When important information doesn’t work its way up the chain it can lead to inefficiency, loss of revenue or worse.

Bosses miss out on valuable feedback when they create a culture that is hostile to discussion. Healthy workplaces embrace the bidirectional flow of information between teams and their leaders.

Few people reading this will disagree, but many leaders remain reluctant to facilitate such a culture out of a fear of encouraging negativity.

When important information doesn’t work its way up the chain it can lead to inefficiency, loss of revenue or worse.

A Revolutionary Idea

While I was a young, less experienced manager at a publication company, an employee timidly approached my office door. She tapped on the glass almost inaudibly. After I invited her in she very cautiously made a suggestion about one of our processes.

I was completely amazed by what she said. It truly was a revolutionary idea. Once implemented her feedback significantly changed the workplace for the better – for everyone.

Considering how afraid this woman was to merely speak to me, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other brilliant suggestions we were missing out on from the ones who were too afraid to speak.

Being an employee advocate at heart, and genuinely desiring for no good idea to get left behind I zealously led an initiative to solicit information from every employee on how to improve the workplace.

I rallied all of the supervisors in the building to buy into this idea of asking employees what we needed to improve. They asked often. I personally welcomed every new hire and training group, telling them we were looking forward to hearing from them about how we can improve our processes and our facility. The employees were delighted at the onset. They had been given a voice.

The Results

Less than six months later the fruits of this effort emerged.

And they were rotten.

Former happy employees turned into pessimists, new hires quickly became disgruntled and the turnover rate was climbing. If one of the top reasons employees are unhappy is because they don’t feel like they are being listened to, what could we have possibly done wrong?

We Didn’t Get Feedback

We didn’t ask for feedback. Feedback is a neutral term. It could be good or bad. We didn’t ask for that.

Instead we asked people to tell us how we could improve. This led folks to assume that things were already bad. We didn’t actually provide employees with a forum for the free flow of information that we had all envisioned at the onset.

By asking them to look for ways we could improve we created a culture of critiquers, and chronic critiquers aren’t happy about anything.

Rather than fostering an environment for healthy discussion we essentially asked everyone who came through the door to look for what was wrong with our workplace, and gave them full license to complain about it.

We unwittingly created a negative bias (a known cognitive distortion according to psychologists) in the minds of the very people we wanted to make happy. The irony! As long as we were instructing them to look for something wrong they were going to find it, and as long as they were finding something wrong they weren’t going to be happy.

A Better Way

We learned in retrospect that the reason our bashful employee was willing to share her workplace-altering feedback with me was because I had invited her to do so. She knocked. I answered. She talked. I listened.

We can proclaim open-door policies, post awe-inspiring values on websites and solicit feedback 40 hours a week, yet most of this will make very little difference should our actions demonstrate the opposite.

A few successful interactions where an employee is able to provide valuable information in exchange for a meaningful response from leadership will send a powerful message throughout. The notion of employees having a voice and a management willing to listen will permeate company culture organically. That’s how we were able to turn things around.

So Much Feedback. So Little Time.

As working managers it may not be practical, or even possible to make ourselves available for discussion every hour of the work week.

At the publishing company I referenced earlier I opened my office door at the times I was available and closed it during the times I couldn’t be interrupted. Some of us are responsible for far more than we were 10 years ago and have even less time to interact with our teams than former days. Some of us no longer have office doors to use as a signal.

Regardless of our own circumstances the need for our teams to feel like they’ve been heard, and our need to hear their input is still just as important as ever. Perhaps technology can help us keep in better touch with our teams.

There’s an App for That?

Happster is a workplace engagement app available for management and teams. It enables team members to leave feedback about the workplace, recognize exemplary peers and send questions to their colleagues for assistance.

Management gains insight on important topics trending in the workplace and has a place to provide a meaningful response. Managers also get to see which employees are receiving praise for their teamwork along with the items employees tend to request help for the most.

5 Tips on How to Get Feedback without Creating Critiquers

Whether your position affords you the time to engage with employees one-on-one, or if you need to use technology like the Happster app to communicate, the following takeaways will help you sustain a culture of ideas and a flow of valuable feedback without turning your staff into chronic complainers.

  • Feedback is a neutral term. Be sure to encourage all feedback so that employees will share everything that’s good without neglecting to mention important opportunity areas.
  • Avoid using language that shifts the focus solely toward the negative (e.g. “Where do we need to improve?”). This could turn your team into haters.
  • Respond to feedback as promptly as possible with meaningful responses. When you cannot provide a timely answer due to an approval process or other delay, communicate that information as well.
  • Encourage dialogue with further inquiry. Ask how important an item is using a scale from 1 to 10. Ask your team members how something they requested will specifically benefit them.
  • Strive to make every one of these interactions a pleasant experience for you and each member of your team. The news will quickly spread throughout your company.


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By | December 11th, 2016|Employee Engagement|

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