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Managers: Here’s How to Create Space for Your Team’s Feedback

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

There are many reasons why giving feedback is challenging. Some people shut down after hearing tough feedback. Others will actively avoid the person who gave them the feedback, and still others will become angry and lash out. The result can lead to a culture of avoiding feedback altogether: In one study, 44% of managers agreed that giving feedback is often stressful, and in another, 21% admitted to avoiding giving negative feedback, even though research shows feedback can actually make employees more engaged.

If it's difficult for a manager to give feedback, imagine, then, how challenging it must be for employees to give feedback to their manager. The prospect is fraught with similar concerns in addition to being on the other side of a power dynamic.

Managers need feedback just as much as their employees, but before they can hear what employees are really thinking, managers need to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up. To do that, I often encourage the managers I work with to have feedback meetings. These are a meaningful way to communicate to your team that you want feedback and allow them to provide the feedback in a safe environment.

Want to make the most out of a feedback meeting? Start with a strong framework, and approach the feedback with an open mind and a plan of action — and don't forget to follow up.

1. Create A Framework For The Meeting

The meeting should include your entire team to ensure you get the opportunity to hear everyone's feedback — and to give everyone a voice. Ahead of the meeting, ask employees to reflect on your work as a manager and how the team operates.

On the day of the meeting, before the employees enter the room, create a chart on a whiteboard or using poster paper with three columns. Label them according to things you, the manager, should start doing (or start doing differently), stop doing and continue doing. Employees will give feedback within these categories — using color Post-it notes and pens to help preserve anonymity.

It can be helpful to enlist a facilitator to mediate conversations, keep everyone committed to the meeting's goals and even post the feedback of the team's remote workers who are joining virtually. The facilitator should be an unbiased, trustworthy colleague — maybe someone from your company's learning and development team or a manager from another department.

2. Leave The Room

From here, you should leave the room for 20-30 minutes. Your team will use this time to fill the board with their thoughts. In this process, the facilitator can help avoid vague feedback, like, "He's a jerk." They'll flag it for the group (rather than call out an individual), remove it and remind everyone to keep posting specific feedback that the manager can act upon. Once everyone is done, the team should review what's on the board to discern common threads and group the Post-its according to these patterns, making it easier to digest.

3. Process Feedback Without The Team First

Once the team has organized their feedback, they will leave the room. This gives you the opportunity to see and begin to process the feedback. Start to organize your responses in three areas:

• What can I address right now? For example, one employee on my team wrote that they really appreciated the acknowledgment email that I sent at the end of each year — and wished I would do it more often. I told the team then I would start sending these emails monthly, and I have continued to do so ever since.

• What can I address in the near future? There will be things on the board that you can't address right away. Say, for example, your employees don't feel like you give them enough direction when starting a project. Give a reasonable timeline to make the change — for example, "I will come up with a new approach to share with you in two weeks" — and stick to it.

• What is non-negotiable? In one review session I helped facilitate, an employee on a remote team asked, "Why can't we meet in person monthly to share ideas?" The manager knew it wasn't in the budget. Instead, she opened the floor for discussion about how they could accomplish more regular team brainstorms without traveling.

4. Be Mindful Of Your Response To The Feedback

Remember that while this exercise can be incredibly impactful, it can also go awry. For example, one sales manager I worked with got confrontational and argumentative with his team — he even told them they didn't know what they were talking about and left the room. If you respond with openness and a willingness to take action, however, employees will respond in kind. In another of these meetings I helped facilitate, two employees told their manager they'd been thinking about leaving the organization, but they'd had a change of heart. The meeting made them feel more invested in the team and the company because the manager was listening to them.

5. Make Sure To Follow Up

Make sure to honor the action items you committed to in the time frame you committed to, whether it was something you said you'd start doing right away or something you promised to follow up on. If you have a standing team meeting, consider adding these action items to your list and discussing progress with your team over time. If you don't have a regular meeting, send an email check-in, or even create a standing meeting. By seeing these through, you show your team that you are willing to take their opinions and needs into consideration — and make them confident that you'll be open to their feedback in the future.

The goal of these meetings is not only to help you see how you can improve in a given moment, but also to kick off an ongoing conversation. As this continues, you'll create an environment where feedback is happening continuously and no one feels the need to shy away from it.

Photo: Creative Commons

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