How to Get Honest Feedback from Employees

John Krautzel
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It is fairly easy to request employee feedback on a project or initiative. It is much more difficult to get honest feedback. Employees often feel obligated to speak positively about projects and workplace situations instead of pointing out areas of potential improvement. Other employees hesitate to offer any type of feedback that might be viewed as a complaint. When requesting employee feedback, here are a few ways for managers to encourage honest responses.

The first way to encourage uncensored employee feedback is to allow employees to provide feedback anonymously. When names are attached to feedback, employees often feel uncomfortable about making negative statements about co-workers, supervisors or projects. Since even a helpful suggestion has the potential to be viewed as a criticism, employees frequently choose to censor these comments unless they can comment anonymously. With the freedom of anonymity, managers often receive more valuable employee feedback.

Another way to encourage quality responses is to teach team members how to provide good feedback. Not everybody knows how to provide constructive feedback, which means that they lose the opportunity to make helpful contributions. Managers who teach employees tips for giving constructive feedback are more likely to get honest feedback that focuses on improving actions and results.

Managers who truly value employee feedback make it a part of every single project. When a manager schedules feedback sessions after every project, team members become used to the concept of providing feedback as part of the standard project cycle. Of course, the manager needs to both receive and incorporate the feedback, otherwise team members know their feedback is not being taken seriously. When employees know that their feedback on one project leads to positive changes on the next project, they are more likely to contribute honest, helpful suggestions.

The tried-and-true suggestion box is another popular way of encouraging honest responses. Managers have the choice between using the standard pen-and-paper system or switching to an online suggestion box. Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, has an anonymous suggestion box that drops employee suggestions directly into her email. The suggestion box method works because it both provides anonymity and gives employees the opportunity to make suggestions and offer feedback as soon as they identify a problem or an area of improvement.

In the rush to collect valuable, honest suggestions for improvement, managers often forget about the other aspect of employee feedback: identifying what is working well. A good feedback culture celebrates wins as often as it catalogs areas to improve. When feedback is only associated with what people are doing wrong, employees are less likely to contribute honestly to the conversation. A good manager promotes and shares positive feedback whenever it is received.

Managers who value honest, constructive employee feedback need to build feedback into the project workflow, offer team members the option to contribute feedback anonymously, and teach the type of feedback that they'd like to receive. Managers also need to share at least as much positive feedback as negative feedback to let employees know that their good work is valued.

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