Today’s show is Seeking Employee Feedback. Listen to the show on iTunes and Stitcher.

For employees, having this interactive, feedback relationship with their manager on a more frequent basis helps them feel more supported by that manager. The manager that is listening and responsive to employee needs and concerns is considered to be a manager who is going to be more supportive, cares more about the work and the individuals.

Don [00:00:23] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don [00:00:32] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging, workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.

Don [00:00:50] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.

Kelly [00:01:15] Welcome I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly [00:01:20] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO, Don Rheem. Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don [00:01:30] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly [00:01:32] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on seeking employee feedback.

Kelly [00:01:37] We’ve talked extensively over the last two episodes on how leaders can give effective feedback to their employees, but seeking feedback from your employees is an important component to improving your leadership.

Kelly [00:01:49] We all know that feedback is critical but true feedback is a two-way street, not a top-down exercise only.

In fact, research shows that the most engaged teams thrive in a culture of open and honest feedback. The best leaders ask for more feedback more often.

Kelly [00:02:05] In fact, there’s a 2016 industry study that we’ve linked in the show notes that says, leaders who rank at the top 10 percent in asking for feedback, were rated on average at the 86th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness. If you ask for feedback more, your perceived an actual leadership effectiveness goes up.

Kelly [00:02:24] Don, why is feedback so important?

Don [00:02:26] One, especially for employees, but in this case, we’re focusing on managers, it’s generally seen as a very valuable resource for managers to improve their leadership style. They don’t like the negative feedback from their subordinates, but when they get feedback that they feel is reliable and accurate it helps them perform better at their job.

Don [00:02:47] For employees, having this interactive feedback relationship with their manager on a more frequent basis helps them feel more supported by that manager.

Don [00:02:57] The manager that is listening and responsive to employee needs and concerns is considered to be a manager who is going to be more supportive, cares more about the work and the individuals.

Kelly [00:03:08] What creates an environment where an employee feels like they can give that kind of feedback? That’s obviously an ideal but there’s not going to be a lot of employees who are ready to shoot their hand up in the air and say, I have some things to tell you about your leadership, Don.

Don [00:03:21] A constructive attitude on the part of the employee is going to help the context in which it’s given. The stronger the relationship, the interpersonal relationship between the manager and the employee is going to help.

I think the primary thing that we’ve seen in the field is the manager has to invite the feedback in a way where the employee feels that there’s not going to be retribution. The process is supported not only by their manager but other leaders in the organization, so this is something that is systemic in the organization.

Don [00:03:50] The most challenging instance that I have found in the field are the managers that haven’t done it before. And all of a sudden they have to do it for the first time and you just can’t go into a meeting. Let’s say you and I Kelly are doing a feedback conversation. We’ve been working with each other for years and I’ve never asked you about input about myself and what I could be doing better. And we sit down in a room and one on one and I say, hey Kelly, now tell me how I am doing as your supervisor? That’s a very high-risk environment.

Kelly [00:04:18] Yeah you’re gonna see a deer in the headlights look.

Don [00:04:20] Exactly, yeah.

Don [00:04:21] Or, you might blurt, oh you’re you know you’re great. Well you know you’re just awesome, no problems at all.

Kelly [00:04:25] Get me out of this conversation.

Don [00:04:27] Yeah exactly. So when it’s done the first time, that’s the highest risk.

Don [00:04:32] I would not suggest that a manager all of a sudden start asking their direct reports, hey, how am I doing? Unless they had an incredibly frank and open and very strong relationship with that employee that will work.

Don [00:04:45] In most instances though the best way for a manager to start is to ask that question in a much broader way. So for example, I might say, Kelly, is there anything that I could be doing that would help the team? Is there anything that I’m doing that’s getting in the way of the team efficacy, the strength the power, the effectiveness of the team?

Don [00:05:04] Or I might say, Kelly, is there anything that’s frustrating you in your work? Is there something I can do to get any roadblocks out of your way? To come at this a little bit sort of around the edges if you will. That’s an indirect way of saying hey, what else should I be doing for you? So I want to start with some of these soft questions focused on the team, focused on barriers. Things in your way, things that frustrate you when you come to work every day. That would be a good safe place to start.

