“I wish my manager would ask me for my feedback sometimes,” Monique, a seminar participant, told me at the conclusion of a two day training program in Baltimore about how to give employees performance feedback. She had several ideas that would improve how they worked together, and how her manager could help her improve her own performance. She just needed an opportunity to express them.

Her frustration isn’t unusual. In most organizations, a good amount of feedback flows from supervisors and managers to employees about how they can improve their job performance, which is good. 

However, there usually isn’t a way for employees to appropriately provide feedback or input, which isn’t good, because their information can be highly beneficial. I’ve often heard employees say, “I just don’t feel I can talk with my manager.” Or, they fear their manager may respond defensively, or even punish them.

What employees know and experience about feedback.

Employees know that giving feedback is part of their manager’s job. They typically realize this the day they’re hired (surprisingly, most organizations don’t discuss feedback much during hiring). So managers are to give feedback, and employees are to receive it. Employees accept this, realizing they’ll receive feedback a number of times. Fair enough.

 

Even so, many employees experience feedback as one-sided,even when managers deliver it skillfully and diplomatically. It may be feedback about missing deadlines; providing inaccurate data or statistics; criticizing others; or not fully participating in meetings, etc. 

Why do they experience it as one-sided, even when managers deliver it well? It’s because opportunities for employees to give managers input or feedback are often virtually non-existent, ineffective, or infrequent in most organizations. And it’s been this way for years.

We’re supposed to be on the same team, but only one of us presently gives feedback, employees think. Wouldn’t it be better if both team members, managers and employees, were able to give each other feedback in an appropriate manner? 


In other words, the equation above would change from
 “so managers are to give feedback, and employees are to receive it” to “so managers are to give and receive feedback and employees are to receive and give it.” Of course, employees would receive far more feedback than they provide.

 What most managers and organizations would like.

Most managers and organizations say they want more “two-way communication and feedback” with employees  to improve the employee’s performance and the workplace, but this often doesn’t happen. However, many managers know they should talk with their employees about these matters, but they don’t.

 Why organizations and managers aren’t doing this already. One is the lack of a skill or process that’s safe, comfortable, and effective. Also, some managers have given up asking employees for “feedback” individually or in groups, because they get little or no information other than “everything’s okay,” even though they know it isn’t.

Other managers fear employees will ask something of them (such as large raises), that they can’t deliver, or will bring up a topic they don’t want to discuss.

 Here’s a skill to help managers and employees communicate more effectively in teams and departments; it can also be used individually. It’s most often used with several or more employees, and works best using easels with flipcharts; flipchart pages on a wall; or whiteboards.

 

  • On a flipchart, employees list requests of what they’d like their manager to do in order to work with them more effectively and comfortably.
  • On a separate flipchart, the manager lists requests of what s/he’d like employees to do in order to work with them more effectively and comfortably.
  • Employees present their requests first; the manager asks questions to clarify or summarize, but doesn’t challenge.
  • The manager presents his/her requests next; employees ask questions to clarify or summarize, but don’t challenge.
  • They agree on who will do what. Then, they meet monthly or quarterly to review the progress each is making at meeting the other’s needs. That’s it.

What employees and managers typically ask of each other.

What do employees often ask for when there’s two-way, instead of one-way, communication and feedback? More than anything else, it’s requests for their manager to do something different that will help the employee improve his or her performance. 

Their requests include, “Would you please let me know when you plan to call on me during meetings so I can be well-prepared?” Or, “Would you please consider me for stretch assignments so I’ll learn faster?” And another, “I’d appreciate it if you’d give me more feedback about the things I’m doing well so I’ll know what to continue doing.” 

Surprised at how reasonable these requests are? All of them are actual examples of the “feedback” employees wanted to share with their managers.

Managers often request things like, “Please ask me if you don’t understand something; I won’t criticize you.” Or, “I’d like you to look for ways to assist other employees when your work is done.” And, “Please tell me how I can help you feel more passion and determination in your job.” Again, very reasonable, and they’re actual examples of what managers have asked for.

How both managers and employees improve.

When employees participate by exchanging feedback, they feel and act more like team members instead of subordinates being told what to do. This can create a substantial and positive difference in how employees see their manager, their job, and their value and importance to the organization. 

The reason?
 Because they have “a stake in the action” by providing input that helps managers help them improve their work, get needed changes, and see some of their ideas and requests implemented. 

So they aren’t cogs in a wheel, but active participants. Which is far more motivating than only receiving top-down input or feedback. The principle is one of reciprocity, in that information is shared, and both are involved.

When employees and managers exchange information, they both improve. The employee learns more about how to improve their performance; the manager learns more about how to work effectively with his or her employee; they both discover other improvements they could make; and the manager’s performance also improves. And so does their working relationship. 

Don’t let its simplicity dissuade you.

Using this skill helped save one Research & Development Manager’s job. His employer, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, was ready to terminate his employment if he didn’t improve how he worked with his scientists, who were complaining to HR weekly, or requesting transfers. Using this skill was one of the improvements he made that helped him retain his job.

 Because this skill may seem overly simple, you may question its value. However, its results are usually impressive. Both managers and employees learn things they didn’t know, and uncover unspoken needs and expectations so they can be met. Plus, managers and employees often see that they’re much closer than they thought they were in terms of wanting the same things, and being on the same page. 

If you use this skill, be sure to use flipchart sheets, not legal pads passed around a conference table. In addition, employees experience a safety factor in this when they work as a group. 

The bottom line is that employees are much more likely to accept and act on the feedback managers give them when they also have a means of periodically giving feedback to their managers. 

 It’s what happens in more productive workplaces.

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