Fostering Excellence
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Getting good feedback is something that every organization depends upon for its success. Customers, employees and competitors often have the perspectives that are the secret to unlocking an organization’s untapped potential, navigating market hazards, or solving internal organizational problems. Of the three, employee feedback is often times the hardest to obtain. As a leader, it is incumbent on you to set an environment that encourages employees to come forward with that critical feedback.

Often employees refuse to provide their leadership with meaningful feedback. If employees believe that reprisals for speaking up are likely, employees will self-censor and the feedback will not be forthcoming. Alternately, if an organization’s members believe that their leadership is apathetic to change, then they will likely not invest the time and energy in providing their feedback. Perceived reprisals and leadership apathy are the enemies to any organization’s attempt to elicit feedback from its employees.

The good news is that there are concrete and effective ways to build trust in employees so they are more likely to speak up and share with you their perspectives.

Six Principles of Eliciting Employee Feedback

Be Accessible to Your Employees – As a leader, it is imperative that you be accessible to your organization so they can talk with you. Being accessible means more than simply publishing an “open door policy.” You need to be in your organization’s work spaces, frequent their cubicle areas, break rooms or other areas where your employees congregate. Maintain a cheerful and open disposition so that you are approachable. Be where your employees can access you and be someone that they want to approach!

Listen, Listen, Listen – If you want your employees to keep coming back to provide you with more feedback, they need to own the podium, they came to be heard. Remember, they did not approach you for a lecture or to hear what your position is, odds are they already know that. They approached you so you could understand their position. Spend your time listening and you will develop the relationship that encourages feedback. Be sure to use active listening; use probing follow-up questions and maintain good eye contact. Eliminating distractions and putting your phone away ensure that you can focus on the employee and feedback.

Keep the Tone Constructive – While much of what you hear will be useful, not all feedback will be constructive or helpful. Whereas many of these encounters will be positive, some will be frustrating. It is imperative that you keep the atmosphere as positive as possible. Even if you are hearing feedback that you disagree with, you want the door to be open for future engagements. Take your lumps, stay positive and thank them for their courage and feedback. The relationship that allows for the feedback to be open is more important than any one item of feedback. Don’t try to win arguments, you are there for them.

Own Up to Your Mistakes – Your employees will likely identify mistakes or failures that you have made as a leader but were not cognizant of. We all make mistakes, and often need help identifying them so we can make the necessary corrections. When an employee identifies a mistake or failure of yours, it is essential that you own up to it. Thank them for their courage and then make the changes. Don’t attempt to excuse it or explain it away. Owning the mistake will demonstrate your humility, make you easier to follow and encourages employees to come forward again when other issues need addressing that you may not be aware of.

Make Changes – When you get feedback that allows you to implement positive changes, use it, and don’t procrastinate those changes! Your employees will be watching for action after having provided feedback, and disappointing that hope fails to solve the problem at hand. When this happens, it discourages employees from coming forward when there is another issue to solve.

Recognize Those Provided Who Effective Feedback – Finally, when an employee comes forward with solutions to organizational problems that really made a difference, recognize that individually publically for their contribution. You will communicate several powerful messages with that simple act. You will communicate that the solutions are more important than the leader’s ego. You communicate the importance you place in employee engagement, and you communicate that you want to give credit where credit is due.

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Right now, your organization is brimming with productive, relevant and constructive feedback that can help your organization reach the next level of performance. Tapping into that feedback takes the right approach, humility, and a genuine interest in the welfare of the employees. Being accessible, positive, and attentive will elicit that feedback. Acting on it and praising your employees for it will ensure you continue to receive it.

Michael Farr, PMP, is a Chief Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force and founder of He is passionate about recognition and enabling professionals to motivate their organizations through recognizing their member’s excellence. When he is not slaying dragons with his kids, he can be found at @fosterxcellence on Twitter and @fosteringexcellence on Facebook.