Good leaders choose to listen, then act

We’ve learned through the pandemic that listening to employees is even more important in a time of great stress than in normal times.

If you think you have a great workplace, or aspire to be a great workplace, then assessing how you are doing during a challenge is going to be more insightful than when things are fine.

Good leaders listen then act

So, when is the best time to solicit employee feedback? Company leaders should ask themselves – and their leadership team – two questions:

  1. Do you care what your employees think?
  2. Does it matter what your employees think?

The first is a heart question, and the second is a head question. How leaders answer these two critical questions will determine if and when to ask employees for feedback. Don’t do it if the leadership team isn’t ready to take on that feedback.

Negative feedback is part of the human condition. Some entrenched negative folks are going to provide that feedback. They’re going to see any challenge as an opportunity to turn up the volume. Leaders need to parse through the employee feedback, particularly around unstructured comment feedback. Pick from that what is constructive negative feedback.

Also, choose inspiring positive or constructive positive feedback. Then use it to make informed people decisions that factor into strategy. The negative feedback is always going to be there. Choose whether you ignore it or look at it in the proper context.

How do you communicate around the feedback you receive?

First, it is important to share the context. Share the areas where your organization scores highest, and also share where you have the greatest opportunities and challenges.

Second, it’s really good practice to pick a representative positive comment (or two) that channel the positive energy in the organization and then share it verbatim. Offer one action you’re going to take as a result of that feedback. Choose an action that has company‑wide benefits.

Here are some examples of mission-critical insights you can gain from employee feedback:

  • Uncovering technology challenges is an example of a relevant insight you can gain through employee feedback. Often, employees on the front line know where there are struggles, but the information doesn’t get up through normal channels. An employee survey surfaces things like this right away.
  • In a time of great challenge, pressures on new managers are significant. Often, they don’t want to share that they’re struggling, but the people on the team are aware of it. An employee survey will bring it to light.
  • Veteran managers who work well in less-stressful times can crumble under the weight of pressure. Use a survey so management can take action before it turns into a truly difficult problem. Employee feedback gives you that early warning.

Leaders should realize they will always get negative feedback. And in a time of great challenge, they will probably get more of it. But they also are likely to receive some really inspiring positive feedback. People will step up to great challenges as a team.

Doug Claffey is founder and chief strategy officer at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s partner for Top Workplaces.

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