How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss
This text was taken from Harvard Business Review (see link below) and posted on this blog by Risoleta Bernardes for EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES.
The higher up in the organization you get, the less likely you’ll receive constructive feedback on your ideas, performance, or strategy. No one wants to offend the boss, right? But without input, your development will suffer, you may become isolated, and you’re likely to miss out on hearing some great ideas. So, what can you do to get people to tell you what you may not want to hear?
What the Experts Say
Most people have good reasons for keeping their opinions from higher ups. “People with formal power can affect our fate in many ways — they can withhold critical resources, they can give us negative evaluations and hold us back from promotions, and they can even potentially fire us or have us fired,” says James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management.
The more senior you become, the more likely you are to trigger this fear. “The major reason people don’t give the boss feedback is they’re worried that the boss will retaliate because they know that most of us have trouble accepting negative feedback,” says Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. While you may be tempted to enjoy this deference, the silence will not help you, your organization or your career.
Acknowledge the fear
As the boss, you have to set the stage so people feel comfortable, says Hill. You need to break through their fear. Detert suggests being explicit. Tell them that you know everyone makes mistakes, including you, and that they should call out those errors without feeling embarrassed or threatened. Explain that you need their feedback to learn.
At the same time, you should recognize how hard it might be to hear this tough feedback. “It’s human to feel bad when people criticize and no matter how senior you become, you’re still human,” Hill says. Still, you can’t let that anxiety hold you back.
Ask for it, constantly
Ask for feedback on a regular basis, not just at review time. “You need to be the one who is actively collecting and soliciting information all the time,” says Hill. You can say something like, “I know that these are the goals that we set together. What can I do to help you achieve those goals?” You shouldn’t assume your team members will be upfront the first time you ask. “You have to do it for awhile and then the information will flow and you can ask more pointed questions,” says Hill.
In the same way that you want to give concrete examples when giving feedback, you should also request them when you are receiving it. When someone tells you, “You run our team meetings really well,” or “You don’t delegate enough,” follow up by asking for an example. This allows you to better understand the feedback and ensures that what you’re hearing is true. “I tend to think the more people can back up their assertions and input with concrete examples or numbers, the more it’s probably honest,” says Detert.
Read between the lines
Of course, you may not get honest feedback all the time. But it’s your job to figure out what problems people are trying to help you identify. You may need to triangulate between several points of feedback. Hill suggests, for example, that you ask five or six people the same question. “You’re trying to collect the data so you can you go back and put the story together about the impact you’re having,” she says. Detert agrees about casting a wide net: “If nothing else, it’ll help you figure out whether there are gaps and inconsistencies in what you’re hearing, and what you might need to do about it.”
Act on it
If someone is brave enough to give you input, recognize it. “People hate feeling that speaking up was a complete waste of time,” says Detert. “You have to actually thank people for doing it, and other employees have to see those people get promoted rather than fired or shunned.” Show everyone that you receive feedback well and can change your behavior as a result. These examples will turn into “urban legends,” encouraging more people to give you constructive feedback.
Find a few trusted people
If you suspect that most people in your organization aren’t going to be honest with you, or feedback is just not part of the culture, Detert suggests finding one or two people you trust to tell you the truth. It could be someone on your team, a peer, a mentor, or a coach. Whoever it is, be sure he or she has access to the right data and is able to talk to the people who interact with you on a daily basis. Don’t just turn to confidants who will tell you what you want to hear.
It can be hard to get people to open up. One way to get around this is by doing a 360-degree review or using a coach to gather feedback anonymously. But then you should respond to it. According to Hill, if you talk openly about what you’ve learned it sends a signal that you’re open to hearing criticism. “Once you’ve done that, people are more comfortable telling you to your face,” says Hill. She shares the example of Vineet Nayar, the CEO of HCL Technologies, who posted his own 360-degree feedback on the company intranet and encouraged his senior team to do the same. It was a bold move, says Hill, but the result was that people felt much more comfortable giving Nayar feedback directly when they knew he took it seriously.