How to ask for feedback from your employees on your management skills (part 1)
I’ve been exploring how managers receive feedback on their management skills. The situation is not good, because most channels of feedback are not specific, not immediate, and the quality of the feedback is low or not related to management skills. With no feedback on how they’re doing as a manager, it makes sense that many managers struggle and do more harm than good!
However, as explored in the previous article, the managers’ employees may be a resource for providing feedback that is specific, immediate, and – potentially – of good quality. It takes work to get this set up, and for this to be successful. This is the first in a three part series on how managers can ask for feedback on how they manage. Today’s theme: Getting ready.
1. Actually be ready for feedback
If you don’t take feedback well, don’t ask for feedback. If you are easily offended, hurt, or tend to “get back” at people, or tend to create adversarial relationships, you should not solicit feedback from your employees. If you blame others when things aren’t perfect, or react quickly and swiftly to bad news, or are quick to “shoot the messenger,” don’t ask for feedback from your employees. I would question if people management is the right role for you, but if you are a manager and have issues with receiving feedback, you need to seek assistance in improving your management skills from sources other than your employees.
On the flip side, if you are sincerely interested in improving in your skills as a manager, can take tough messages, can deal with poorly delivered feedback (i.e., can you handle it if an employee tells you that you are “stupid”?), and can separate the employee’s performance from the feedback they are providing you (that is, don’t rate the employee lower for providing feedback in a poor manner), then you may be ready to solicit feedback from your employees.
2. Don’t spring this on people
If you run into an employee in the hallway, and ask, “Hey, how am I doing as a manager?” you’ll likely freak out your employee. If you do this, expect them to shut down and say, “Fine.” Instead, wait until you have a more structured, focused environment (like a 1:1 meeting) to introduce the idea that you are looking for feedback. “I’d like to start getting feedback on how I’m doing in managing the team.”
3. Ask individually not collectively
Let’s say you’ve decided that you are the kind of manager who is willing to get performance feedback from your employees. Don’t announce this in the team meeting. Should you do this, then you’ll get feedback in the team meeting. And a team meeting is a terrible venue for this kind of thing. Instead, have this conversation individually with your employees, and that way you’ll get individual feedback. You’ll have better conversations about the issues, you’ll build trust more, and you are more likely to actually improve in your performance as a manager. You can also be selective about whom you ask for feedback from. A new employee may not be the best person, but someone who has been on your team and you have created a greater level of trust with may be a better candidate for this kind of conversation.
4. Don’t expect feedback right away
When you introduce the idea that you are open to receiving feedback, please do not expect the feedback right away. Your employees will need to think about this a long time before they’re going to want to say anything. It’s kind of unusual for the boss to be open for feedback! We’re talking months in some cases.
5. Provide a specific context when employees are to provide you feedback
When asking for feedback from your employees, don’t ask for it to come whenever. That way, you’ll get it at all times – during team meetings, during project meetings, during client meetings, in the hallway, on the way out the door. Instead, you need to provide particular contexts when you can get the feedback from your employee – such as during the 1 on 1 meetings, or perhaps during a set agenda time during a the 1:1.
6. Give the employee the entry path to giving feedback
Ask the employee to say, “I’d like to give you feedback on how you’re managing the team.” This is your signal that you need to get ready for feedback, to listen to the employee, and prepare not to react to it negatively. This is also the signal that the employee is stepping out of the employee role and into the feedback provider role. It’s a big step, so respect it, and get ready to listen. This is a big deal for the employee.
7. Clarify what kind of feedback
You need to clarify what kind of feedback you’re looking for. If you say, “I want to have feedback on how I’m doing”, then you’ll get stuff from all over the map – your hair, clothes, stuff you did two years ago. Try to focus on aspects that you believe need improvement: How can team meetings go better? How can I create a team atmosphere better? Are the employee’s role and tasks clear? Does our team have a good strategy? By focusing on specific issues related to team and people management, you’ll get feedback on people and team management issues.
8. Reinforce that the feedback is voluntary, is intended to help the you and the team get better, you won’t recriminate, and it won’t appear on the employee’s review
Employees are naturally skittish about providing feedback to a manager about how the manager manages. That’s because they will pay the price if the manager doesn’t like what the employee says. Declaring the intent of the solicitation for feedback is important, as well as the ground rules that the manager must follow when asking to receive feedback. Namely, it’s important the feedback won’t come back to bite the employee for offering it.
Have you or your manager ever had these kinds of conversations? How common are these steps?
In my next article, the theme will be the actual feedback conversation.