Leadership: How to get honest feedback from your employees

Keren Lerner gives us tips for how to get honest feedback.

When it comes to running a business, there is a definite line to be drawn between those who have people working for them, and those who don’t. Once you ‘have staff’ much of your time and brain space is spent on them. Onboarding them, training them, briefing them on projects, motivating them, reviewing them and worrying about them.

So, when people are underperforming you feel a certain pain and anxiety that takes over your head space.

Now the solution to any conflict is usually to improve communication. Often, if someone is ‘acting out’ or not performing their duties at work it’s not because they are lazy or don’t care but rather that they feel upset, unappreciated, demotivated, or something is happening outside of work.

It’s for this reason that finding out what’s really going on in their heads is important. Once someone feels heard they feel better and will give more back. They will cheer up and work more effectively. Having run a small team for 11 years now, I am much better at having the courage to speak up and bring things out in the open. 

Start early 

With a new member of staff, book a meeting in the first week, to see how they’re doing. Even if there isn’t much to report necessarily, it breaks the ice and shows you are the listening type. You can ask questions like ‘What stands out amongst the things you’ve learned’ and ‘What’s been different from what you expected now that you’ve been here a week?’. 

 By establishing a good honest relationship from the beginning you will make your employees feel as though they can be open and honest with you. 

Having this time out of work, maybe over a coffee or lunch, gives you a chance to get to know each other and makes it more comfortable in future. By establishing a good honest relationship from the beginning you will make your employees feel as though they can be open and honest with you.

Of course you may have had someone working with you for ages and haven’t done this yet. But it’s never too late to start. 

Agendas are useful

During weekly catch-up calls it’s good to follow a specific agenda. These meetings don’t need to take more than five minutes and should be kept short and pleasant. A good agenda for such catch-ups is:

  • Good news – persona
  • Good news – business
  • What are you working on
  • Anything you need help and support on
  • One word close

The fine line between boss and friend

There needs to be a balance of hierarchy but as an employer you also need to feel like a friend or someone that’s willing to listen and take on what your employees have to say.

There needs to be a level of understanding of each other and how each person ticks in order for employees to feel like they can give truthful feedback and that the employer doesn’t feel attacked and therefore is able to listen.

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Of course, the level of friendship depends on many factors – not least the compatibility between the employer and employee – but there is anything wrong with adopting certain characteristics of friends – listening, supporting, and doing fun things.

Listen and wait before reacting

As the leader/employer, it’s up to you to be the ‘bigger person’ – and that means keeping your cool. During times of emotion and stress, it is important to set aside time to meet, to hear people out, consider their point of view, and take time before reacting so you approach any issues that arise with calm maturity and offer support.

Doing this means your team will feel more comfortable in the future, because the outcome and your reaction are positive .

Monthly one-to-one meetings

A one-on-one or ‘O3’ is a weekly or monthly meeting between you and each of your employees to just generally catch-up, hear how they are doing, and even ask how their cats or kids are. This gives you a chance to see problems before they arise and build on that supportive relationship.

This piece concludes next week.


About the author

Keren Lerner is the CEO and founder of Top Left Design, a London based design and marketing agency. 


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