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Employee Feedback - HR Help Board

The Secret of Getting Honest Employee Feedback

I was at a coffee shop with a friend. She started the conversation with: “I’m so mad at myself!”. She was frustrated for not working up the courage to share her performance feedback with her team.

Why didn’t you just tell them what you think? She raised her eyebrow: “No way! The team is doing an amazing job. What if I’m just over thinking? My feedback on employee performance probably isn’t worth mentioning,” she told me.

She explained to me that she noticed the Sales team’s productivity had been affected at the end of the month as they had to do some payment tasks manually. She knows a performance management tool that can perfectly handle those tasks. But am I being too nosy to other teams’ work? And they might get the wrong idea that I told them they were unproductive. She started to feel nervous talking about it.

“I don’t want to cause any misunderstanding,” she shared. “Anh, honestly, I don’t know. Since I joined the team, I’ve never seen how other members share their feedback, not to mention what happens after that. And the timing isn’t right. This should be discussed in an annual review, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think so.”

I don’t agree with her reasoning, but somehow I could relate. One of the things I’ve learned the hardest way is doubting and being brutal with my own thoughts. My friend's talking is indeed a mouthful (let’s sympathize with her). But thanks to that, I realize there are certain patterns that lead to un-communicated feedback.

What prevents dedicated employees from sharing their honest feedback with the team?

Let’s take a closer look at my friend’s story as a case study: she has a good relationship with her colleagues. So what’s holding her back from sharing her idea? Here are the top three blockers I’ve pulled together from my friend’s case and my past experience working as a direct report for my clients’ remote employees.

Employees thought their performance feedback was too minor to be mentioned

Small things at times can be easily overlooked as trivial, aren’t-worth-the-attention things. But small changes can bring great impacts, which any company should never be underestimated.

Not all businesses pay attention to this when it’s still manageable, though. Sometimes the employees feel their feedback is too trivial to be worth mentioning. So they keep it for themselves. Other times, they do share feedback with the team but ended up receiving inappropriate responses. Such things are dangerous as they can drive the silent unappreciated feeling from workers, which work like a disease and gradually kill the business.

They’re afraid the performance feedback would do them more harm than good

The employer-employee relationship, just like any other type of relationship, can be very fragile if isn’t treated thoughtfully. When an employee realizes something that should have changed for the better at their company, they don’t just simply say it right away to their managers or colleagues, especially when it’s related to other people’s work or feelings. To employees, honest advice shared can also mean they’re putting themselves or others in a tight spot. When a work environment fails to make employees feel safe to let their thoughts out, hearing honest employee feedback is a luxury.

They thought it was impossible for the team to act on it

Opposing the first point, this blocker arises when employees think their ideas are unrealistic to the team’s current condition. Even though what they thought was true, the business is still at a loss here as untold feedback equals unheard problems. By losing the chance to get feedback from employees, the company also loses the chance to spot their pain points they can act upon before it’s too late.

Why is it keep happening?

There’s no good reference they can take a look at

Not every employee is willing to share their thoughts freely with their managers and colleagues. Some find it hard to open up than others, especially when they never see an example of how honest performance feedback is brought up before: when did the employee feedback was asked? Was it respected by the team? How was their response? If the answers to these questions bring bad memories, for example, performance feedback is unwelcomed, or even worse, is judged and criticized, I don’t need a superpower to make this forecast: no constructive employee feedback will be told ever since, and the team will see more good people leave.

No clear guidelines on how, where, and when to give feedback

Leaders at times find themselves hesitant to share constructive employee feedback with employees as they don’t want to cause any misunderstanding out of this. Employees have the same concern. They want to give feedback on something, but they don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings because of wrong timings or wrong deliveries. They may rather shut themselves when they don’t know:       

  • When to share their performance feedback: should they talk about it in a daily standup or wait for the weekly team meeting?            
  • Where to put their feedback on employee performance: in an email, a Slack message, or a direct conversation with their direct manager?
  • And how to give effective employee feedback: are there any frameworks or guidelines they can follow to make sure their opinions are shared in an effective and professional manner?

