If soliciting feedback from your employees isn’t high priority, then perhaps it’s time to make it so.
Everyone from receptionists to senior management should be regularly quizzed on everything from company polices to their product ideas.
Why? As a rule, morale goes up and employees work harder when they know management is paying attention to their needs. Your staff may also have great ideas for improving your products.
But soliciting useful input from employees involves more than just plunking down a suggestion box in the lunchroom — although that’s a start.
DO use employee surveys
To get the most of your survey, follow these suggestions:
- If you can afford it, hire a human resources professional or managerial consultant to create and distribute the survey. Because it will be expertly constructed, you’ll get better, more useful responses.
- Keep the survey simple and tightly focused. Multiple-choice questions about a specific program, project or service work better than vague, open-ended questions.
- Keep it anonymous. If you want your employees to give honest answers, then respondents have to be assured their identities won’t be revealed.
- Don’t release the findings immediately. Your senior managers may be hurt by the results. Let them view the feedback first, in private, and talk to them about it.
- Act on the results whenever possible, and let your employees know that you’re doing so. Otherwise, they will feel like you asked but don’t really care.
DON’T discourage positive dissenters
A positive dissenter is an employee who doesn’t “toe the line” and takes a critical stance towards company policy, explains Frances Horibe, an Ottawa-based human-resources specialist and author.
Dissenters are not to be confused with troublemakers, who are negative and self-centered. Dissenters, by contrast, offer positive solutions that might benefit the entire company.
By tolerating positive dissenters, managers can generate new ideas while reassuring employees they won’t be shot down for speaking their mind.
DO consider using focus groups
You can also hire an outside facilitator to lead focus groups or one-on-one meetings with your employees. You can gain valuable feedback this way on anything from working conditions to a new product prototype, but it has to be done right.
- Don’t try to run the focus group yourself, You’re the boss! Employees won’t be truthful if you’re anywhere nearby.
- Focus sessions should be held “in a comfortable, non-threatening atmosphere,” says Diane McElroy, senior vice-president at Aon, a human-resources consulting firm in Toronto. A boardroom works; a staff cafeteria doesn’t because it’s too loud and others could be listening in.
- Keep the process confidential. Employees are much more likely to be open and honest if they know their answers won’t be used against them. Consultants sometimes use electronic equipment that allows focus group participants to provide data without identifying themselves.
- To find a facilitator, look for companies that specialize in internal communications, suggests McElroy. A veteran of hundreds of focus groups, McElroy says most of her sessions cost companies around $1,500.
DON’T take your staff’s input for granted
If an employee comes up with a good idea that you end up implementing, then reward him with praise, recognition and suitable rewards, financial or otherwise.
DO fund employee input
It’s one thing to offer praise and cash to individuals who come up with good ideas. It’s another thing to provide funding for new ideas. It certainly works at 3M.
If a 3M employee can’t get a manager to fund one of their ideas, he can pitch the project to the supervisors of an internal, peer-run “innovation fund.” If the supervisors give the go-ahead, then the employee receives cash for his project from the fund.
This system “allows people to act on their ideas without having to go through the regular management process,” explains Horibe. “It is a way of circumnavigating hierarchy.”