Engaging Employees in Order to Get Feedback

Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.

Employees may speak more freely when the Owner isn’t in the room. Or they may play safe and keep silent altogether. Dealing with employees is a never ending struggle for me as a business owner. When things go wrong I’m least likely to get honest feedback – just when I need it the most.

Thoughts of the Day: Communication is a 2 way street. Deal with the frustrating situations, so you can get them out of the way. It takes time and practice to build a culture of open, constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s hard for owners to accept criticism. Sharing information openly with employees is a good start. Find a major payoff through idea sharing, collaboration, and engagement.

Most business owners are as uncomfortable with silence and anyone else. They rush to fill the quiet spots, thinking people are waiting for them to provide information and guidance. Could be that people are only waiting for a pause so they can get a suggestion in edgewise.

Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.

Acknowledge that you heard what someone had to say by playing it back. Try repeating the last word as a question. Or, ask them to keep going, to clarify, to expand on the thought. Do it with a smile and a nod of the head.

Recognize that because you’re the boss, people need to be encouraged to speak up. And they need to know that if they express an opinion, they won’t get in trouble for it. If you don’t like what someone has to say, bite your lip instead of snapping back with a contradiction. Sleep on it before responding.

Ever felt stuck, frustrated, unwilling to get on board with something? Be honest with yourself. It’s a common reaction.

Without an opportunity to have a say, it’s hard to be in a positive frame of mind. It’s normal to want to walk away and not be involved. That happens to employees all the time, as they wish to be heard and get frustrated when they’re not.

Reading about South Africa’s experiment with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led me to some observations about how to engage people in working through difficult circumstances. Encourage:

  • Accurate and complete sharing of information
  • Impartial conduct of hearings when problems arise
  • Accountability
  • Inclusion of all parties in economic advancement and political power sharing
  • Follow up designed to move people from airing grievances to planning a way forward together.

Share examples of when employees told you not to do something and they were right. Talk about how their taking a risk to stand up to you helped the company to succeed. Show people you can accept being wrong.

Make it safe for people to bring issues forward by allowing them to be heard without rebuttal. Practice saying thank you when the news delivered is critical, even when you don’t think it’s well deserved. If the employee is wrong, take them aside and discuss the issue one-on-one.

Speak to employees as grown ups. Treat each person with respect, honesty and dignity. Give them information they need to do their jobs. Let them sort out the details and learn from their mistakes.

There are significant payoffs to the company for getting employees to provide honest and open feedback. Here are just a few examples: lower turnover, better payoff for training budgets, higher output for similar paychecks.

Employees who are heard are more likely to engage and collaborate. Recognition for speaking up reinforces the behavior, leading to greater degrees of risk-taking contribution. People start looking for the next opportunity to step up, going from avoidance to garnering additional recognition.

Looking for a good book? Try… It’s OK to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need, by Bruce Tulgan.


Not Enough Feedback Going Around?

I’m concerned that employees don’t get enough feedback. And I fear that doing reviews could open an ugly door. Some people might not like what we have to say, others might want a raise – which I’m not willing to give.

Thoughts of the Day: Feedback should be given continuously. Reviews are recaps of feedback, and do not have to be tied to compensation. But compensation should be tied to performance. Use feedback to help employees grow and improve.

Teach managers how to give feedback. Read a book. Discuss feedback at weekly meetings. Ask for examples: who met with whom, what worked, what didn’t, what did / didn’t get said. Be careful not to shoot the messenger if anyone brings up problems they encountered. Identify “success examples” to emulate.

Encourage managers to speak with employees honestly and empathetically. According to BusinessPerform.com, employees need to get from internal communication “a sense of belonging and self-worth – being listened to, respected, trusted, valued “. PattyInglishms.hubpages.com says that Lack of . . . Respect and Lack of Recognition are 2 of the 10 reasons employees quit their jobs.

Review with your managers the concept that success is celebrated in public, while negatives are discussed in private. Make sure managers take time to recognize employees who do well. And when things go wrong verify that managers pull aside the person involved to discuss what happened. Remind everyone that performance can only be sustained and improved if people are given accurate feedback.

Many of us are uncomfortable delivering bad news. We don’t like looking someone in the eye and telling them they just screwed up. Sometimes we get busy or just plain overlook opportunities to recognize good performance, saying things like, “Well, they should know they did a good job.” Unfortunately, lack of feedback only leads to repeat mistakes and lack of respect as employees assume that no one cares. And who needs that.

Talk with managers about the dangers of not giving feedback: decreases in customer satisfaction as problems go uncorrected, declining profits as errors mount up, higher turnover as good employees get frustrated and quit.