Kelly [00:05:31] Why would a leader even want to start there? Why are they going to open the door to this conversation? It’s a very vulnerable thing to do. They don’t have to do it. They don’t have to sit in a feedback meeting the way that they can mandate their employees sitting in a feedback meeting because they can give it and choose when those happen as manager. But why are they making this choice to begin with to start this conversation?

Don [00:05:52] The most effective leaders as you quoted at the top of the podcast are the ones that are doing this. There are simply more effective leaders. Their employees are more responsive. They’re more resilient. They feel safer when they come to work. They trust the process more. The brain feels it’s in a safer environment.

Don [00:06:09] This allows employees to have some empowerment in their workplace. And to have a voice. Having a voice in the scientific literature shows great value. When an employee feels that they have a voice in their work in their workplace and in the environment that they’re in, their engagement goes up.

Don [00:06:26] So this is one way of helping employees have a voice in the operation. It also signals that the manager is willing to shift and change and will do things for the team that demonstrates that the manager has a team-centric focus. Because they’re focused on how each member of the team is doing.

Kelly [00:06:44] A leader can see, too, I think real benefits in seeking feedback from an employee. The external reason, based on what you’re saying is that it increases engagement. It increases the environment an employee wants to show up in, every day their felt sense of safety, their willingness to contribute and go above and beyond.

Kelly [00:07:03] On the other side of the coin, the internal motivation for a leader is understanding, being willing to take on self-growth and understanding they’re not perfect individuals, they’re not perfect leaders and how can we step up our game?

Kelly [00:07:17] How can we create a more positive experience not only for our team but also ourselves in how we show up to work every day? How can we continue to grow and advance in the organization in our careers? And all of that comes through being willing to take feedback from people who see what you do, hopefully on a day to day basis and can give you honest insight in how to grow in that way.

Don [00:07:39] Sure so you’re going to get very reliable data from your direct reports. They’re going to give you this very firsthand account of how you’re doing.

Don [00:07:47] But the other thing that happens when a manager entertains receiving this feedback is they’re modeling this issue of continuous improvement and the need for employees to grow.

The manager is an employee as well. If the manager doesn’t demonstrate an openness to grow, an openness to say, hey, how can we increase the team relationships, our individual interpersonal relationship. If the managers and demonstrating an ability and an openness to do that it’s going to be very hard to expect that from employees.

Don [00:08:16] A manager should never expect something from an employee that they are not willing to do and model themselves. This is where we get such cognitive dissonance inside work groups is when managers are asking employees to do things that they themselves don’t demonstrate.

Kelly [00:08:31] You mentioned earlier the kinds of questions that you ask to get at receiving feedback from your employees. One of the ones that I like to use on a regular basis is, is there anything I can start doing as your leader to help you thrive better in your job? And, is there anything I can stop doing to help you thrive better in your job?

Kelly [00:08:51] Getting that specific where we’re just talking what can I start doing, what can I stop doing can often help an employee frame what they want to say.

Kelly [00:08:59] The problem is most people are inclined as you’ve mentioned many times where we tend to be conflict avoiders to say, oh no, everything’s great. But when all you hear is positive feedback or and everything’s great and they want to move on, you’re missing a piece of the puzzle because there’s something they can say, there’s something that you could start doing or stop doing as a leader to help them thrive in their job better.

Kelly [00:09:24] When all you’re getting is positive feedback, how do you keep pushing or how do you position a felt a sense of safety for that employee to give you something a little bit more, something that you can grow from?

Don [00:09:36] What the research shows is one of the key things you can do is eliminate any fears of retribution. That’s one of the big drivers here.

Don [00:09:46] Employees need to feel like they can give this advice without something happening to them. They also need to trust the process. It’s, not to be cynical toward the organization, it’s interesting, employees that self-report being cynical toward the organization, that is they don’t believe the organization has integrity, it’s not fair, it’s not just, they’re much less likely to trust the integrity of the feedback they receive. Or to be able to give it. You’re gonna be less likely to give honest straightforward feedback if you don’t think it’s gonna be treated in an honest and straightforward way. That’s just going to be very, very difficult.

