Does asking for feedback make a leader look weak?
How should a leader ask for feedback in a way that will generate honest responses?
What if a leader doesn’t agree with the feedback employees offer?
These are all valid questions. And they all have equally valid answers.
Why Asking for Feedback Makes you a Stronger, Rather than a Weaker Leader:
Asking for feedback, especially when you’re coming from a place of authority and power, requires both humility and courage. These are admirable traits in a leader. They require vulnerability and transparency and will have a huge positive influence on the way your employees view you, and how passionate they are about following you.
When you ask an employee for their feedback or input, it shows that you trust and value them. This goes a long way for building trust with employees and creating a culture where people are comfortable to share ideas, innovate, and improve.
As Forbes shares in their article:
“Top ranked leaders (those who average a score at the 83rd percentile on leadership effectiveness) are also at the top in asking for feedback, based on research we’ve drawn from our database of 360° reviews. Is this a coincidence? I think not.”
Why Asking for Employee Feedback May be Challenging yet Constructive
It is a sign of a true leader to put aside his or her pride and open the floor for the team to offer suggestions and constructive criticism. This exhibits an extraordinary level of transparency and trust, and it’s not easy. Why is the prospect of asking those below us for feedback such a daunting thought? SHRM gives great insight into why it may be initially uncomfortable to ask for feedback:
“Learning to accept feedback requires us to wrestle two conflicting human needs: the need to learn and grow and the need to be accepted as we are. It helps to understand what triggers our defensive reactions, which can block our ability to learn.”
However, very little growth takes place when we live in our comfort zones. Especially as a leader, it’s important to keep pushing past what is comfortable to move into what is beneficial, both for yourself and for your team. Leadership often sets the tone for company culture and the attitude towards feedback. As shared by Inc., when you open yourself up to employee feedback:
“It lets your employees know that you’re not above reproach and highlights the fact that everyone has weaknesses and areas in which they can improve. It shows them that direct feedback is important for every player on the team–even the CEO.”
Four Practical Ways to Obtain Honest Feedback From Employees
1. Be Proactive:
Don’t make it a one time thing, make it a work lifestyle. As Forbes shares:
“Be a heat seeker for asking for feedback. Always ask, “Is this working? Is there anything else I should be doing?”
Never be content. Keep seeking to progress and excel, concerning processes, leadership, communication, and everything between.
2. Make it Easier for Employees to Give You Feedback:
Something important to remember, excellently worded by SHRM:
“Leaders should avoid asking ‘Do you have any feedback for me?’ You’ll put subordinates on the spot. They’re not sure how honest they’re supposed to be..Instead, try asking ‘What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my way?’ Once a month, as one person for one piece of advice. Pay attention to the themes that emerge.”
Make it easy for employees to give you feedback, and then praise them when they do.
3. Provide an Easy and Specific Feedback Format:
When you ask employees for employees and provide them with a practical, easy, and judgement-free way to do so, they are much more likely to contribute. A wonderful example of this is one manager who knew that his written communication skills were weak. He utilized an easy, formatted employee feedback system to help him improve. In an Inc. article, he shares:
“I asked my employees to start responding to the emails I send out with immediate and honest feedback, along with a rating of one to 10. One meant the email was rushed and confusing, and 10 meant the opposite.”
4. Anonymize the Process:
Providing employees with guidelines and opportunities to offer feedback are all wonderful initiatives. However, it can still be difficult for employees to feel comfortable enough to give completely honest feedback, especially concerning more delicate topics. For these cases, there is an excellent avenue for success–anonymizing the process through a third party survey platform.
When you have a safe, easy and anonymized process for employees to offer leadership feedback, the employees never need to worry about how honest they’re supposed to be. They can freely speak what’s on their mind, offer their voice and express their thoughts without fear of judgement.
Leaders can also be more specific about what they’d like feedback on, whether it’s a new company system, communication style, or if they want to open the floor for employees to share whatever is on their minds.
How to Manage Employee Feedback:
What if you disagree with the feedback you receive? SHRM shares:
“Engage in small experiments. During the feedback conversation, you don’t have to decide whether to accept or reject the advice. “You just have to more deeply understand it,” she says. “That takes the pressure off the conversation.” Think about it later. If you’re not sure if a suggestion would work, pick some low-risk places to practice.”
Remember, regardless of the feedback you receive, you’ve already won half the battle. Simply asking for and listening to the feedback shows that you care. And that’s what really matters to your employees. By all means, do what you can to improve what you can. If opinions differ, address those topics and explain your perspectives more deeply so that employees why certain things are done certain ways.
Asking for feedback can be scary. Acting on feedback can be scary. But at the end of the day, remember, when a leader is humble and open enough to ask employees for feedback, it shows a deep sense of consideration, leadership, and encourages transparency, trust, and loyalty. It will improve the lives of your employees, and it will improve your company as a whole.
And who wouldn’t want that?
If you’re interested in finding out more about how WorkTango helps companies give feedback to leaders, check us out!