Now let’s talk about reviews. They don’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Ask managers to keep a file folder in their desk for each employee. Each month, have managers put performance notes in each file. If you’re concerned that managers won’t take time to complete this assignment, set aside a monthly meeting for managers to get together, bring their files, write up their notes.

At review time, have managers meet with each employee for an hour. Encourage a 2-way discussion: How are things going from the employee’s point of view, from the manager’s? Conclude the discussion with a written list of development activities for the employee to pursue, initialed by both manager and employee. Drop the development list into the employee’s folder. Check on progress regularly.

One final note: reviews should not be a surprise to the employee. If feedback has been honest all along, the review will simply be a restatement of what’s already been discussed.

Tie compensation to performance by linking measurable outcomes to how a person is rewarded. Want to boost output? Pay a bonus if output exceeds a set minimum. This approach doesn’t require a review to measure and reward performance. But it does reinforce the importance of performing to a standard in order to earn a higher level of compensation.

Finally, remind managers that a written record is essential to good management. Our memories can be faulty, and subject to “squeaky wheels” or “recent impacts”. Setting aside to reflect on performance over time, with monthly notes and agreement on where to focus next, is an opportunity for the company, manager and employee to develop skills and build rapport.

Looking for a good book? Where’s the Gift? Using Feedback to Work Smarter, Learn Faster and Avoid Disaster, by Nigel J. A. Bristow and Michael-John Bristow.

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Payback Time? Thinking Through Raises and Reviews

Don’t know how I should treat reviews and raises for 2011. Is the cost of living going up, down or staying even? What are other companies doing?

The cost of living is only one factor to consider when thinking through raises for 2011. Other items to look at include competition for labor, rates of change in employment, employee satisfaction compared to the workforce pool for the same job, ease of replacement for different employees and positions.

When considering the CPI, it’s important to note that different industries had widely varying experiences.  The overall CPI increase was 1.5% for 2010. Many companies will carefully watch the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s releases to monitor the economy’s progress. January 2011 CPI data will be released on February 17, 2011.

In 2011, private sector downsizings, layoffs and job cuts fell 60% – 90% from their peak in 2009. Non-profits improved more slowly – around 17% reduction in job cuts. The government (federal, state and local) may see an increase in layoffs in 2011. Private sector full time employment increases will come slowly in 2011, as companies stretch things out as long as they can.

Companies will delay spending on their current workforce by keeping a lid on overtime, pay increases and promotions. Most will expand as long as they can by adding temporary and part time workers. At the same time, according to Challenger and Gray, an estimated 84% of currently employed workers say they plan to look for new employment as the economy improves, up from 60% a year ago – a high indication of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

What does all of that data mean to you? First, figure out where your industry is going. Then figure out where your workforce stands. Finally know what your company needs, to get through the next 3 – 5 years. Then decide who gets paid what in the future.

Here are some questions you can ask, to assess your industry.

  • What are the industry’s growth expectations: up, down or flat?
  • What’s the workforce depth: available capacity & transfers in or out?
  • What kind of special expertise is needed, and what kinds of educational opportunities exist for workforce potential entrants and those climbing up?

Next, assess your workforce:

  • Who needs to pick up their game?
  • Who needs to be recognized for extraordinary contributions to the company’s bottom line?
  • Which employees / skills are highly desirable to other companies?
  • Who is paid above / below market scale?
  • What is the growth potential of each employee?
  • What would it cost to train a replacement for each position?

Finally, the company’s 3 year outlook:

  • Which positions are critical to the company’s success going forward?
  • Which positions will no longer be needed?
  • What additional positions / skills need to be added?
  • How sharp will the competition be for employee resources?

Now, put it all together. Don’t kid yourself that key employees, in critical positions, with marketable skills, are likely to stay. Across the board raises are out the window, as companies assess their employees one review, one position at a time.

Raises and reviews will become more targeted. Key players, doing their jobs well, with additional growth potential are your top priority. Next come workhorses who will be the glue of the company, doing their work reliably, in areas that continue to be crucial to the company’s success. Least important are individuals filling roles that will no longer be needed, or individuals that can be easily replaced at the same or lower cost.

So how much of a raise do you give? Employees contributing to increased profits, in growing companies, in growing industries will likely get the biggest raises. Consider golden handcuffs to incent specifically valuable individuals to stick around. Employees underperforming in dead end jobs, in industries and companies with declining revenue and profit are unlikely to get ahead financially.

Looking for a good book? The Granularity of Growth: How to Identify the Sources of Growth and Drive Enduring Company Performance, by Patrick Viguerie, Sven Smit, Mehrda Baghai.


Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., www.StrategyLeaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at 877-238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi?  Please send it to her, via e-mail at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com or by mail to Andi Gray, Strategy Leaders Inc., 5 Crossways, Chappaqua, NY 10514. Visit www.AskAndi.com for an entire library of Ask Andi articles.

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