A common refrain among employees at companies with morale issues is that higher-ups don’t listen to them. Their input isn’t sought at all, or it’s collected and then perceived by employees to be ignored. Building a culture of feedback is key to increasing employee engagement, but it’s sometimes difficult for managers to know when to ask the group for ideas and when it’s time to make the decision based on your own judgment. Knowing how to strategically seek and use employee input is a balancing act.
When to ask employees for input
In general, you should seek opportunities to involve employees in key decisions as often as possible. Asking for someone’s opinion and demonstrating that you are listening to it signals respect—and the need to feel respected is critical to employees of all ages and levels. The key is to ask for employee feedback at the right time. When should you ask for feedback?
- When it’s early enough to make a difference. You don’t know where good ideas are going to come from. Employees on the front lines are helping your clients overcome challenges every day, and they’re most likely to know where inefficiencies exist. Ask for your employees’ wish list before you make concrete plans.
- Before you’ve spent too much money to reverse course. Similarly, the employees who will be tasked with implementing a new initiative or project will give you the best reality check on its viability. But you need to involve them in providing project feedback early enough that you can make changes. A surefire way to lose credibility is to ask for feedback, receive valuable input, and then ignore it because it’s too late to implement for budgetary or timeline reasons.
- When tough decisions are on the line. This can be scary for management, but when companies face difficult decisions related to employee benefits and tightened budgets, asking for employee input is useful both for employee communication and ownership in the process. For instance, when faced with rising health insurance premiums, asking employees for feedback on potential benefit structures both gives your team a voice in decision-making and lets them know negative change is coming.
- When you want to be a better leader. Asking employees for feedback on your performance can be uncomfortable, but it’s critical to knowing how your leadership style is perceived. This can be part of the annual formal performance review process, but it can also be part of ongoing conversations. Check in with employees routinely to ask how you can better support them in their roles.
When not to ask for employee feedback
Even though you want to err on the side of asking for feedback, there are always caveats. When should you considering making a decision yourself and moving forward?
- When you have more feedback than you need. Sometimes there really are too many cooks in the kitchen. Once the dedicated time for feedback has passed, determine the course of action, and own the results.
- When personnel issues are on the line. Approach any personnel issue with caution. While you may need to investigate a situation, being too open could start the rumor mill or potentially create legal risks for your company. Imagine how your actions would look in a lawsuit.
Knowing when and how to ask for feedback isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary skill for anyone with management responsibilities. When employees share their ideas with you, be sure to thank them for their time and input, and recognize that even when you’ve asked employees for their feedback, they are still putting themselves out there to offer it—and that deserves respect.
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