Are you Enabling or Stifling Employee Feedback?

Are you Enabling or Stifling Employee Feedback?

The famous words of Bill Gates are timeless in describing the value of feedback, “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve,” Without feedback it is almost impossible for any company to move forward. In an age where your employees are part of your competitive advantage, it is counter-intuitive to not engage employees and provide opportunities for them to provide suggestions, ideas and feedback to help improve the organization.

Why do we need feedback?

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 Every organization has things they do and don’t do well. For most companies, external feedback loops comprised of customer surveys, reviews and ratings are indicators of what customers like, prefer and avoid. Unfortunately, most organizations fail to adequately value and consider the feedback of their internal customers, their employees, as much as their external customers.

Creating internal customer satisfaction is one of the major keys to maintaining external customer satisfaction. How will we create and maintain internal customer satisfaction? Feedback! Feedback not only highlights the good and bad of the organization, but also creates a source of opportunities for continuous improvement.  Feedback also boosts employee engagement, productivity, retention, which in turn, boosts external customer service and retention. Essentially, any organization looking to deliver more value to their external customers need to first recognize the value of their internal customer feedback. Who better to tell you how to improve your process and operations than the people who live it every day?

Does your organization support feedback?

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Most organizations understand the value of feedback, yet so few still encourage and create opportunities to provide it.  In the words of a modern pioneer, Elon Musk, “… it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” If only more leaders would think that way. To create a feedback loop that empowers, it needs to be part of common culture, and it must start at the top. How does your organization’s culture support or hinder employees providing feedback?

Before you drift too far down your list, let’s pause and think about the everyday interactions in your organization. Is there conversation about how processes, information flow or even how products and services could be improved? Who is tracking those ideas? Is there an opportunity to share them so they can be explored? Do these people with ideas get a chance to share them in a formal way as well? The amazing thing about feedback is that it doesn’t have to be formal. Many times some great ideas come from informal conversations in the lunch room, at lunch or even while making coffee. How is your company cashing in on the goldmine of ideas that your employees share daily? If you are only waiting and hoping they will jot these down on their next performance review ten months from now, you are missing out.

What mediums and tools are you using to capture feedback? Is senior management actively reviewing and exploring employee suggestions and ideas to determine their value? Some companies also recognize and reward employees who provide ideas, identify areas for improvement and support continuous improvement with percentages of the savings, special recognition and bonuses. Employees aren’t only motivated by the monetary rewards, but studies show that recognition for providing feedback is highly valued by employees. Maren Hogan shares a statistic in her 2016  blog article for LinkedIn that 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.(“ 5 Employee Feedback Stats That You Need to See”, Maren Hogan)

Every company’s culture is different, and so are the employees. Have you identified the best methods that work for your culture and employees? It is important to note that both formal and informal methods of providing feedback are valuable. From suggestion boxes, brainstorming meetings to performance reviews and fireside chats, providing opportunities to share and receive feedback is crucial to culture and the organization.

Where does the feedback go?

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So you are rolling out some new feedback elements and sharpening up the old ones to be more effective. Almost as bad as having feedback, is collecting the feedback and sitting on it. Before you announce your new ideas to the management team, let’s take a minute to talk about where this is going. Again, let’s look at your culture and the organization’s M-O. Have any employee ideas ever been implemented? If not, why not? Was it because they never got to the right person? Was it just not part of the budget or business direction right now?

One of the most demoralizing things is to ask for input or feedback and in turn not provide feedback. Opening up the lines of communication and creating opportunities for feedback goes both ways. Employees who share their ideas and provide feedback also deserve to know what will happen to the feedback they have provided. Without clear follow up, updates and ultimately communicating a decision, very soon, organizations can find their feedback pool dry. Before you open up the well of ideas, let’s also map out how the feedback will be recorded, tracked and how employees will receive feedback as well.

Whether it is a performance review or suggestions on improving a department procedure, where the feedback goes and what is done with it, is just as critical as ensuring you capture it in the first place.

How do I Enable and not Stifle feedback?

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We have talked about the benefits of feedback and the impact of organization’s culture on the collection and management of feedback. Here are a few tips to help you enable feedback in your organization:

1.      Make it part of your culture – open and visible

The culture sets the tone for the organization. Whether you collect formal or informal feedback, hopefully you collect both, it should be part of your organization’s culture. From utilizing traditional to more technological methods, feedback should be collected, evaluated and leveraged. The culture of feedback should be felt and valued from the top down with feedback flowing both ways.  Don’t stifle feedback by failing to provide visibility and updates on the ideas and suggestions provided.

2.      Focus on the message, not the person providing it – everyone has a voice

There is an African proverb that says, “Examine what is said and not who speaks.” One of the major misconceptions about feedback is that only feedback from certain people or groups is important or worth addressing. In other settings, organizations can be prone to group think and idea stifling. Regardless of the person sharing the idea, providing an open, judgement-free and safe environment to share feedback ensures that everyone can participate. Don’t stifle feedback by only using meetings and open discussions to collect feedback. Also look at anonymous or more private ways to share ideas and suggestions for those who may get intimidated or be shy. Make feedback inclusive with a variety of ways to share.

3.      Recognize contributors

Creating an environment that encourages employees to share should also be accompanied by recognition. This is where we can get creative. Recognition doesn’t have to be monetary, while that may be nice. Recognition can also include things like an ‘Employee of the Month’ or ‘Idea of the Month’ certificate. Perhaps it could be as unique as a lunch with the President, or as simple as a recognition card on the notice board. Regardless of the way you recognize employees, ensure they are recognized. Don’t stifle feedback by not recognizing or acknowledging contributors and their contributions.

4.      Act on it

One of the tell-tale signs to know if your organization is enabling or stifling feedback is to ask yourself about the last time an employee suggestion was implemented. Perhaps you have several years’ worth of suggestions, have any of those been implemented? If your answer is no, you are on the path to stifling employee engagements and feedback.  Don’t stifle feedback by not acting on suggestions. Review and create an effective process that captures, evaluates, acts and communicates the status of feedback. While not all suggestions may be actionable, closing the loop by providing feedback validates the contributor and encourages them to share again.

Employee feedback is a critical part of any organization’s success, providing valuable insight and information. Organizations that successfully harness and utilize employee feedback share in the benefits of increased employee engagement, retention and external customer satisfaction. Failing to tap into the goldmine of employee feedback could be holding you back. Perhaps, it’s time to honestly ask, “Are you enabling or stifling employee feedback?”

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