Don [00:10:21] And, what we find subordinates, this is the subordinates is the word that’s typically used in the research, subordinates, without this sense of trust can inflate ratings to avoid retribution. They limit interpersonal conflict or to ingratiate themselves with a supervisor. On the other hand, there are other employees that might deflate the ratings that they give to retaliate against a supervisor. So it can go both ways. It’s different when it’s a conversation than when it’s a survey or a rating system.

Don [00:10:51] Employees need to know they’re going to be safe. They want to know how’s the information going to be used.

Don [00:10:56] So I’ll give you an example. When we talk about in our recognition and feedback workshop, I tell managers when you’re finally successful at getting them to start suggesting some things to you around what’s happening to them, first, write it down. If you’re not writing, you don’t care. The optics here are important. Is the manager sending a signal that they’re receiving this information in an objective in a meaningful way?

Don [00:11:22] And, in fact, something that will help managers as we’re going to have subsequent podcasts coming up in the next month on active listening and this would be a great place to demonstrate those skills on active listening.

Don [00:11:34] The third thing is don’t be defensive. Don’t try to explain or defend the thing that the employee is talking to you about in that moment. You just need to listen. In this first iteration write it down say, hey, this is really helpful.

Don [00:11:47] Now what the manager can say is I want to think more about this. This sounds really helpful to me I want to think about it some more I may want to come back and talk to you about this again just to continue this conversation but I really appreciate this.

Don [00:11:58] And then the fourth thing, managers need to do this in a way that’s predictable and consistent. It needs to be more frequent. And, as our listeners know from previous podcasts on this feedback conversation, we’d like it to happen once a month.

Don [00:12:12] So this question about, essentially, how am I doing or what can I stop or what can I start doing, this needs to become regular. Just that regular drumbeat, if you will, of the manager being open to these implies, okay, this wasn’t just a one and done. This is now an ongoing, integrated part of the feedback process with my manager or supervisor.

Kelly [00:12:34] That ongoing conversation is what’s going to prevent the deer in the headlights look when you do sit down with your employee to have the conversation. They know what to expect. They know it’s coming, they have some things they may want to share with you and I think you’re spot on with the listening and the writing down and certainly coming back to it later and not being defensive about it.

Kelly [00:12:54] I think leaders also need to be able to say I really appreciate you sharing this with me. I really appreciate what you have to say about this. I and maybe it’s a, I need to sit on this and take some time to reflect on what you’ve had to say, or, I see exactly what you’re talking about and I can see how that has made things difficult for you. And I’m going to think about how I can help improve my behavior or the way that I’m leading to shift this experience for you and the rest of the team members.

Kelly [00:13:24] Expressing that kind of gratitude is going to be such a key way to foster that sense of safety the employee has for sharing. They’re not going to have retribution for saying what they just said to you, they see your gratitude, they ultimately over time as you come back and you follow up with them and you shift behaviors, can trust that you are listening to them, that you actually do want that feedback. Those are really key components to helping the employee feel safe sharing.

Don [00:13:52] Again to our podcast listeners, now we rely very heavily on the empirically validated research around adult attachment and they use language in that science about the importance of holding the person. So in a way what we’re trying to create here is an environment where the employee is held in a safe way as they’re providing this feedback to the manager so that they’re more likely to be honest and straightforward and that’s just a huge part of creating this felt sense of safety at work.

Don [00:14:22] But this goes beyond safety. This is safety, plus, I’m supported. I have a supportive manager who’s going to lean in and support me and what I want to do. And when employees feel not only safe but supported engagement goes up.

Kelly [00:14:37] What do you do when you get feedback from an employee that you just flat out disagree with?

Don [00:14:42] Well it’s interesting that there’s research on how supervisors respond to negative feedback. And what the research shows is that the supervisors have demonstrated a tendency to avoid, delay and distort negative feedback.

Don [00:14:55] Those are the exact words from the research particularly when it’s informal feedback that is it would come in and on a day to day basis. They also tend to inflate the feedback that comes from positive performers and to diminish the feedback that comes from low performers.

Don [00:15:12] So in other words if the manager sees you as a low performer, for some reason they equate that with being that your feedback isn’t accurate, and I’m and I’m not going to give it the same level of credibility. That’s a mistake.

