As a business leader, you know that the right way to manage a product is to get as much customer feedback as possible. But did you know that treating your company as a product, and your employees as customers, can generate equally great results?
I'm talking about creating a culture that cultivates regular bottom-up feedback. It's one of the most profound ways to turn a struggling business into a humming one, and it won't cause you anything worse than a bruised ego.
There are so many things that can hinder a business's performance. But your company's internal communications is one factor you can control. When employees feel empowered to give you--the management--constructive feedback, you'll supercharge your efficiency, see speed bumps before they become roadblocks, and start to operate like a race car.
Feedback, communicated effectively, can expose inefficiencies that you may not know exist and even unprofessional behavior amongst coworkers that you may have been unaware of. The purpose is to expose small pain points before they become big problems.
Here are some tools I've used to open feedback loops within my business.
Cultivate a top-down culture of positive feedback first
Before you can expect employees to be open with you, you need to be open with them. First, train your managers to start regularly giving positive feedback to their teams.
There's a proven ratio when it comes to effectively giving feedback: significantly more positive than constructive. Keep this in mind when starting to practice giving feedback. It's not only an easy way to start, but also opens employees up to having a regular pulse on how they are performing. Once your teams are primed and practiced in hearing what they're doing well you can start giving them constructive feedback as well.
Next, always start by sending a clear signal, for example by beginning with the words: "Can I give you some feedback?"
Sending this signal lets your employees know they need to stop, focus and listen. When I do it repeatedly, I'm not only breaking down the negative connotation that comes with the word "feedback," but also priming them to expect positive reinforcement.
How to encourage an active culture of feedback
Once your employees are in the rhythm of getting feedback, it's time to have it go both ways. An easy way to solicit feedback from employees to management is through a regularized workplace survey. You can conduct this either in-house, or use an outside firm of experts to help.
Depending on the level of transparency in your work culture, you can start narrowly with targeted questions and work your way up to the open-ended buckets, like: "What should we keep doing, what should we start doing and what should we stop doing?"
Another great way to garner feedback is during the performance review process. Why not add a section to an employees' self-evaluation asking what the company or their manager can do to better support their growth? Even better, ask them if they have any suggestions on ways the company can improve.
Here's what to expect when you start getting feedback, and how to handle it
If you're a business leader that is unaccustomed to getting regular feedback, be warned--it's not easy. In general most feedback from employees will tend toward highlighting problems rather than extolling your merits as a manager.
Regardless of what you hear, it's important to handle it constructively, because if you react poorly you run the risk of that employee never coming to you with anything again--and telling their coworkers not to, either. So when you start to hear "Can I give you some feedback?" be mentally ready to take a deep breath and just say "thank you."