How to encourage feedback

Feedback provides managers with the information they need for sound decision-making. Indeed, it's important for bosses to stay in touch with their employees - that's where many winning ideas come from. As well, feedback acts as a kind of early warning system about potential problems and grievances. Unfortunately, many managers don't realise that achieving this form of upward communication requires a good deal of intelligent activity on their part...

1. Know why you need feedback from your staff.

Feedback from employees alerts you to what may be going wrong, to discrepancies between how your staff see their jobs and how you see them, to conflicts, to inadequate workflow, to deficiencies in supervision, to low morale, and to other emotional staff issues. And just as importantly, feedback lets you hear about what you’re doing right, so that you can then continue in or refine these areas.

2. Tell people you want feedback and be prepared to get it.

Tell staff in various ways that you value their feedback. If necessary, specify where information is required for the good of the organisation. Your task then is to make it easy for employees to gain access to you. An 'open door policy' is one approach. Visibility and accessibility are important; so some managers prefer management-by-walking-around (MBWA). The best way to understand what's happening in the workplace is to be part of it, they argue.

3. Provide regular avenues for feedback.

More formal feedback strategies require structure, planning, and effort. Some organisations set aside certain times when top executives are available for phonecalls or visits from employees on any topic. Others train facilitators in the mechanics of information-gathering and presentation. Elsewhere, staff meetings are used for the delivery of regular oral or written status reports. Formal exit interviews with employees who resign or retire are also revealing, as are employee-opinion surveys and questionnaires. Many employees are sceptical of the value of suggestion boxes.

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