Clear program but an unfit approach

This can be considered the hardest part to deal with compared to the other two blockers. It occurs to businesses that already have a clear employee feedback process implemented, but they still don’t get the feedback they need to hear from employees. Most of the cases, the bottleneck here lies somewhere in their feedback process. It can be the available options for employees to share their performance feedback that don’t include the one they want to go with, for example, the absence of anonymous feedback forms. Or the way the leaders respond and follow up on the feedback, which requires a great amount of emotional intelligence, isn’t aligned with employees’ expectations.

The good news is that your feedback management skills can get better and better with time and practice. And there are proven solutions that can help you deal with the above barriers to get honest feedback from employees. Let’s talk about these now.

How do leaders get honest performance feedback from employees?

Taking timing into account

Remember my friend mentioned she said she should wait until the annual performance review approaches to share her opinions? By the time her company reaches December, the problem may be out of control already. Timing is important. And there’s no universal timing formula that works best for any team, but here are some good occasions you can consider to gather feedback from your employees:

Performance reviews: These are perfect times to hear employees’ insights into what leaders could do better after a quarter, a 6-month, or a year. While feedback sounds more like it only focuses on improving things that went wrong, it can also be a great chance to better what we did well. And I also notice that employees are more open up when they are asked both what the leader/the team did good and bad, rather than just being asked to give the leader feedback on what they did wrong in their faces. So my recommendation for leaders is always to have a pair of questions when asking their employees for feedback: “What have I been doing that positively impacts others?” And “What have I been doing that discourages others?”.

Before and after a meeting: Unlike performance reviews which employees have time to think things through, these are great occasions to catch feedback and experiences that are still fresh in people’s minds. Try asking for your employees’ thoughts as you start off a meeting, and when the meeting ends, grab it up by asking what they think the team could do better next time.

In-the-moment feedback: Sometimes, the best time to listen to performance feedback is as soon as an employee notices a problem, don’t you agree? But it’s not easy to gather in-the-moment feedback compared to the other two. Despite that, if leaders can build a positive work environment where employees feel like they can speak honestly and directly, any moment they interact with employees is a good time to get valuable feedback. So the next question is, how to create that environment?

Healthy working environment

What is a healthy working environment made of? Lots of things, but from my experience, the most prominent ingredients are:       

  • Keeping your team focus on the future instead of digging into what went wrong in the past.      
  • Show them you value their honest feedback. If you just tell them you do but your actions prove otherwise, there is no way the employees spill their guts, or maybe they’ll just do it on their exit interview.
  • Be clear about what you want them to feedback on. Vague questions equal bad questions and result in poor answers.             
  • Let them know they can take as much time as they need. While some employees find it easy to speak on what comes to their mind right away, some prefer having time to think things through. Let them know you respect them either way.
  • Appropriately respond to their feedback. This is tough. But the more you practice it, the easier it will become. My formula compiled from observing hundreds of performance review sessions is:

1) Listen to them, dont just hear them.

2) Respect their opinion, even if you disagree.

3) Let them know you think through it.

Dont rush to give them your opinion right away. And when ready, let them know your decision.

Conclusion

Employee feedback is a powerful tool that encourages healthy workplace and improvement. Companies may learn a lot about their strengths and potential areas of improvement. Creating a feedback-friendly environment, implementing feedback mechanisms, and acting on employee suggestions demonstrate a commitment to employee engagement and empowerment. When employees feel heard and valued, they become more motivated, productive, and invested in the success of the organization. Embracing a culture of feedback ultimately paves the way for innovation, collaboration, and long-term success.

Contributor
Anh Nguyen

HRTech Editor, SelectSoftware Reviews

Vietnam, Hanoi

Anh Nguyen has spent the last five years working as a writer and researcher at recruitment startups and tech firms. She is now an HR Tech Editor of SelectSoftware Reviews, where she covers reviews and analytics on TA software. When not working, Anh loves spending time with her family, going for a run with her dogs, and 'hanging out' with her blog anhreview.com.

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