Remove Employee Feedback Barriers

Some managers are very thin-skinned about receiving critical feedback from their employees and coworkers. They love to hear about what a good job they are doing but shun any information that is perceived to be critical of them. By doing this, they do neither themselves nor their employees a favor. Everyone should be open to feedback, whether it is negative or positive. The main question in both cases is to ask yourself whether it is helpful in any way in improving knowledge and skills – our own and those of our employees.

It underscores the essential responsibility of a manager to provide people in the organization with a situation and an opportunity to work effectively in a common effort, develop their capabilities, fulfill their professional aspirations, and achieve appropriate recognition and rewards.

A manager must place major emphasis on creating this kind of environment. This doesn’t mean that they should seek to make everyone happy or to make tasks easier.  But, it does mean that they should develop a work environment that has these characteristics:

  1.   There is absolute honesty and integrity in what everyone says and does, and everyone feels perfectly free to say what they really think.
  2.   There is open communication up and down and across the organization.  Everyone recognizes both the right and the responsibility to be open and constructively critical of things that are wrong or that could be improved.
  3.   Supervisors are willing to really listen to the other person’s point of view; and are willing to admit “I’m wrong”, if facts and logic show that this is the case.
  4.   There is a genuine interest in getting problems out in the open.
  5.   Everyone works hard and effectively as a team. There is an air of excitement in the organization that comes with the realization that everyone is operating on a winning team.

The managers that create barriers to feedback relegate themselves to a form of stasis in developing their own leadership skills and finding out how the company can be improved from the perspective of those closest to the action. Sometimes, we are not even aware that these barriers to communication are part of our makeup, so it is worthwhile to list them as helpful reminders on what behavior patterns should be avoided in order to unblock the communications pipeline:

Personally biased – Personal competitiveness and gender biases come to mind as being some of the pernicious biases that often cloud thinking and accessibility to certain individuals who we fear are vying for our job. Sometimes we envy people that are too smart and make us feel less so. But smart people of all genders are the backbone of any business that wishes to grow and succeed. Allowing these people to speak out and be heard is essential to progress.

Overly analytical – Taking things back to the drawing board repetitively can be frustrating and discouraging for employees. Perfectionists instincts are useful to have but must be reasonable. A good way to avoid being overly analytical is to follow the management process: Gather information, synthesize it (form the best picture), decide, provide directions, guide or counsel and measure the results. Spending an undue amount of time on the first two steps delays what really counts – obtaining the desired results. By putting in a solid measuring system in place, initial errors can be quickly corrected.

Unrelentingly stubborn – “My way or the highway” doesn’t work in the vast majority of cases. While it is healthy to have and maintain a strong opinion, it is unproductive to be overly opinionated. There are just too many people with specialized skills and knowledge that need to be heard in any organization for any one member, no matter how lofty their rank, to dominate. The best ideas come from people who are directly involved in executing a specific function within the company. It doesn’t mean that they cannot be questioned, but it does mean that their opinions should have priority.

Excessively rigid – These are the managers that stifle their thinking in a mindset that is rigidly cast in rules, regulations and policies that they feel secure with, and unwilling to break in any way. “This is the way we have been marketing for 30 years and there is no reason to change”. But the internet has totally transformed marketing and we better learn how to adapt or that thirty-year business may find itself irrelevant to its customers. Thinking out of the box is the type of flexibility that is needed in today’s hyper competitive global market. We should promote this in ourselves, by setting a flexible example, and in all our employees.

Premature Conclusions – Often results from poor listening habits. Assuming that a person has finished his presentation and stopping them short, leads to the wrong conclusions in many cases. Before jumping in with your own ideas and opinions, make sure that you have heard everything that the other person had to say. Simply check in by asking if they are finished. In a busy environment, managers can be dismissive of the ideas of others prematurely and miss out on an opportunity to receive valuable insight.

Overly demanding – Some of the businesses tend to be 24/7 operational that require everyone to be on stand-by day and night in case of emergencies. But more often than not the urgency of the matter is improperly weighed and leads to unnecessary reactions that infringe on employees’ personal time. Operating a business in this way leads to early burn-out and decisions by employees to move their talents elsewhere. Being over-demanding in quantity, quality and excessive overtime can have repercussions on motivation, productivity and team spirit. This can be overcome by setting reasonable standards and policies that everyone can buy into.

Excessive focus on criticism – Concentrating on always finding someone doing something wrong, instead of right, is the prime trait of the perennial critic. Usually this kind of behavior is accompanied by a frustrating need to have it out there and then, no matter who is listening. Positive feedback is good and appreciated, negative feedback that attacks a person’s dignity in front of others leads to resentments and lack of trust. If our human resources are indeed the most important ones then we have to pay them more than just lip service.

This article has been contributed by John Crowley, who writes for blog.

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