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Leaders, do you solicit and listen to negative feedback?

Woman With Sore FeetI’ve often blogged about how leaders can give negative feedback more effectively (including this post: Five things every leader should know about giving negative feedback).  But a recent event caused me to consider how good leaders are at soliciting and listening to negative feedback.

Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

My dad used this phrase the other day, specifically to give a vendor negative feedback about unsatisfactory service.  My father had complained about the quality of the service he had received from one of the company’s staff members, and the supervisor-in-charge was arguing with him, questioning my dad’s account, and suggesting that what he had received was adequate.  My dad’s response was a succinct way of emphasizing that because he was the sole recipient of the service, he was the only one who could offer first-hand knowledge of whether the result was acceptable or not.  In other words, the person receiving the service is in the best position to offer feedback, both positive and negative!

This phrase got my attention, and not just because it was unusual.  Continue reading

The top five reasons your employees won’t give you feedback

Rell DeShaw is a manager in Canada’s federal public service and I met her at the National Managers’ Community Development Forum in Winnipeg this past May.  She is not only an exceptional leader but also an avid learner and teacher, seeking to discover and share resources with others.  She is the author of her own blog Letter to a New Manager, and a few weeks ago I asked her if she would guest here on Turning Managers into Leaders.  Much to my delight, she agreed!

I believe in giving upward feedback … but I subscribe to the theory that the higher up you go, the less willing people are to give you honest feedback.  Unfortunately, because of the perceived power imbalance, many employees won’t bother telling you what they really think.  Here are their top five reasons why they won’t AND my rebuttals to these rationales.

  1. It’s the leader’s job to give me feedback not the other way around. Like any relationship, your relationship with your boss goes two ways, so as long as feedback is given in a way that has the potential to strengthen the relationship, it can be done.
  2. They should already know this – don’t managers get trained? No matter how much training a manager takes, the fact is that they have never managed you. They can’t read your mind and they may forget that they are not managing a clone of themselves. Of course your boss has preferences about how they want to work and ultimately they get the last word. But you won’t know if there is room for change until you ask.
  3. I’ll probably get fired for insubordination. That is certainly possible if you choose to give the feedback in a disrespectful way but I think that the better way to approach it is that you were both hired to work for the same goal. If you have a suggestion to change the working relationship to be more effective in reaching a common result, why wouldn’t you propose it? In upward feedback discussions I always ask myself “What’s in it for them?” and “What’s in it for the organization?” Without good answers to these two questions, I am not yet ready to have an upward feedback discussion.
  4. If they wanted my feedback they’d have asked for it. Yes in an ideal world they would have, but this doesn’t mean you can’t offer it anyway. It won’t occur to some, some don’t know how to ask, some don’t think they’d get any feedback even if they tried.
  5. I have no reason to believe this will be effective. Some ways to test the water without actually talking to your boss include: Doing back door checks to see how they have reacted to feedback in the past. If the person doesn’t “suffer fools gladly” it may not be worth it. It is however a good sign of the person has done a 360 degree feedback exercise.

So, what do you have to add to this list?  What are your reasons for not giving (or giving) feedback to your boss?  Let’s add to this great list that Rell has started.  Please add your Comments below.

You can dialogue with Rell through her blog at Letter to a New Manager.

Are your employees speaking up?

A short time ago, in a leadership session I was conducting at a client company, I raised the point that employees are the best source of intelligence when it comes to uncovering inefficient and ineffective processes in organizations.  That clearly struck a nerve, because several of the managers immediately jumped into the conversation.  “I’ve asked,” said one.  “Over and over again, but the team just doesn’t offer any input.  I know they are aware of what we could change for the better, but I can’t seem to get them to speak up.”  His comments were echoed repeatedly by the rest of the group.  In an attempt to get at the root cause of this reticence from employees, I asked them to take five minutes and write down their answers to this question:

“WHY do you think they’re not speaking up?”

Interestingly, once asked this blunt question, their responses were candidly honest.  And three responses, by far, were the most common:

  1. It’s not my job to raise the flag
  2. That’s the way it’s always been done
  3. There’s no point in saying anything, nothing ever changes

Not long after, they came to a very crucial conclusion.  It isn’t good enough to just ASK for input from your employees.  You also have to do two more things:

  1. You have to create an environment in which “doing the right thing for the organization” is everyone’s responsibility.
  2. You have to make a commitment to follow through and act on legitimate identified changes.

And these come from action – through being a role model, setting an example for everyone else to follow, and demonstrating that you will make changes as needed.

Are your employees speaking up when they observe inefficiency and ineffectiveness?  Why or why not?

Actively seek out feedback

As a leader, it’s important to actively seek out feedback about your department or organization from others.  Whether it is customers, internal clients, or your employees, each of these stakeholders has important information to share with you about how you and your department are doing, and what you could be doing better.  But … the challenge lies in getting these people to be forthcoming with their insights.  Either they’re afraid of the negative repercussions of giving you this feedback, or they don’t see any value in offering their viewpoints.  In the latest issue of CGA Magazine, I give you four deliberate and effective things that you can do to uncover this valuable information.  Read the article – What the Buzz?  Keeping your finger on the pulse of opinion.

And of course, I would love to hear what you are doing?  Are you using any of these four strategies?  Or are you doing something else that works?  Do share.

What are others saying about your company or department?

As a leader, it’s important to find out what your customers and internal clients are saying about your company or department. Recently, I was very impressed with one CEO’s commitment to this essential leadership responsibility.

Last November, while on a short vacation in Hawaii, my husband and I took a helicopter tour of the island. Due to several problems the experience was very disappointing, and in many respects, the excursion was a total flop. When we asked for a refund, the staff declined. We objected, but to no avail. Rather than continue to argue, we chose instead to walk away and chalk it up to a bad experience; this despite the fact that the outing was not inexpensive. Before I closed the door on this incident though, I posted a detailed review (as I often do) of the trip on an online bulletin board. My hope was to help others avoid the same issues that we faced. Case closed. Imagine my surprise when I received an email in February from the CEO of the company asking me for further information about my situation. In fact, I was so taken aback that I initially thought it was spam, and deleted it. It was only a few days later that I reconsidered and wrote back. Over the next few weeks we dialogued via phone and email as the CEO sincerely tried to understand what went wrong. The ultimate outcome – he refunded our payment in full and asked for us to consider his company again when we visited the islands. Something that we most definitely plan to do on our next trip there!

By taking the trouble to find out what his customers were saying about his company, and then acting on what he found, this CEO created immense goodwill and set himself apart from his competition. All your stakeholders have valuable feedback to share with you about how your organization (or your department) is doing, and what you could be doing better. Are you finding a way to tap into this valuable mother lode of information?