By Christina Davis
A friend works for a large, multinational corporation, and was telling me how part of their annual employee survey includes open-ended questions that invite employees to provide feedback in their own words. Employees were told that the surveys are confidential, encouraging them to be as honest as possible—after all, sincere assessments from 10,000 employees can provide invaluable insights to the leadership teams.
In order to get as much feedback as possible, the company sent reminders to employees who had not yet completed the survey, causing some to suspect that their responses weren’t anonymous after all. This suspicion understandably influenced their responses: Some of the staff said they were still completely honest, others admitted they “softened the truth,” and the rest said they just answered according to what they thought management wanted to hear to avoid problems. The bottom line? The company invested a lot of resources in a survey that ultimately contained faulty data.
While employee engagement surveys (we’ll discuss those later) are the number-one way to get feedback from your team members, there are other ways to encourage employees to speak up more regularly. But it all comes down to creating and maintaining a genuine culture of open communication and regular feedback.
If you want your employees to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with you, you must make it clear that they can do so without fear of criticism, judgment, or repercussions. If you have an open-door policy, which I recommend to everyone, consider letting your team set the agenda for meetings from time to time. The more you create and foster an open and non-judgmental space for communication, the more likely your employees are to be honest with their feedback, which can improve the workplace for everyone. If the meeting is face to face, understand the impact that your reaction and tone could have on a conversation. Nothing closes an open door faster than being dismissive.
Some argue that suggestion boxes are an outdated way to get employee feedback, but if you have staff without access to a work computer or email, a suggestion box is a great way to solicit anonymous feedback. Put a schedule in place for checking the box so employees know you are paying attention. The suggestion box will die quickly if suggestions, feedback, and comments are disregarded or ignored entirely.
Another way to increase back-and-forth communication is by encouraging collaboration. When communication and information flow freely, knowledge is shared—and problems can be solved more quickly when everyone is putting their heads together. The sharing of ideas and suggestions can take place in a meeting, during a casual conversation, on an internal Facebook page, or via email.
Newer employees have different insights than your long-standing ones, but how do you get their feedback? Start on their first day! Ask about their orientation sessions. After a day of training, ask them about how the training went: what they learned as well as what they feel like they needed to learn but didn’t. It can be tempting to allow managers and new hires to fend for themselves during the onboarding process, but you’ll set the precedent for open lines of communication if you make yourself available during those crucial first weeks.
As many of you know, the employee survey is a tried and true way to request and receive employee feedback. These surveys ask pointed questions about the company, benefits, pay, purpose, effectiveness of management, and overall job satisfaction. The mistake my friend’s employer made was in trying to reach 100-percent participation by tracking who had and who hadn’t completed the survey: Whether or not it was truly anonymous, the perception was that it was not; therefore, responses and feedback were unhelpfully skewed. It’s better to receive honest feedback from engaged employees than get disingenuous answers from everyone.
Having a third party administer your employee satisfaction surveys is highly recommended. Your employees can rest assured that no one at the company is handling any portion of the survey and that potentially brutal honesty will not have consequences. An outside firm will communicate the pertinent information about the survey, conduct the survey, gather responses, and provide an actionable report to the employer.
Although we’ve only touched on a few of the different ways to gather employee feedback, there are many others to consider, such as cross-training and follow-up, requesting suggestions to address a specific issue or task, scheduling one-on-one meetings, simply asking for feedback, and owning and sharing your mistakes. Don’t forget that last one: Taking responsibility shows your employees that you know you are human and make mistakes, too. When you share your trials along with your successes, your employees feel that they can, too. [CD0120]
Christina Davis is the HR Director for the LMG Group. she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.