How You Can Avoid the Biggest Employee Experience Mistake
February 3, 2020
There’s an old saying, “Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.”
For talent leaders, there’s an even more important rule, “Don’t ask for feedback if you don’t plan to take action.”
According to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2020 report, one in three companies fail to regularly act on employee feedback.
And there it is: the biggest mistake you can make. Whether you’re a top leader or someone simply looking for input from a teammate, be prepared to respond to feedback in a thoughtful way.
Fortunately, you don’t need to have a big budget or the bandwidth for a large-scale retooling to tackle this important aspect of employee experience (EX). Here are some simple steps you can take to help people feel heard — plus the key to getting started and a warning about good intentions.
It’s not enough to receive feedback — be sure to take action
According to the Global Talent Trends Report, 68 percent of companies say their EX has improved over the past five years. But — and this is a big but — only half say their EX is positive. “Consider the gravity of having only half your workers feeling they’re getting an excellent experience,” the report urges. “If they’re not on their way out, they’re likely performing well below their capabilities.”
So there’s still lots of room for improving EX, and improvement depends on gathering honest and effective feedback from employees. Without it, organizations and people can’t get a clear picture of their strengths and opportunities to improve.
And keep in mind that not responding to feedback may actually make things worse. Glint, the people success platform, studied this scenario and uncovered a dismal statistic: People who don’t believe their company will act on their feedback are seven times more likely to be disengaged than those who do.
But acting on that feedback can be so much more critical to get right. Good intentions, after all, can still go bad. Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi started his job in 2017 making all the right EX moves: Speaking with transparency; conducting a listening tour; and revamping Uber’s core values, but the company still struggles with culture. Likewise, Google is grappling with updated ways of honoring its early legacy of employee empowerment.
Always start with a conversation
So how do you avoid the biggest blunder of letting feedback just sit there like a big rotten egg?
Start with conversation. Dialogue is how you can demonstrate you understand the initial feedback and then gain added clarity and insight.
When handled well, conversation itself represents positive action. It also sets the basis for future collaboration and accountability as you work to improve.
Glint has developed a framework for conversation and action that’s easy to remember. It’s acronym is ACT for Acknowledge, Collaborate, and Take one step forward. This process is helpful whether you’re the CEO or a team member working to build a better relationship with a colleague.
To get a picture of this framework, think of a path or a trail. You can’t start down that path without putting on your walking shoes and taking a few small steps.
And remember, this is a journey of collaboration with the person or people who provided the feedback. So use the word “we” to signal that you’re in it together, and follow these simple steps:
Step one: Acknowledge where we are
First, recap what you’ve heard. Whether you’re sharing survey data or rephrasing what someone had to say, it’s important to show that you understand the input. Pause and ask clarifying questions to make sure you’ve correctly captured everything.
Next, share some strengths. It’s rare for a situation to be 100 percent bleak. Find a few high points that provide encouragement and serve as the foundation for future improvement. For example, even though a new policy might be stressing folks out, the response might also be revealing hidden strengths in how the team cares for customers and one another.
Call out the areas where change is needed. Establishing consensus about where to focus is critical before moving on to the next steps. Use rich discussion to uncover all points of view and employ a technique such as dot voting to promote democratic decisions. If not all voices can be easily heard, use a silent ballot or anonymous polling.
Step two: Collaborate on where we want to go
Bring a sense of immediacy. What’s the highest priority for improvement and where can you focus in the next few weeks to drive the biggest impact? Even if a solution requires a long-term plan to fix, figure out some short-term steps to instill a sense of forward movement.
Break it down. Once you’ve identified the focus area, see if you can pick it apart into even smaller pieces. What are the modest changes you can start, stop, or build on? If people feel unappreciated, talk to them about what makes them feel recognized. You’ll be surprised at how easy this can be — making a habit of saying a simple thank you more often can work. If the team feels disconnected, discuss options to remedy, such as a daily huddle, a Slack group, or even a team lunch.
Identify a single change. Of all the possible actions, which one feels most valuable and achievable? Again, you can use dot voting or other forms of democracy to set priorities and consensus.
Step three: Take one step forward
Say what you’ll do. Clearly state your commitment. Now you’re officially on the hook and everyone can work together to ensure accountability and follow-through. It never hurts to ask for help and support. Showing a little vulnerability can create trust that strengthens your bond with the team.
Be careful — though. Don’t overcommit. Your journey starts with a single step and at this stage ambition can be your enemy if you pile on too much. Chances are, you’ve got many important business priorities and it’s important to be realistic.
Set a timeline. After you’ve established what you’ll do, make sure to also talk about when you’ll do it and how you’ll report back on progress. Use regular check-ins to avoid a sense of silence and in-action.
As you’ve probably absorbed, the key to the ACT framework is simplicity. As with a personal fitness plan, you’re not going to become physically fit with one trip to the gym. But you’ll never get fit if you don’t make the first visit or at least go out for a brisk walk.
How to deal with two sticky points: Expensive fixes and disagreement
There are two other scenarios worth talking through. The first is creating a sense of action even when there’s no avoiding the fact that problems are big and expensive to fix. The second is when you disagree with the feedback.
When there’s no getting around the fact that feedback has uncovered a vast problem that requires substantial time and resources to solve, conversation is still the key starting point.
Acknowledging a problem is much better than wishing it away. It’s helpful to be open about the scope of required solution and the challenges you face. Working together with positive intent may produce some unexpected brainstorms and shortcuts.
At a minimum, the dialogue should produce a better shared picture of your organization’s priorities and lay out a roadmap for addressing challenges.
And what if you disagree with the feedback? Whether you’re the boss or an employee, it’s critical to avoid defensive words and behavior.
This helpful article from the Harvard Business Review points out that receiving feedback well doesn’t mean you have to take the feedback: “Being good at receiving feedback means just that: that you receive it. That you hear it. That you work to understand it. That you share your perspective on it. That you reflect on it.”
Talk it out
Always remember that conversation is the starting point of action. This is where you gain greater clarity about the feedback and the emotions that might be clouding clarity (for both giver and receiver).
It’s rare that feedback is so wrongheaded that there’s nothing of value to take from it. Dialogue combined with your own empathetic and humble examination of what you hear can help reveal the simple first step on the path to action — the path that makes all the difference.
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