You told your employees that you wanted to start having feedback conversations to help improve how things are going within the organization, but as you start trying to hold these conversations, you realize that this decision has caused many of your employees to feel stressed and disheartened.
You don’t want these feedback conversations to have such a negative connotation, but you aren’t sure how to change that. You want your organization to have an environment where your employees will feel safe receiving feedback.
Employees, more often than not, want feedback. That does not give you free reign to give feedback in any way, or at any time. Feedback is most effective when it is given in an environment in which your employees feel safe. This doesn’t mean locked doors and emergency exits, rather an environment where they know what to expect and do not feel trapped or belittled.
So how do you create an environment where your employees feel safe and comfortable receiving feedback? Here are ten suggestions.
- Establish Trust—Establishing trust begins long before you ever give feedback the first time, and is an essential aspect of creating a safe environment for employees. This includes being honest with your employees, following through on any promises you make, showing interest in your employees’ lives, and being respectful of their opinions, especially when those opinions differ from your own. Establishing this trust will increase your employees’ willingness to listen to you and to take your feedback as realistic, useful, and helpful advice.
- Be Involved—Before an employee will be willing to take feedback from you, they need to know that you know what is going on. This doesn’t mean being involved in every project, but you should be aware of what those projects are. Don’t be a silent observer from above, instead be someone with whom your employees can talk to and ask questions of. Be visible to your employees; don’t constantly shut yourself away behind closed doors.
- Establish Expectations—Employees take feedback better when they are expecting it. Establish times and situations in which you and your employee will sit down and have a feedback conversation. This allows employees to walk into the conversation with their eyes open and can often allow them to prepare to come in with problems, decisions, or questions they specifically want feedback on.
Once you’ve put in the ground work for creating a safe environment, structure your feedback conversation so that your employees will be engaged, open, and comfortable. This will enable you both to get the most out of the conversation. Employees will also feel safe asking their own questions and looking for specific direction.
- Make it a Two-Way Conversation—In order to make a feedback conversation most effective, make sure that both you and your employee are actively engaged. Giving feedback should not consist solely of you talking to them. Instead, it should be a fully involved discussion where your employees can feel safe bring up areas where they are struggling or to ask for clarification on any feedback you offer. This active discussion will help your employees understand and process your feedback and enable them to feel like they are an active participant in their own growth.
- Listen Actively—Active listening involves giving your employee your full attention, reflecting on what they say, and asking clarifying questions. During a feedback conversation, your employees may describe a situation that they are struggling with, do not hurry to jump in with an answer, instead, make sure you fully understand what they are trying to express and only then lead them in a conversation that allows them to create their own solutions. The GROW® Model is one excellent framework for that conversation.
- Establish a Framework—Conversations are easier and more effective when they follow a framework. Give your conversation an easy framework asking these three questions:
- What’s working? (What are they doing well?)
- Where are you stuck?
- What can you do differently moving forward?
Ask your employee to answer each of these questions first, and then contribute your own thoughts. When employees generate their own problems and solutions, they take more ownership in the outcome. By using these questions to focus your own thoughts, the feedback you give will be more useful.
- Give Both Positive and Negative Feedback—Using the above framework will ensure that while giving feedback you don’t focus solely on employee mistakes or things that your employee is struggling with. Be sure to express appreciation for areas in which they are doing well. While constructive or negative feedback will help employees know how they can improve, positive feedback will encourage them to magnify their efforts where they’re doing well. Positive feedback is more than praising a job well done. It should also be specific enough that an employee will be able to replicate the action again and apply it to other aspects of their work.
Having a feedback conversation is just the start of the process. To get the best results, and the most radical improvements, don’t think that establishing trust and safety with your employees ends after the feedback has been given, stay invested beyond this point. This serves to both help your employee to improve further, but help your employees know that you are truly invested in their success.
- Let Them Take Ownership—Show your employees that you believe that they are capable of taking charge of their own progress. While you provide the feedback, your employees take ownership of how to implement that feedback and create their own goals moving forward. When an employee takes ownership of their progress, they become more invested in realizing the results of their progress.
- Follow Through—While your employees need to set their own goals and take charge of their own progress, you must follow through. This is particularly important when they asked for specific help, or they asked a question that you didn’t immediately have an answer for. When you follow through, you show your employees that you are trustworthy and invested in their success.
- Check in Regularly—Even after the initial follow through you should be sure to check in with your employees outside of feedback conversations. This does not have to be a lengthy conversation, but a simple acknowledgment that you are still aware of their efforts and are still willing to help them with whatever they need. This also sets both you and your employees up for a more nuanced feedback session in the future, as you are both kept aware of the progress and expectations of the situation.
Together, these ten suggestions provide guidelines for creating an environment of safety for your employees to receive feedback.
Establishing a safe environment will make employees more willing to receive feedback, giving useful feedback will allow them to progress in meaningful ways, and remembering to follow through and check in with your employees will remind them of their goals and give them the opportunity to reflect on their progress as well as see what they need to change or do better.
Feedback is a primary method of improvement, and it’s crucial make sure you are doing everything you can to make the feedback process a safe and effective one for your employees. They’ll be sure to thank you.
And an extra piece of good news? Many of the things you do to create a safe environment for giving your employees feedback are the same things you’ll need to do to create an environment for them to give you the feedback you need. Bonus!