Not so long ago, I created a survey asking people how comfortable they felt about giving feedback in their teams. Quite a few of the answers on the form quoted:
“Oh I can give feedback to my teammate if something they do frustrates me that’s fine! But obviously with a manager it would be different!.”
Today, I am going to talk about one of the hardest forms of feedback currently known to man: employee to manager feedback. As you may have read in my first blog post on feedback, this can be a daunting scenario particularly in stifling corporate environments where hierarchy is the be-all and end-all.
A great example arose a few months ago when I was discussing with an ex-colleague. She said to me:
“Ohhh I feel my manager is slowing me down! It’s been 3 months now that I’ve consistently asked for the completed documents. He keeps saying he will work on them and get them to me but he doesn’t! It’s so frustrating!”
“Well tell him, It can only help!”
She immediately gasps and says:
“Are you crazy?! Do you want to get me fired? He’s my manager! So what happens when I tell him and my feedback rubs him the wrong way? Then what? I get excluded from the team! How would that help me?”
Herein lies the challenge with giving feedback “upwards”. We are taught from a very young age that hierarchy is often (if not always) right. We are taught that the “parents are wiser and know better” or that “the client is king”. We are also very aware as adults that money is very important to our survival, so we stay on the cautious side, trying our best not to rock the boat.
The consequences of this?
The work remains in an inefficient state; the employee’s feelings about the situation could quickly evolve from frustration to anger and even to demotivation, burnout, or exhaustion. (Side Tip: As a manager, it pays to be wary when your passionate employee goes quiet. That might be a sign that something is off).
Now you might think:
“Oh, so there’s no consequence for the manager then! The only person who suffers here is the employee since they are not in a position of power to give feedback upwards to the manager.”
Well, I think it’s not entirely true.
There are consequences for the manager when their employee can’t give them honest feedback and one of the biggest consequences is that it reduces the team’s productivity, motivation, and morale. When these are affected, the manager will struggle to attain the goal of leading the team effectively. The manager might even witness people ready to leave his/her team at the drop of a hat.
In a sense, the team members hold the key to the manager’s success because they have their ears closer to the ground and a clear idea of what activities or strategies are working well in the team on a daily basis. The manager is more in an over-seeing role, so being able to listen and gain insight from team members is crucial.
So how as a manager, can you create a feedback-friendly environment where employees can give you feedback honestly?
Here are 4 tips I have learned during my journey of personal and managerial development.
- Become an active feedback researcher:
YES! Instead of waiting for an employee to give you feedback that you were not expecting, go and ask them for it. Be willing to share that you want to improve your managerial style and you would like to know how you can improve. Something I’ve noticed about this technique is that it feels very empowering for the manager and also, the employees tend to have a lot more respect for a manager who is willing to question their techniques and constantly improve. Try this next time and share with us how it felt!.
2. Create a fear-free zone:
Have you ever heard of Massimo Bottura and the case of the broken lemon tart?.
Massimo’s story is an incredible example of the growth mindset. As a manager, aim to create spaces where mistakes can happen, where things can “not” go according to plan, and where imperfection is welcomed.
Why? Because we are human; we are all imperfect; we are all flawed. The more we allow imperfection and create from it, the more we create environments where our employees feel safe. In the long run, this gives you employees who are willing to praise your amazing management techniques, and in turn, shout out about the company. Strangely enough, when you give them the freedom to be themselves, they will be willing to jump through hurdles to give you the best of themselves.
(Little parenthesis and a shout out to my current manager Eddie Andress and to my CEO Evgeny Shadchnev for creating and contributing to these holistic practices at work.)
3. Practice Active Listening:
This is probably the most important one but it is highly overlooked. In this step, we are “simply” listening to what another human being has to say. We are not brewing up ideas to challenge their viewpoint whilst the person in front of us is talking. We are simply listening. We are putting any thoughts, private agendas or judgments on the side, and really listening to what they are trying to tell us.
If you’ve never tried this before, try listening to a colleague for 5 solid minutes without interrupting them and without brewing up judgment or ideas whilst they are speaking. It’s difficult at the start but once you get the hang of it, you may find out that you are more able to listen to your employees, to gain more clarity on their issues, to decide the best decisions to take.
4. Break free from ideals:
Free yourself from the idea that you have to be perfect as a manager; that imposing authority is the only way; that you need to lead the troops…It’s old thinking. Move into the future of leadership where emotional maturity reigns: Be willing to accept that you too as a manager are human and thus imperfect and have space to grow and learn. Be willing to accept that you have blind spots just like anyone else. Be willing to recognise your triggers and how you can regulate these triggers so they don’t stop you from taking on good-quality feedback.
Did I hear you say “What triggers?”. Well, that will be the topic of my next blog post so stay tuned 🙂