Thursday, July 26, 2012

5 Proven Tips to Get Honest Feedback from Your Employees

Guest Post by Bernd Geropp:

We all need praise and confirmation. We love to hear: "Hats off! That's a hard act to follow!" It makes us feel like a million bucks. It reinforces our confidence. However: It should be used with the right touch. Too much praise can also be damaging.

We all need criticism just as much as we need to have our egos buttered up. Anyone who wants to improve needs honest, constructive feedback from their environment. But getting feedback is easier said than done – especially as an executive leader.

Please criticize me, I need it!
Only last week, I had this demonstrated to me during a coaching session with a successful Managing Director of a mid-sized company. He is enthusiastic, very involved, and demanding, but also empathetic and committed to his employees. His staff highly respect him.

However, he was frustrated that he only received limited critical feedback from his employees. He told me that he had repeatedly encouraged his employees to openly and honestly criticize him and his decisions. Even so, they appeared to be unwilling to do so. He was wondering why, and what he could do to change it.

The dominant personality
To me, as an outsider, the cause was readily apparent. As a Managing Director, he had developed an intuitive feel for quickly analyzing complex situations, and continuously contrasting his strategies with the operation. He usually makes a host of decisions, and he makes these quickly to continue working efficiently. He has been on his game working like this, and he has been confirmed by his success!

Here is the problem with this: Without wanting to do so, all these have prevented the criticism of his person that is so important. Employees with limited confidence simply had not the courage to criticize him openly. Most employees were not equipped to handle his direct nature and immediate response. To them, his mannerisms was dominating and intimidating - without this being his intent.

These were the reasons why his employees were having such a difficult time to express a contrarian opinion during business discussions. To offer critical feedback regarding his behavior was an even more difficult thing to do.

Feedback as a matter of trust
Employees will only express open criticism if they feel safe. On the other hand, if an employee feels threatened by negative, personal consequences – regardless of their nature – he will obviously not provide honest feedback.

One bad experiences can be enough to squelch any criticism of your person – regardless of how justified it might be. Therefore, apply the following 5 tips to receive honest feedback from your employees:

1. Accept feedback without judgment!
Make sure that you clearly separate your employee's feedback from your own judgment. If your employee criticizes you, this is a sign of trust. Thank the person for the feedback, but do not immediately respond.

2. Sleep on it for one night!
Take time to think about it. Take a night to think it over. This is what your employee can rightfully expect of you.

3. Avoid distorted feedback!
If you are given feedback, you should also avoid well meant positive responses, such as: "Thank you, Mr. Smith, that's a really good point." This is already a judgment as well, which you should avoid as a quick response. By doing this, at some point your employee will limit his feedback to what he believes might be useful to you. In the end, your employee does not want to say anything foolish or inappropriate. But the outcome of this is that you will only receive distorted feedback.

4. Understand criticism as a sign of trust!
How do you respond to hardly relevant, incidental, or from your point of view, even inappropriate criticism? Here as well: It is essential that you avoid spontaneous rebuttals or even gruff answers - at least if the employee presented the criticism in a respectful manner. Otherwise, you will permanently damage the trust relationship. A sensitive employee will then think: "Next time I better won't say anything!"

5. Keep always in mind: “I hear you” does not mean “I agree with you”!
Listen to your employee's criticism without being judgmental. This does not mean that you are in agreement with what was said. Most employees are well aware that expressing feedback does not automatically result in the changes they desire.

What have you experienced when you have stuck your neck out and been honest? What are your tips to get honest feedback from your employees?

Author Bios:
Bernd Geropp works as a coach and consultant to CEO’s and entrepreneurs of European High-Tech companies. He has an appreciation for their daily challenges, problems and concerns from his own experience. He started and operated his own high-tech business as well as worked as managing director in a multi-corporate enterprise. On this blog he writes about leadership and strategies for entrepreneurs and executive managers in B-to-B. For more information please visit:


John Murphy said...

Hi Bernd, good article. Just wondering if your client realized that it was his behavior that caused the problem of getting feedback? I think that it will always be difficult to get feedback if that is how you are perceived. The first challenge is to change how he is perceived - and then move on to getting feedback.
Your 5 tips are excellent. Thanks

Bernd said...

Hi John, Thanks for your good comment.
You are right!
It took me some time until my client realized and accepted that his behaviour caused the problem.

David Mariano said...

Bernd - great article. Did you help your client realize this? If so, how did you do it? I think self awareness is the key issue here and I've been thinking a lot lately how we can help people become more self aware. Thanks!

Unknown said...

We all hate being criticized but getting feedback really means your doing something right. we need to change our mind set.

How can you fix something when you can't know it's broken.

What you need to put in place is an incentive program and publicly praise those who help us grow and learn as managers.


Bernd said...

Thanks. Yes, I helped my client to finally realize that he has to change. But it took time.

After talking to some of his employees and observing the situation
I finally just frankly told my client that the problem lies in his behaviour.
I explained him in detail what I think has been the problem and that lots of very successful business leaders have this kind of problem.

Firstly he did not really want to hear this.
It took him two weeks to think it thru before he accepted it.
Then we worked out on what he should change in his behaviour. Today he is on a good way. Just recently he told me that he got his first critical feedback from one of his employees. A feedback he thought he would not got a few months ago.


leadership said...

i'd like to add that the current state of the economy isn't helping conversations like this. in a time where everyone is thinking "i'm lucky to have a job", it's going to be difficult to get those people to honestly criticize anything about their job, for fear of losing the job and not being able to get another one.

Career Choice said...

This is a great article. I would personally prefer to be reprimanded than be appreciated for the job that I've done. I look up criticism as a way to challenge me and prove myself all the more.