If You Want Feedback, You Have to Ask
One of the hardest parts of being a manager is sizing up your own performance. The further away you get from the day to day operations of individual contributors on the team, the harder it is to see your impact or know how much your efforts are benefiting the group. Much like team members need feedback in order to improve, managers need feedback in order to become better leaders. Some feedback needs to come from your team. And in order to get feedback, you’re going to have to ask.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind in order to receive meaningful feedback from your team:
- Engender a culture of open, honest communication
- Be specific
- Don’t get defensive
- Take action and take ownership
Engender a Culture of Open, Honest Communication
As a manager, you set the tone for how your team members interact with one another—and with you. Establishing an open-door policy with your team is a good first step toward communication, but in and of itself, it will not result in getting honest feedback from your team on your performance as a manager.
Engendering a culture of open, honest communication means setting an example as to what upward feedback looks like.
You must be willing to engage with your own boss in a manner that models open, honest communication with managers. Let your employees see you providing feedback to your boss the way that you want them to engage with you, whether in team meetings or in a direct written report. Your actions in this regard will speak volumes about what you expect to hear, in turn, from them.
You want to acknowledge the discomfort they may feel around offering feedback to a boss.
In addition to setting an example, you must make giving feedback comfortable for employees. Employees may be reluctant to offer feedback to superiors for all sorts of reasons. After all, bosses hold power over lots of things including pay, promotion, and assignment of work. So, you want to acknowledge the discomfort they may feel around offering feedback to a boss. A simple one-sentence assurance that you understand this might be awkward for them, but you would really appreciate their openness, can go a long way toward setting an employee at ease.
If you want specific and actionable feedback, you need to ask questions that elicit specific information. Generic questions, such as “Anything I can do for you?” are too broad and place too much burden on the employee to guess what you are seeking. Your questions should be open-ended (not yes or no) and encourage specific responses. Good questions might include:
- In the past week, what could I have done to make your job easier?
- What behavior can I change to help you or the team going forward?
- What is one thing you expect of me, and where could I improve in meeting that expectation?
- What do you like or dislike about my management style?
- What do you find challenging about working with me?
These types of questions are aimed at uncovering very actionable feedback.
Don’t Get Defensive
This is a big one! Some of the questions you ask will specifically open the door to criticism. Therefore, you have to be prepared to hear some things you may not want to hear—so make sure you’re ready.
Expecting criticism is only the first step in taking criticism well, though. If you feel yourself getting defensive, you should refrain from reacting to what you hear in the moment. Give yourself time to process what you hear, and allow yourself to return to the feedback in a more reflective way later on. There is no shame in saying something like, “Thank you for that information. I will take it into consideration and would like to talk further with you once I’ve had a chance to process it.” Of course, if you say you want to talk further, make sure you do.
Take Action and Take Ownership
As a manager, you may understand how frustrating it is to see a team member receive feedback and do nothing in response to it. The same is true of upward feedback. In some ways, this goes back to the first point about engendering a culture of open, honest communication. Nothing will shut down further upward feedback more quickly than seeing that it doesn’t make a difference in behavior.
As a manager, you may understand how frustrating it is to see a team member receive feedback and do nothing in response to it. The same is true of upward feedback.
As in many things, actions speak louder than words when it comes to showing you value your employees’ feedback. So, when you get valid, actionable feedback, take it into account going forward. This doesn’t mean you bend to every idiosyncratic criticism, but do show that you are listening by acknowledging and incorporating feedback into your actions.
You must also be willing to take ownership of your mistakes. This not only sets an example of how to respond to constructive criticism, it also lets your team know that you are willing to admit when you are wrong. Again, actions speak louder than words. Acknowledging you made a mistake or a misstep and then continuing along the same path will send the wrong message. You must take ownership with your words and back it up with changes in behavior.
Upward feedback is a valuable tool for you as a manager and, ultimately, a benefit to your organization as a whole. You will gain insight into your skills as a leader by soliciting the constructive criticism of your team. They will feel supported and respected when they see you take action based on their feedback. This will create a feedback loop, if you will, encouraging open, honest communication within the organization and enhancing the overall effectiveness of your team. The process benefits everyone.
As an additional resource please see 5 Smarter Ways to Get Feedback From Employees (That Don't Involve a Heated Exit Interview).