organization. Results allow managers to see if their employees feel recognized and listened to. teambay is an easy and secure way to fill the communication gap between managers and employees. Moreover, anonymity ensures that you receive a honest feedback from your employees without having to rely on body language and persuasion to know their real opinions.