Don [00:15:25] If a low-performer is getting you feedback you should be listening with more attentive ears. Now you might have to interpret, you might have to connect the dots but you need to be listening and paying attention. And that would be something when the low performer gives you negative feedback. Again, write it down. Listen don’t defend.

Don [00:15:42] Then maybe come back to them at a subsequent meeting say, hey, I wanted to talk to you about what you said about how you don’t feel I’m respecting everybody the same. And, it’s a really important issue for me. I’m really glad you pointed it out. I’m very conscious of it now but I have a question for you. This issue of respect is important for the entire team but you know it goes both ways. And I wanted to open up to you an observation I’ve had about something that you’ve done where you didn’t demonstrate great respect for another employee and this feels like something we could work on together, that there’s room for improvement for both of us here. So you can also use that feedback to come back to them and relate it to their own behavior.

Kelly [00:16:26] I think one of the things we talk about in manager giving employees feedback, the structure for that’s different when we flip the coin to employee giving a manager feedback, is the fact that we always tell managers a feedback conversation with your direct reports should be a one on one confidential conversation about once a month.

Kelly [00:16:47] But on the flip side when you’re looking at your employees and asking them to give you feedback, to feel safe with that, to trust you with that kind of information, a key component of that should probably be flipped at least sometimes, is that the feedback should come in a public venue, in a team meeting, in an environment where other people that report to you can hear somebody who’s brave enough to step up, offer feedback and see how well you respond to that.

Kelly [00:17:17] It creates a false sense of safety to the rest of the team, gives them courage to say, oh, I’ve also got something to share with you as well and they can trust that you’re going to respond well because they’ve seen you demonstrate that response.

Kelly [00:17:29] So flipping the coin from only doing private feedback with your employee to also requesting public feedback from your employees, in addition to these conversations in your one on ones is a key way for employees to trust the process of how you respond to and grow from feedback it’s going to improve the morale of the entire team.

Don [00:17:51] Kelly you’re absolutely right and that may be the best place to start. That is, to model this feedback process in a team environment. Where someone who’s bold, like I’ve always admired in you Kelly, you say things exactly as you see them.

Don [00:18:06] You say them in a way that is supportive but if you think that something has gone sideways you bring it up right away. Now if you bring that up in a meeting and our own team our own employees see me respond to that in a way that is calm and deliberate and maybe self-aware and demonstrates some vulnerability, certainly ownership about what happened. And they see wow, Kelly said that right to Don and he responded in a non-defensive way. That sets a pattern and a model for what others can do and others in the meeting.

Don [00:18:37] What typically happens is they’ll chime in based on what the other employee said maybe a little bit more tenuous about saying something directly to the manager. But they talk about how that impacts them too and that’s a great way to do it. And if they see that happen in that team context they’re much more likely to feel safe doing it in the one on one.

Kelly [00:18:56] Absolutely.

Kelly [00:18:58] As we end this episode here’s a bright statistic. Our E3 Global Data from our own engagement surveys reveals that survey respondents average at 3.15 out of 4.0 when they’re asked, employees are treated as valued partners.

Kelly [00:19:12] Valued partners have a voice, they have a say, they can give input, they can give feedback. That feedback is heard and something is done about that. That’s what value partnership actually looks like on a day to day basis. And if employees are saying 3.15 out of 4.0 are in our global data, if they’re saying that they feel like they’re treated as valued partners, then managers are opening the door to these kinds of conversations on a pretty regular basis, which is a really valuable aspect of what drives engagement.

Don [00:19:44] It is. In fact, we have another question, my opinions count. Another is, I’m consulted on decisions that have a direct impact on my work. So we have a number of questions to get at this issue, is the manager listening? Do they have a conversation? Is it a trusted conversation? That’s really, really important on this issue and one of the best ways managers can engender trust, which is encourage engagement inside the workplace is to have these feedback opportunities where they don’t just give the feedback to the employee but they elicit, they ask for feedback about their own performance as well.

Kelly [00:20:17] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.

Kelly [00:20:21] Tune into next week’s episode on how leaders can manage and prevent burnout.

Kelly [00:20:27] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out right now.

Kelly [00:20:42] Be sure to subscribe, rate and review the show. Each rating and review helps other managers like you find this show and benefit from these episodes. Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty free from Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!