We are in a fast-paced competitive world where continuous adaptability has become a business standard. You have to be constantly taking stock of what's working and what's not in order to stay ahead of the curve—and it all starts with feedback.
As a manger you will make plenty of missteps when it comes to managing your people. The key differentiator is recognizing when you stumble, reaching out to your people, acknowledging it, and doing everything it takes to make it right.
Some things to consider when seeking out feedback:
Create a Safe Environment - If you want honest feedback you have to create an environment that will allow it. I’m a firm believer in creating a culture of open dialogue, but that does take time. The old complaint box can actually be a great start. You may also want to consider anonymously polling team members electronically via a chat board or internal network. And of course, using a third party facilitator to do one-on-ones along with targeted focus groups is a great way to generate real conversation. The idea is to allow them a forum to provide honest and unfettered feedback that you can take action on.
Don’t Get Defensive - Feedback is about learning. Not all feedback will be valuable or even accurate. Sometimes people just want to be heard. Your job is to understand what your team members see from their perspective, so you can best help them be as effective as possible. The last thing you want to do is get defensive or spend time trying to explain yourself. This is an opportunity to listen, absorb, and understand. Make sure you hear everyone out before formulating any kind of response or plan.
Focus on Themes - Whenever I solicit feedback for a client, I focus on the themes. There are always going to be those idiosyncratic issues that are unique to a one-on-one relationship, which you shouldn't worry too much about. Focus more on the overarching themes of what you are hearing. Ask yourself if there are any consistent concerns being expressed, try to create some language around them and look for the behaviors that may be driving them. If there is consistent feedback around a particular issue, you need to take action and let your team know it.
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Take a Hard Look in the Mirror - At the end of the day you have to be willing to face yourself, warts and all. Getting honest and constructive team feedback can be incredibly eye-opening. However, you have to be willing to hear it and you have to be willing to do something with it. Don't look at feedback as a "check-the-box" activity; look at it as a gift. Most managers don’t get a lot of open and honest feedback from those best equipped to give it to them, their team.
Seeking out and listening to tough feedback is never fun and it never gets easier, but it’s a central part of what being a good manager is all about. The last thing you want to do is wait for the dreaded annual performance evaluation to get your boss’ take on what you can do better, when those you are responsible for leading are the ones best equipped to help you. Sometimes the changes your hear may be minor tweaks, but those tweaks can go a long way in bolstering performance.
Remember, as a leader at any level your role is to work through others by inspiring them to take action on your behalf. Your team members have to respect you and they have to believe in you. It all starts with open and honest feedback.
Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and the new on-line course The YOU Plan for Career Change on Udemy. Dr. Woody is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership. Follow Dr. Woody on Twitter and Facebook.