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10 Actionable Ways to Elicit Honest Feedback From Employees

December 9, 2021
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5 mins

Eliciting employee feedback is crucial for organizations to succeed. We dive into how to gather feedback through surveys, trust, and leadership practices.

Sarah Archer
Eliciting employee feedback is crucial for organizations to succeed. We dive into how to gather feedback through surveys, trust, and leadership practices.

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With the Great Resignation underway, it’s more important than ever for employers to create an exceptional employee experience. However, that’s impossible without input from employees. 

Leadership and human resource departments must come together to identify a path to eliciting honest feedback and apply it to their practices. If not, employee retention, engagement, and happiness are at stake. 

We spoke with HR leaders and executives to identify just how to gather honest employee feedback and use it to develop a strong HR roadmap.

Why is gathering employee feedback important?

Employee feedback opens up a channel of communication for decision-makers to listen to their staff. This qualitative feedback can be used to initiate a successful change management program.

People-first philosophies are becoming standard across organizations. Leaders that don’t consider how their people feel at work will face consequences like poor employee satisfaction and lower retention. Let’s dive into how you can gather valuable employee feedback. 

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1. Create a psychologically safe work environment

If employees fear for their job security or that they will face repercussions for sharing negative feedback, they’re less likely to be honest about how they feel at work.

Therefore, it’s imperative to create a psychologically safe environment where taking risks like asking for help, admitting a mistake, or criticizing a project is not only accepted, but encouraged. 

Creating this type of work environment doesn’t happen overnight — it’s at the core of the organization. 

Human Resources teams can accomplish this by putting language and examples together in the company values, prioritizing employee wellbeing during onboarding and beyond, and reiterating it during leadership meetings. It takes buy-in from the entire organization to create an environment where feedback, positive or negative, is welcomed. 

2. Establish trust during onboarding and beyond

The onboarding process sets the scene for what new hires can expect from their company’s culture, managers, and colleagues. 

That’s why it’s critical to ensure a positive employee experience within the first 90 days of employment. To do that, onboarding shouldn’t just cover the job responsibilities; it should involve the human element of joining the team. 

That means prioritizing coworker relationships, pairing new hires with a learning buddy, and regular check-ins should be an important piece of your onboarding flow. 

After 90 days in their role, send a new employee survey to understand how they’re feeling. Use these answers to determine what you can change about the onboarding process and culture as a whole. 

3. Remember you have to give to get

Employees will feel more comfortable with opening up if they receive full transparency from their higher-ups. 

If you’re honest with your employees about your downfalls, as an organization or human being, they’ll realize that it’s okay to fail. Use failures as teachable moments and encourage your team to be honest with their challenges, failures, and upward feedback. 

When they do follow through with feedback, applaud them. Normalize that no one is perfect, at any level. Effective feedback improves performance, skills, and understanding. 

4. Run employee engagement surveys

Employee engagement surveys help organizations understand if their employees feel valued. We asked HR leaders how to pull the most value from their surveys. 

According to Tyler McDonald, Vice President Strategy Director at Edelman, anonymity, length, and transparency is key.

“To elicit honest feedback, surveys should be completely anonymous, be accessible using non-company equipment (to help ease their mind of potential tracking), and emails should not be pushy,” said Tyler. “Surveys should take 5-10 minutes max (roughly 20 questions) with a promise of full transparency on the results with a timeframe of when and how those results be shared.”

We also heard over and over again, the importance of avoiding “yes” or “no” questions. Instead, try implementing the likert scale, which offers surveyors a range of options that could align with how they feel such as: strongly disagree, disagree, undecided, agree, strongly agree. 

Lattice Hudson
, a business coach and leadership mentor, takes it even further by leveraging emojis. 

“A great way to simplify the truth for [your staff] is to replace the answers with smiley faces, or sad or angry faces,” she explained. “This may sound silly, but it's a great way of inspiring the bitter truth about your company from employees that are too scared to put words to paper.”

5. Invest in leadership training

We’ve covered psychological safety, trust, and transparency, but each of those values only trickle down to staff if management understands and is onboard. 

That’s why leadership training is so important. It allows for all of your organizational leaders to leverage the same management tools such as understanding non-verbal cues, showing empathy, avoiding defensiveness, owning mistakes, and establishing and building trust. 

Managers must earn these over time, but leadership training builds that foundation. 

6. Leverage one-on-ones for regular feedback

One on ones are meant to build a relationship with your direct reports; they aren’t just status updates.

Use regular one-on-ones to cover how your direct report is feeling — cover workload, passions, and feedback. 

When it comes to work-related topics, let your direct report take lead. Use what you hear to help alleviate stress, offer a hand, and answer questions. 

And when you regularly ask for upward feedback, always act on it. 

7. Hold meetings and shadows with senior leaders

Skip-level meetings and shadowing opportunities bridge the gap between employee and senior management. 

Launching a skip-level program is a win-win. It allows leaders to gain valuable qualitative feedback and allows employees to be heard. 

GitLab takes this to the next level with their CEO Shadow Program to give employees an overview of all aspects of the organization. During the two week program, the CEO builds relationships with people across the organization, as well as has the opportunity to identify challenges and opportunities through feedback. 

8. Bring in a third party

If you have a neutral third-party expert interviewing your employees, your team might be more comfortable opening up. 

We spoke with Amansa Shea, Organizational Psychologist and Consultant at The New England Agency. She said, “I suggest organizations outsource employee engagement surveys to a trained consulting firm. Outsourcing adds credibility, ensures true anonymity, and allows the consulting firm to benchmark an organization's results over time with suggested interventions if necessary.”

Get an outside perspective to report on your company’s wellbeing to truly get an unbias view of how your staff feels. 

9. Hold exit interviews

Exit interviews provide a deep dive into your workplace culture, management practices, employee morale, and workload.

When employees are moving on, they’ll be more likely to honeslty reflect on your company’s practices and the reason why they are leaving. 

Once you receive this feedback, study it closely, Use it to inform decisions on improving work-life balance, remote culture, career development, management, onboarding and more. 

10. Constantly reevaluate 

Once you have feedback, don’t let it sit on the back burner. 

HR teams
have the power to make a huge impact on employee wellbeing and workplace culture. Create and iterate on processes to gather feedback and act on it.

If you’re looking for a solution to building remote culture, eliciting daily feedback, and reporting on employee moods, Kona can help. Watch our 3-minute demo or try it free today. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Archer

Sarah is Head of Content Strategy at Kona and MBA candidate at Boston University. She helps leaders prevent burnout and build culture in remote organizations.

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